Newsletter: Top Decaf Offers

I’ve bought decaf a few different ways over the years. We’ve sent coffees from our spot Annex position north to Vancouver, and I’ve sourced fresh Centrals and then shipped them to Veracruz for decaffeination before bringing them back to port for the rest of the journey north. But our most recent effort to bring the freshest green decaf we can to the States might just be the greatest yet.

We’ve taken some absolutely beautiful, freshly-milled Colombian green and sent it to Manizales for decaffeination at DESCAFECOL. The process is a gentle one: after a light steaming to open the pores on the surface of the bean, caffeine is removed using ethyl acetate. The coffee is dried and then moved directly to port. The beauty of this process is that our coffees arrive into the dry mill in Popayan, are immediately peeled and processed, and then head to Manizales at week’s end. Lots are decaffeinated and at port awaiting loading within two weeks. The result is extremely fresh, extremely delicious decaf. Yes, I said it. Delicious.

We have three recently arrived lots available spot in both warehouses at the moment. They are the best decafs I’ve sourced in my career to date. The virtues of these coffees remain intact. All three are bright, fruity, and sweet. All of them were picked and processed at the end of the Cauca and Huila harvests earlier this year. Two of the lots come from our longtime partners in Inza de Cauca, and the third comes from our new producer group in Bruselas de Huila. Not only are these offerings fresh and tasty, they’re sourced through the same channels and come from the same producers as the rest of our Colombian coffees. Full info is available on each lot.

Please contact info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com with any questions or to request samples.

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Newslettter: Why we work in Ecuador

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Red Fox was in Ecuador last month for a brief visit at start of the harvest season. We went to check in with the farmers and partners we work with, to talk through what went well and what didn’t with last season’s shipments, to ask how farms weathered El Niño, to hear how families & businesses were affected when the earthquake hit the coast in April. We also went with some existential questions for ourselves about Red Fox’s place in Ecuador, about whether working there makes sense for us in the big picture. Ecuador has been part of Red Fox’s portfolio since the beginning, and we have longstanding relationships there that mean a lot to us. But it’s also a challenging origin for us, in that Ecuadorian coffee is very expensive, and expensive coffee is hard to sell.

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We pay more for coffee in Ecuador than we do in any other origin except Kenya. It’s crazy. It’s hard to justify paying so much for South American coffee, especially when there’s a wealth of great coffee to be had for a fraction of the price in neighboring Colombia or Peru. And it’s a challenge to make the case to customers that Ecuadorian coffee is worth the price, even when we’re offering beautiful, unique, and excellently prepared coffees from dedicated producers and inspiring farms.

So why is coffee so expensive in Ecuador? One factor at play is simple supply and demand. Compared to its Andean neighbors, Ecuador’s share of coffee production is tiny. Total production in Ecuador, according to the ICO’s stats, was 700,000 bags in 2015, compared with 13,500,000 bags in Colombia and 3,200,000 in Peru. Take out the robusta, commodity-grade arabica, and what’s going to the soluble market from those numbers, and the slice that is specialty coffee is tinier still. Competition for that small slice is strong and growing. Ecuador’s precarious, oil-dependent economic climate has stifled investment in farms and hurt overall yields for the past few years. Put those things together and you get a recipe for escalating coffee prices.

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But another piece of the puzzle in Ecuador is the cost of producing coffee there. Coffee farmers everywhere struggle with the cost of production, with access to credit and seasonal cash flow, but the particular economic and political realities in Ecuador make it a special case. Ecuador switched its currency to the US dollar in 2000, after hyperinflation and a banking crisis left the economy reeling. In recent years, the strong dollar has made Ecuadorian exports more expensive. That, plus the collapse of oil prices, on which Ecuador’s economy has depended since the 70s, has contributed to a decline in export revenues to which President Correa’s government has responded by restricting imports and raising taxes & tariffs on foreign goods. This matters to coffee producers and to the price of coffee because every truck, jeep, bag of fertilizer, and piece of machinery or farm equipment that has to be imported comes with an an additional premium that drives up production costs.

