Written by Joshua Tarlo, Origin’s Head of Coffee
Pics thanks to Jon Attenborough on his trip with Joshua
Concluding our winter processing set series is a presentation of coffees from the prestigious Limoncillo farm in Nicaragua owned by the Mierisch family.
The family are our longest standing direct trade partners; we’ve worked with Erwin Sr., Eleane and Erwin Jr. since 2009 and they’re now our largest source of green coffee in the world.
Left to right: Erwin Jr, Erwin Snr, Eleane
What has grown and cemented our relationship is the remarkable attention to detail and quality the Mierisch family gives their farms. Limoncillo is an incredible capturing of their skill in coffee production. Although the farm sits at a lower altitude than any other farm we work with, the coffee it produces is absolutely delicious. High altitudes usually mean cool evenings and warm days. These ideal conditions are mimicked in Limoncillo’s micro-climate but what truly ensures the coffees success is the Cup of Excellence awarded Mierisch family.
The Story of the Varietal
The Javanica varietal in this tasting series came to the Mierisch family through a serendipitous encounter. According to Erwin Jr. the family acquired the varietal one day while driving near a UNICAFE coffee experiment station. The story goes that Erwin and his father saw a man on the side of the road with some farm gear and a 20 pound bag of coffee seeds labelled Java trying to flag down cars. The two Erwins stopped and the man explained he was trying to sell the equipment and seeds because the station had just closed down and could not afford to pay his remaining wages. Apparently what he was carrying was some sort of unofficial “severance.” Erwin Sr., much to his son’s annoyance decided the guy needed a break and bought the used shovels and the bag of seeds. From there the seeds were passed to the family’s chief agronomist Patricia Contreras who, alongside the Mierisch’s, experimented with different altitudes and processing styles to learn the best way to grow this new varietal. Once they had produced the incredible cup of their new coffee they renamed the varietal to nod to its new home Nicaragua and the Javanica was born.
The Story of the Series
While cupping in the warm lab at the Mierisch family mill last February we told Eleane and Erwin Jr. our idea of showcasing their incredible capability by taking one coffee and offering three interpretations of it in processing. Excited by the idea they told me about the Javanica varietal and how they had been processing it in various ways. We cupped through the lots and fell in love with how their attentive processing had created such a complex coffee expressed in such different ways. The final series was decided with three processing methods: washed, pulped natural and natural.
Eleane cupping; Joshua cupping
The Washed Process
The washed coffee is a classic capturing of the process - light, floral and delicate. Washed processing involves the coffee moving through disks with protuberance. The distance between the disks is calibrated to ensure only cherries of a certain ripeness will eject their seeds (beans). The coffee is then left in clean water which slowly breaks down the external sugars and causes any remaining mucilage, called silver skin to separate from the thin layer of light yellow or white skin called parchment. Once the external fermentation has occurred the coffee is dried on African style beds in a parabolic drying house.
African style drying beds are rectangular, elevated off the ground and have mesh spread between their frame. The mesh and elevation allows a larger surface area of the coffee to be exposed to the air which promotes even drying. The African style bed sits in contrast to patio or tarp drying which are on the ground limiting the coffees surface area exposure. The African style bed is preferred because it generally means the coffees parchment will not be ruptured which is important in retaining the quality of the bean. The elevated beds even drying also generally helps ensure the coffees fresh flavours last longer.
The Pulped Natural Process
The pulped natural takes the washed processing’s high delicacies and shows how the extra mucilage around the bean develops the flavours into darker fruit and floral notes. Pulp natural processing took the Javanica through the disk de-pulpers like the washed but instead of the washing stage that ferments the silver skin off the parchment the coffee is placed directly to the drying stage on the African beds. The amount of stirring and amount of silver skin left on the parchment dictates the sugar caramelisation that occurs, the more mucilage and less stirring the darker the external of the bean gets. This colour tends to relate to flavour intensity. In the Javanica the coffee runs a middle point between washed and natural in terms of intensity. The pulp offers understanding of the coffees flavour spectrum by giving us a more intense version of the washed notes and a more delicate capturing of the natural.
The Natural Process
Natural processing is the world’s most popular way to process coffee as well as the oldest and most risky. The coffee bean is left in the coffee cherry and placed straight on to the bed. The fruit is then fermented to slowly separate it from the bean. This slow fermentation of the fruit must be carefully managed so that it does not cause fermentation of the bean its self. The coffee is turned often to ensure maximum surface area exposure to the air and facilitate an even drying. Natural processing tends to create a very intense cup that is incredibly vibrant and unique. In the Javanica the natural processes transitions those darker fruits to very ripe status and a profile that is also very rich in fruit sugars.
What makes natural processing so challenging is not only the risk of fermentation of the beans sugars but also of the development of moulds. These moulds at best diminish the coffee flavours and at most cause defected flavours. The Mierisch family though has extensive experience in processing naturally so they’ve created a cup that is vibrant, complex and unique.
The Limoncillo Reserve Collection is available as a processing set of 3 x 150g in a limited edition box. Our wholesale customers will also be brewing the series so we'll be sure to keep you up-to-date with who's brewing where on twitter @origincoffee
We hope you enjoy it.
(Pics from the Mierisch Mill)