This month we head to Colombia, by way of Small Batch here in Melbourne, Australia. They’ve got a stunning Geisha (only our second Geisha throughout Superlatives!) produced by Raquel Lasso, a pioneering leader within her community. This coffee is all syrupy body, jammy bakers spice, rosehip, apple, grape, and mandarin, with super aromatics of white flowers, citrus peel, mandarin, and perfume. It’s pretty superlative really ; )
About the coffee:
Name: Raquel Lasso Geisha
Harvest: August & September 2017
Plant Varietal: Seed brought from Panama, identified as “Geisha 2722” from the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza in Costa Rica in the 1950s, believed to have originated in the mountains around Gesha in Ethiopia.
Process: Fermented in sealed pickle drums and fully washed
Farm location and other characteristics:
Region: Andes, Nariño
Farm Name: La Bohemia
Producer: Raquel Lasso
Altitude: 2000 masl
We were fortunate enough to have Andrew Kelly and the team from Small Batch contribute towards this months information page. With a crispy video and some deep thinking behind their writing, we’re super excited for what they have to share!
The Producer: Raquel Lasso
Raquel is one of many Lassos, a multi-generational family of traditional coffee producers in Nariño. Through the NGO she co-founded, FUDAM, Raquel has dedicated her life to championing sustainable development in her community — the majority being small, traditional coffee growers like her family and her extended family. A particular focus of Raquel’s work is empowering women within households towards financial autonomy through funded agricultural projects (both within and outside of coffee). She has seen that when a woman controls at least part of family finances, domestic violence decreases, children go to school more regularly, and they eat better and more often.
When we first met Raquel in 2016, she had recently planted these prized seeds on heavily depleted soils that she and her husband Carlos had recuperated with literally truckloads of organic matter. However, Raquel didn’t speak to us about her coffee, at all. She spoke to us about her community — how they live, how they grow, the problems producers face, and the ways in which Raquel is working to see her neighbours live healthier, safer and fuller lives.
The de-pulper was provided by the NGO Raquel founded; a specific model of de-pulper, with adjustable channels allowing different sized beans to be cleanly processed — deliciously appropriate for processing big old geisha seeds on a humble scale. After de-pulping, fermentation occurs in sealed pickle drums, as these vessels are affordable, clean, and easily moved.
We visited several times throughout harvest and found during our visits Raquel’s husband Carlos was having trouble fermenting in good time, due to the cold weather on the farm, and with the beans being under anaerobic conditions. We suggested he simply roll the drums on the ground to re-activate the ferment and bring down the total length. This worked like a treat. Being fermented anaerobically has certainly — in our empirical experience — contributed to the production of a fuller, sweeter, and cleaner cup.
This being a slow maturing high-altitude coffee means it’s a pretty dense seed, so, on the one hand, it needs time and a lot of heat to cook out vegetal and cereal aspects. On the other, the roast also needs to pass quite quickly through the stages so as to not bake out the vibrancy and brightness. We chose a slightly higher charge temperature but a later turn time, allowing the heat to penetrate a little more deeply than a less dense coffee would require, and then subjected it to maximum heat from 1:50 to around 4:00.
From there we dialled the heat input down in stages while taking care to maintain a fairly high ROR up to and through first crack and to termination. The total roast time was very close to 10 minutes, of which approximately 17% was post-first crack.
The roast was performed on a Vittoria brand perforated drum roaster from the 1960s, with airflow un-dampened. The cooling was performed on our Probat UG-15, a roaster that possesses the best cooling tray in the business.
How did we come to buy this coffee? From Small Batch to Shared Source:
As a coffee roaster seeking to work with producers as directly as possible, and wanting to see the specialty market have a meaningful impact on the ground, we found ourselves developing a green program based around the needs of growers. Several years later our efforts culminated in the creation of a green agency focused dually on working with producers most in need of receiving specialty prices, and on regenerative farming practices. We have branch offices in Huila, Colombia and Seattle, USA. Take a bow, Shared Source (yes, this is a plug).
Our portfolio model preferences smallholders who want to farm well, and supports many of them with micro-financing, a long-term and committed partner, agricultural training in holistic practices, and the tools and knowledge to improve their coffee. We pay high and consistent prices that allow their small business to flourish along with ours.
Raquel’s obviously a perfect candidate for us to work with, but we were given pause about buying a Geisha. Let us explain…
Since the way we view coffee has been influenced by the needs of growers we respect, we normally encourage producers to persist with traditional, tasty, versatile-in-profile Arabicas, rather than plant more exotic but generally risky varietals (in fact, in Colombia the vast majority of what we purchase is non-sprayed and high-yielding Caturra). Too many times we have seen humble farmers with glints in their eyes plant Geisha with disastrous results. If the delicate seedlings even take, they are super hard to maintain without high amounts of inputs, and in the cup they fall very, very flat.
Our position in favour of “non-exotics” is also informed by several disturbing market perversities we’ve observed, including:
- Coffee roasters paying close-to-commodity prices for over 90% of the coffee they buy (we call this poverty coffee — because it engenders poverty) and absolutely exorbitant prices for coffees that cup superlatively — regardless of the social and environmental systems they come from.
- The inflated prices received by large (and usually conventional) producers for their ’superlative’ coffee is market distorting, and concentrates wealth in a way that reflects the world’s problematic economy in a broader sense.
So when we came across this Geisha we were initially wary, but soon came around after discovering this stunner on the table was Raquel’s. A weak-at-the-knees coffee, produced by a smallholder, farming regeneratively. We’d hit the trifecta.
Returning to the Practical — Custodians of Quality:
Having an operational foothold and export license in Colombia means we can ensure producers receive the exact price in pesos per carga that we negotiate, while also determining the handling of the coffee from the farmer to roasters in the US, or ourselves in Australia. From insisting producers store their parchment on-farm in plastic bags before delivery, to climate-stable storage of parchment, and the use of refrigerated shipping containers through to climate-controlled storage in Melbourne — we take the greatest of care with our coffee, from before the farm gate, right up to the roasting machine.
We used the BH Melbourne water recipe to make sure you can all enjoy it the same way we do. Find the water recipes for the concentrates here. Here’s the BH Melbourne water recipe itself:
- 14g Buffer concentrate
- 5.7g Mg concentrate
- 980.3g DI water
The Brew Guide:
Our weapon of choice has always been the humble V60. It’s the brewing method that we benchmark our roasting to, and also what we use to brew for pleasure. Great green needs no further kerfuffle to make it taste good. Our in-house V60 recipe is simple, sweet, and highly repeatable.
- 20g of coffee to start (don’t go less, you’ll not have enough bed depth to get an even and full extraction).
- 333g of water // 1:16.5 ratio of water.
- 60-70g bloom, get it in fast, don’t be shy. Stir until your timer reaches 15s
- At 45s pour up to 200g of water, pouring mostly in a centralised circle and avoiding pouring against the cone. When you get to 200g give a single, gentle stir around the top of the water, against the paper. This will bring all the larger particles back to the middle of the brew bed, helping them have a bit more contact time.
- At 1min 30s pour up to 333g, same single stir again, and then at 2min on your timer you want to give the v60 a little DJ-style shimmy at its base to settle the bed.
Total brew time should be between 3:45 and 4:30.
You’ll hit around the 1.4 mark on your TDS-o-meter, and have something very tasty to drink.
If you aren’t sure about any of this, you can look up Scott Rao’s recent v60 video. Scott is a newcomer to coffee, but seems to have some good ideas. He’s one to keep an eye on.
Let us know how you go with your brew in the comments below!
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