The cost of labor is also much higher in Ecuador than in other coffee-producing countries. Minimum wage has more than doubled since Correa was first elected, from $170/month in 2007 to $354/month in 2015, and benefits like vacation, bonus payments, and contributions to health care and social security are mandated by law and enforced. For coffee producers in Las Tolas, the total cost of wages & benefits for a full-time farm employee is around $22/day. Compare that to labor costs in Colombia, for instance, where wages can be as low as $4/day — you can’t, really. It’s a whole different world.

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We left Quito feeling strongly that Red Fox still belongs in Ecuador, that we have a role to play in the coffee industry there. If we’re serious about wanting to build a resilient supply chain that benefits everyone in it, how can we write off Ecuadorian coffee as too expensive when those high prices reflect a labor market in which farm workers are receiving more? Part of why we do what we do is because of our belief that there is a model out there in which coffee production can support and sustain individuals, families, communities, and perhaps even economies as a whole. If Ecuador is a test case, then we’re up to the challenge. Our first step is to better understand what the the true costs of coffee production look like, and to attempt to accurately represent those realities to customers and consumers alike.

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What does the future of speciality coffee look like in Ecuador? We don’t know for sure, but know we want to be a part of it because we find so much inspiration there. The talented producers and their commitment to helping their communities and the coffee industry grow; the incredible biodiversity; the ideal coffee storage conditions in Quito; the exciting varieties, from Sidra lot separations at La Yumbada to the Pacamara and Java that taste better grown in Las Tolas than anywhere else on the planet; the deep agronomic know-how of Arnaud Causse and his beautiful farms in Las Tolas and Guayllabamba, where something amazing— from experimental organic fertilizers and shade trees, to essential oil distillation for herbal insecticides, to beehives full of coffee blossom honey — is around every corner… all of it reminds us of why this is work we love.

Here’s to the season ahead.

Cheers,

Julia

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FLASH OFFER: Bolivia Arrivals

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Bolivia has a certain mystique. A history, tradition, and culture whose elements remain somewhat arcane. The pieces are not easy to put together. I write this thinking of my experiences in the city of La Paz, in the lowlands, the Yungas, and the rest of the interior that I know, but the same can also be said of the coffee.

There is something special about the journey from the city to the coffee-growing regions in Bolivia. There is something to be said for this journey in every origin, but Bolivia offers so much dynamism in just a few hours. I’ve been in snowstorms on the Altiplano at 15,000 ft and then, just an hour later, sweating mid-rainforest as we round curves on one of the most perilous one-lane roads I know. At the end of the line on this journey is Caranavi. Caranavi is like a town out of the wild west: hot, dusty, seemingly lawless. During the day, it’s a bustling commercial center for agricultural goods coming in from the mountains above. At night it’s quiet and dark.

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Coffee grows all throughout the mountainous region of Las Yungas, but annual production is miniscule compared to virtually any other coffee-producing country. ICO reports have the total 2015 crop pegged at 90,000 bags, down 15% from 2014, which was already down 12% from 2013 totals. Lack of technical assistance is a real issue here. Roya has taken its toll and crop change from coffee to coca has exploded. With 2-3 harvests annually and value upwards of 3x the coffee price, it’s not hard to understand why the coca leaf is now king. No matter how you slice it, production is low in Bolivia and dwindling fast.

So what to do?

Pay more? Yes, as long as it makes real sense. Be more present? Obviously. Play a larger role in the supply chain? Well, maybe we’re on to something here. It’s a discussion to be had. In fact, it’s a discussion that we’ve been having for the past 8 months or so. As we continue to define what that means for Red Fox, we’ve begun developing strategic partnerships and alliances in the interior.

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We’ve made contact with a few different groups in Las Yungas and have brought in some very nice lots this season. They’re late arrivals, but completely stable and physically sound, both moisture content and water activity-wise, a clear testament to the benefits of storing coffee in El Alto, the plateau above La Paz at 12,000+ ft.

With Caturra, Catuai, and Typica growing from 1500-1800 masl in the seasonally dry climate in Caranavi, there is plenty to get excited about. There may not be a whole lot of coffee out there, but what is available is often very, very good. This is the case with our current offerings from Villa Imperial on the outskirts of Caranavi. These lots are grown at elevations near the middle of the aforementioned range, and are composed of primarily Caturra and Catuai. Processing is done at a centralized dry mill, which has raised African beds for drying. The climate is ideal in the area, with drying time running between 10 and 15 days. That’s perfect in our opinion. Our Bolivia offerings are big on the fresh cream and toasted nuts, but also have an elegant red apple and currant acidity. We have one wilder lot as well, that toes the line between massive fruit character and overripe. It’s a coffee that some of you will hate and others will freak over.

Lots are small — they range in size from 8-17 bags — and we have 6 lots in total.

Inquire quickly at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com with your interest.

Cheers,

Aleco

Ethiopia 2015/2016 – Harvest Update & Forward Contracting

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It’s good, gang. It’s really, really good. I’ve spent the majority of the past two weeks in Addis, walking warehouses and cupping through table after table of gorgeous coffees. The South is indisputably brilliant this season. The West has shown an eclectic array of profiles with some very unique character. Weather has impacted Harar dramatically this season, but the coffee quality is fantastic. And we are hard at work, paring our selections down several times over to make sure we’re working with the very best coffees Ethiopia has to offer.

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Let’s start from the top….Guji has become one our top regions at Red Fox. Uraga, at the northern end of Guji zone, is the highest elevation coffee-producing area in the country at 2300 masl. Kercha, to the west, is an emerging producing region, and we’re seeing some of the best lots of the year coming out of here. Dynamite coffees are coming into Addis from all reaches of Guji. Along with fully traceable lots from Guji, we also purchase small volumes of top lots through the ECX. This season’s selection is without question the best we’ve sourced in the last handful of years; I scored the pre-shipment sample 91 points last week.

But Guji isn’t all we do. We put a lot of effort into bringing in some of the finest Grade 1 Kochere of the season. We love Illubabor, too. A handful of the cooperative groups born out of the Technoserve project, now unified under the Sor Gaba Union, offer some of the most unique flavor profiles in the country. A plummy, dark cherry, red grape, coca cola-like character tends to be more present than the honeyed, jasmine, sweet citrus, stone fruit profiles of the south. These are coffees that show tremendously well as filter or espresso.

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And we are bringing in some top lot coffee from Sidamo for the first time this season. We’ve cupped several times with these folks over the past few months, and have made our rounds through their warehouse. Our selections from Sidamo add a new dimension to our offerings — think sweetly floral aromatics and a heavy, ripe-fruit character from red cherry to satsuma.

Last but not least, we’ve begun selection for this season’s Harar lots. Drought has hit the region hard and production is estimated to be down anywhere from 40-50% compared with last season. We toured the western end of Harar a couple weeks ago and found the trees scarce, with very little coffee remaining on the few we came across. Khat production continues to increase at alarming rates, encroaching on the soils once dedicated to coffee production. Both the weather and khat make for a bleak future in Harar, as far as coffee is concerned. The lone bright spot at the moment is quality. Due in some part to the drought, coffees are drying very quickly and therefore tasting as clean as ever. Soft dark fruit is the tone-setter, along with raw tobacco and high % cacao. Cups are redolent with concord grape, blackcurrant, and fresh-picked ripe blueberry.

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Colombia 2015/2016: Shipment & Delivery Update

In a lot of ways, we consider Red Fox to be a ‘South America first’ kind of sourcing business. We’ve spent a good deal of time and energy in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia working to shape the supply chain from the bottom up, building projects and relationships that reflect the efforts of many people from farm to roastery. But we’ve been having interesting conversations lately, both in the den in Berkeley and out in roasteries, cafes, and at origin, about the evolution of Red Fox’s place in the market, about how our customers see us and how we see ourselves, and it has my mind spinning at new velocities.

These days we’re hearing from a lot of customers that they can’t wait for our Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees to start shipping. We love those origins and we take pride in sourcing the best lots from each country that we can find. We love seeing our customers take home prizes and accolades at competitions with those lots. And I mean, come on, those sweetly perfumed and floral Ethiopian coffees are pretty near every coffee pro’s favorite, and if they’re not it’s because the mega-demonstrative Kenya profile edges them out. I’m not saying I don’t live in the Ethiopia camp. I very much do. And Ethiopia may eventually become our top origin at Red Fox. It could even happen this year, so look out, Peru.

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But wait, there’s still Colombia. For Red Fox, Colombia has been the foundation on which we’ve been able to stand to deliver our message to the specialty roasting community in the US, Japan, Canada, Europe, and beyond. It’s where my longest-standing coffee buying relationships are found, perched all along the slopes of the Nevado de Huila, stretching across the border of Cauca and Huila. They’re found due south of there, too, at the peaks around La Union, San Lorenzo, and Taminango in Northern Narino. Some of our newest relationships — and our first foray into organizing an inaugural Red Fox producers group a.k.a. Grupo Asociativo Zorro Rojo — are found right in between, along the ridge at the southern edge of Huila.

Colombia is both our old faithful and our ever-evolving partner. Colombia is never stagnant and it’s always competitive — competition that’s interesting and dynamic in a way that we rarely encounter elsewhere. No other coffee-producing country offers the range and diversity of flavor that we find in Colombia. And we love all of this. We thrive on it and on the opportunity to be part of a community that pushes us to continue to evolve.

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We purchase and ship Colombian coffees continually throughout both harvest seasons, beginning in summer and ending right about now, so that fresh coffees are on offer from Red Fox virtually all year long. Here’s the breakdown of what’s been happening with our projects in Cauca, Narino, and Huila and what to expect in the weeks ahead:

INZA (CAUCA)

I’ve spent a good bit of the past decade of my coffee sourcing life in Pedregal de Inza, Cauca. I first started collaborating with the Asorcafe group here in 2006, and my relationship with these farmers has been nothing short of a thorough education in coffee buying. A few of these folks have become the examples I reference all over the world, not only as models for how to produce quality coffee, but for how to turn a small farm into a sustainable business as well. In so many ways the coffee producers of Inza were my inspiration and motivation for creating Red Fox.

Inza is a municipality that straddles the border of Huila and Cauca. On clear days, you can see straight up to the Nevado de Huila. It’s a few hours drive from both Popayan and La Plata in either direction, but it’s not easily accessible. The famous Paez river runs east through the valley below, connecting Cauca and Huila. Elevation is phenomenal here, with very little coffee grown below 1750 masl and great portion of it growing at 1900 masl and above. Caturra has held strong as the variety of choice, with a surprising amount of Bourbon and Typica also found in the area. Castillo and Colombia are found in small doses, but are not major players in the varietal landscape of the region.

The current season is now finishing up and it has been an exceptional one. We work very closely with a group of 66 farmer-members within Asorcafe. These are the folks who have shown their commitment to quality year in and year out, and are putting out the best lots in the region. This year is as vibrant as ever. Our first lots from the second harvest are now clear on both coasts, with reinforcements shipping in the coming weeks. These late season lots are truly special.

NORTHERN NARINO

Narino, La Union specifically, is home to our second oldest project in Colombia. I first started buying coffee from a small handful of these producers in 2007. Taminango was our focus at the time, and we’ve been able to secure some exceptional coffee from them again this year. Taminango has elevations ranging from 1650 to 2100 masl and perfectly dry harvest conditions, a rarity for Colombia. Caturra and Castillo are the varieties of choice in the area. This group has 44 farmer-members, making it the smallest association we work with in Colombia. We have roughly a dozen small lots clear at the Annex now. They’re truly gorgeous. Think meyer lemon, white nectarine, brown sugar and raw honey.

This past fall, we held our first ever Red Fox quality competition in conjunction with SENA, a rural development agency doing great things in Colombia, Banexport, our export partner in Colombia, and FUDAM, the 100-member producer association based in La Union. The idea behind the event was to find and reward the top lots of the season, and it turned out to be a great success. Additionally, and of equal importance, the event was used as a discovery tool. We had our eyes on some of the producing areas deep within the valleys of Northern Narino that have yet to be given their own identity in the marketplace. Coffees from these areas are most often purchased by coyotes (local intermediaries), taken to a larger town center, and blended off with dozens of other lots. Some of the lots that were entered in the competition from these areas were the best coffees we cupped from Narino all year. The wheels are in motion for development here in the coming season, so stay tuned for more. In the meantime, gobble up the remaining Pedro Gamboa and San Lorenzo lots in Continental — both of which are top lots from the competition.

PITALITO (HUILA)

Last but not least, we took a major step forward in origin development this year, establishing our very first producers association, Grupo Asociativo Zorro Rojo in Huila, in conjunction with our export partner, Banexport. Claudia Milena Samboni is leading the group, which includes several dozen producers with farms along the ridge and accompanying valleys at the southernmost edge of the Huila Department. The coffees are eccentric in their display of ripe red fruits, saturated sweetness, and substantial mouthfeel. They are a great compliment to the the Inza and Northern Narino profiles. Varieties in this zone run the entire gamut from Caturra and Typica to Bourbon, Castillo, Colombia and beyond. It’s a veritable Colombian coffee nursery down there. We have beautiful coffee available on both coasts, as the year-one harvest comes to a close.

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Cheers,

Aleco

 

 

 

Newsletter: Peru 2015 Shipment & Delivery Update

Back when Red Fox Coffee Merchants was still a daydream of mine, one of my more lucid visions was that Peru would become the defining origin for a nascent sourcing business. No other producing country fulfills the core ideals of our mantra so seamlessly: coffee-producing communities so far off the grid that they have been left behind by much or all of the specialty market; quality that has the potential to change the way people think about coffee. Getting around Peru is more difficult than any other origin I’ve ever worked in. And, yes, that includes Ethiopia, Indonesia, and everywhere else. The south is particularly tricky to traverse. Each trip involves several flights, dozens of hours in the car, challenging hikes to get in and out of the producing valleys. Visiting one farmer often takes an entire day.

Being a coffee farmer from the Sandia Valley in Puno or from Incahuasi or Huadquina in Cusco is as grueling a proposition as anywhere I’ve seen. Note the photo of Ciriaco Quispe and his homemade wooden cart, which holds 2 bags of parchment coffee — bags that weigh somewhere around 40kg each. Ciriaco’s farm is a 90 minute hike off of the main road on a rugged dirt trail at what feels like a 90-degree angle, and it yields roughly ten 69kg bags of 1st quality exportable green coffee a year. Let’s use the standard translation of 70% parchment to 1st quality green to estimate that Ciriaco makes this trip at least 12 times a season to deliver all his coffee to the mill. This is the standard for coffee farmers across the greater Sandia Valley.

We think it’s important for everyone to understand what the reality is for these folks. We pay a whole lot of money in Peru because we love the coffees, because we know what it takes for farmers here to deliver their coffees to market, and because we think there is even more potential to develop.

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As many of you know, Red Fox added a full-time field agent, Tibed Yujra, on the ground in Peru going into the harvest this past spring. Tibed and I have cupped together since 2009, when I first began working in the Sandia Valley of Puno. Back in those days, Tibed was Quality Control manager for the entire cooperative society that we worked with.

We brought Tibed on board to help us acheive our vision for the country. There are more obstacles to overcome in Peru than in almost any other coffee producing country in Latin America, but the potential for top quality is equally as large. What are the prerequisites that a coffee buyer looks for when venturing into new territory? Elevation? Varietals? Microclimate? Processing technique? Peru has everything we’re looking for and in spades. Elevations soar well over 1,800 masl across the country and reach 2,200 masl in a few specific regions. Caturra and Typica are commonly found top to bottom in the Peruvian Andes, and one of the south’s best kept secrets is the abundance of Bourbon. The Peruvian Andes are more arid than most, allowing for proper drying and storage conditions. We are often conditioning parchment at over 10,000 feet. Processing in our projects is similar to Colombia in that it’s done very simply with manual techniques. Drying on raised parabolic beds is also a commonality.

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This year Red Fox is working in three departments of Peru. Coffees from two of these regions are arriving now on both east and west coasts:

PUNO

Peru started for us in Puno. We were initially, and still are, attracted to the potential for micro lots with dramatically floral character. I sometimes refer to them as ‘Junior Yirgacheffe.’ People occasionally confuse them for Geisha. They’re neither — I mean what is? — but that delicious confusion is thanks to the United Nations. In an attempt to rejuvenate coffee production in the Sandia Valley, a UN-funded project brought the aforementioned Bourbon seed stock to producers in the region during the 80’s and 90’s.

Along with these unique, floral-driven coffees we also find coffees that are filled with fresh cream, fine chocolate, black walnut, toasted sugar and a range of fruit from red apple to apricot to raisin. They cup very solid on the table, but they brew even better. We encourage you to put these samples through your harios and kalitas after you cup. It adds perspective.

Within Puno is the Sandia Valley, which is due north of the department capital of Juliaca, saddled right up along the border of Bolivia. Within Sandia are several other valleys that we work in, from Inambari at the southern entrance to Tambopata further north. There are thousands of farmers producing in the valley, but we work with a select number who have the elevation and varietals we’re looking for. Our selection process is ultra-intensive. We’ve screened well over 1,000 samples this fall, with an approval rate of approximately 10%. We’re more strict this year than we’ve ever been when it comes to cup quality, water activity, moisture content, and physical preparation. These lots are clean and stable.

CUSCO

My very first trip to Peru was centered around an adventure to the Incahuasi Valley of Cusco. It’s a 10+ hour drive to get out there from the city of Cusco; a drive that takes you from the Department of Cusco into Apurimac before winding its way back into Cusco. It’s one of the more epic rides you can take as a coffee buyer, especially the crossing over the altiplano at 15,000 feet. Breathing is not to be taken for granted up there.

I took two trips to Incahuasi in the summer of 2006, but the outcome was disappointing. A large trade organization that was not open to outside buyers working directly with farmers pushed us out of the region. They were an immovable obstacle in the road to transparent sourcing.

In 2014 that group disintegrated, a moment I had personally been waiting for since my initial visits, and now not only are we able to trade directly with farmers in the Incahuasi Valley, but Tibed and I are focused on scouring the rest of the Department for its finest coffees. Our search has taken us to the Yanatile Valley as well as to Ocobamba and Santa Teresa. There is a treasure chest of amazing Cusco coffees that we can’t wait to bring to market in the coming years.

Elevations can reach well over 2,000 meters in the region, and there are small pockets of Bourbon to be found, along with more widespread Caturra and Typica. These coffees are exciting and demonstrate an entirely different cup profile than their neighbors to the south. The range of flavor begins with a bounty of yellow fruits from mango to peach and apricot to meyer lemon. Muscovado and darker sugars and honeys drift through the profile from start to finish.

We’re really proud of where our projects in Peru are now, and we’re very happy about the qualities we’re bringing in. These are coffees that will bring a whole lot of life to your menus throughout the winter. Please email info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com for samples.

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Travel Journal: South America Update

Perfectly ripe stone fruit. Tart green grape. Juicy red apple. Fragrant floral aromatics reminiscent of wildflower honey and Queen of the Night. Toasted pecan. Toasted almond. Macadamia. Sugars ranging from cane to muscovado, turbinado to panela. High percentage fine cacao.

These are the things we love about the very best South American coffees. And these are the coffees we’re searching tirelessly to discover. Finding them and the people who produce them is not easy, though. It’s taken years of travel and a constant focus on development to bring the top Inzas and Punos and Pichincha coffees to market the over past decade. We spend a good part of our spring, summer, and early fall making the journey to Colombia, across the border into Ecuador, down to Peru, and over the altiplano to Bolivia. We do it several times over to make sure we have a strong strategy in place, to check in during harvest time and select lots, to ensure that our work isn’t all for naught in the dry mill. It’s my favorite time of year. South America is often the overlooked continent in our specialty coffee industry. Sure, Colombia is on the radar, but Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador often are not. One of our primary aims at Red Fox is to change that; to give the smallholder farmers of these origins a voice in the marketplace.

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I’m hopping a plane to Peru in just a couple of hours and will be making the trek from Puno to Cuzco over the course of a couple weeks. The harvest is just past peak, meaning it’s the perfect time to get our spoons into some samples.

I personally have been working in the Sandia Valley of Puno for five years now, in a handful of different communities. These are the most special coffees in all of Peru, in my opinion. Elevations soar here, reaching over 2,000 masl in certain areas. Caturra and Typica are grown across the valley, but the secret here is the Bourbon. A UN-funded development project in the 80’s reintroduced Bourbon to the valley, and it’s the best explanation I have for the wild floral flavors, layered acidity, and saturated sweetness we find in the top lots.

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Cuzco was my introduction to Peruvian coffee back in 2006, but, after purchasing from an isolated community deep in the valleys of La Convencion the first year, we lost the coffee when a mega-sized cooperative took over the region and made transparent buying impossible. This year, farmers in Cuzco are once again able to trade freely and directly, and that means we’re right back into the fray. We’re hoping to select a handful of top lots during my trip next month, and are looking forward to building our relationship with this community again.

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Travel Journal: Colombia Inza June 2014

I’ve personally been working with the Asorcafe producer’s association in Inza de Cauca for 9 years now. There isn’t a relationship in the world that holds more weight for me both personally and professionally than this one. After moving on from my time spent in Costa Rica working at the farm and export level, it’s very fair to say that I cut my teeth as a buyer on the roaster’s side in Colombia and with Asorcafe in particular. After all of these years we have cultivated a mutual sense of trust. We know what we have to get done on our respective sides to ensure the continued production of top quality coffee. This is the most organized, motivated and responsible association I work with in the entire world. These are often our most popular coffees anywhere and it’s surely not hard to tell why. You can trust that these coffees are world class.

Cauca

Inza de Cauca is a 4-5 hour drive from Popayan, capital of the Cauca Department, depending on the weather really. Cauca is wet and rainfall is constant. Landslides are a common occurrence as are the road blockages they cause. After leaving the city we quickly begin the steep climb up the mountain through Totoro and across the paramo at upwards of 3,000 masl. It’s a beautiful drive and if you happen to know what you’re doing you’ll be sure to stop for the smoked trout breakfasts up at the top. From that point it’s another couple hours down the mountain into Inza, the gateway into Colombia’s historic Tierra Adentro and its pre-Columbian ruins.

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But we come for the coffee. The producer members of Asorcafe have farms ranging in altitude from 1700 – 2200 masl; extreme altitude. The group has done a miraculous job of warding off the newer varietal pushers and their Colombia and Castillo seeds. Inza is still full of Caturra with healthy doses of Bourbon and Typica to boot in certain fortunate subregions. Processing is standardized across the region in true smallholder Colombia fashion – great focus on ripe cherry selection, manual depulping of coffee beans from their cherries, 18-24 hour fermentation, washing in clean, tiled tanks and drying on raised parabolic beds to protect from the elements. We cup every lot within 15 days of it finishing the drying stage and put all approved lots into grainpro immediately in the association warehouse. These coffees don’t leave the grainpro until the moment they are dry milled, and they go into fresh bags immediately after. We re-use the storage bags again for fresh parchment.

Cauca

To this day these are still my favorite coffees in all of Latin America. The sweetness is so rich and laden with dark sugar notes of panela/muscovado, aged rum and ripe stone fruits. These are full bodied coffees. They are complete and supreme in the sense of balance. We buy from all over the valley – three larger regions in particular: Inza, Pedregal and San Antonio. Acidity can run the gamut from the malic flavors of crisp asian pear and fuji apple to tart, refreshing green grape. Asorcafe coffees demonstrate thought-provoking complexity.

Cauca

Cauca