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Published, May 28, 2019

Welcoming back Los Altos. A Q&A with Eleane Mierisch.

Los Altos has been at the core of who we are for years. The farm is owned by one of our longest standing Direct Trade partners, the Mierisch family. Their experience and knowledge, harness the potential of the Nicaraguan farm and meet it with ambition and experimentation, creating this incredible session coffee we love.

origin-coffee-roasters-los-altosFinca Los Altos. Jon Attenborough.

Our relationship with the Eleane and her family began over a decade ago and every year we’re delighted to welcome back this coffee. We recently caught up with Eleane to chat more about her coffee career, coffee production and plans underway for the farm.

So Eleane, tell us a bit about yourself. For those who aren't familiar, how did your coffee producing career start?

I’m originally a women's health care nurse practitioner. I practiced in the United States for 16 years. I decided to move back to Nicaragua in 2004, in order to be closer to my parents and particularly because of my mother's illness. My brother, Erwin, was the person that nudged me into coffee by being my tutor and teacher. Coffee became my passion when I discovered this wonderful yet challenging world. From the moment that I began tasting the exquisite and different flavours that are found in coffee, I developed a huge interest in getting to know more about the agricultural management of the farms and each step of the value/production chain.

From the picking of coffee cherries to the exportation of the green bean, I’ve also had the great privilege to take part in the ‘Cup of Excellence’ competition as a cupper and also as Head Judge in locations including Mexico. The biggest lesson that I have learned is this: by being grateful to mother nature and considerate to the people that help us perform the best job possible day-to-day, everyone's life is not only improved economically but we create a new family that works with passion to produce the best coffee that Nicaragua has to offer and share this with the world.

How has coffee production changed for you since starting out?

Climate is definitely a big aspect that has been constantly fluctuating since I started out. It makes it challenging to predict ideal harvest dates, dry the coffee, monitor humidity etc. Last year we received a lot more rain than usual, and this year we saw small amounts of rain but just enough! We’ve had to play it by ear at times, but we always strive to work with mother nature and do our best to be environmentally sound.

In terms of challenges, we’ve had some years where production dips, especially due to the proliferation of roya (coffee leaf rust) in the region. Which has affected not only us but most producers in the country. However, this year we’ve seen an increase from the previous harvest although we still are not back to our average production level. To offer a solution to this problem, we’ve introduced a roya resistant varietal, Ethiosar, into the farms. It’s a high yield varietal that has very good cup potential. Alongside this, we’ve also began pruning after the harvest, which allows air to move through the trees with ease and also opens up space for all the branches to receive sunlight. Too much shade can lead to the development of ojo de gallo (roosters eye) disease of the fruit.

I’ve also introduced slower drying times since I started at the mill. This allows us to increase the shelf life of the coffee, but we also noticed a positive correlation in cup quality. Our processes tend to come out “cleaner,” with the flavours easier to identify.

origin-coffee-roasters-los-altosThe Coffee Cherry. Jon Attenborough.

Los Altos is real work horse of a coffee, with a big body and incredibly rich flavours. How would you describe this year’s crop and the flavour notes that are most prominent in the cup?

We’re very happy with Los Altos’ production and quality this year. We saw an increase of production of around 300qq. That’s about a 25% increase from last year. Cup quality wise, we also perceived a higher quality compared to last year. Expect big notes of chocolate and blackberry, with a creamy body and balanced acidity. It’s such an easy coffee to have every day.

We’re always excited to hear about what projects you’re working on at Fincas Mierisch Estate. What does the future of coffee production hold for you? Have you got any experimental coffees underway at the moment?

My father and my nephew, both named Erwin, have been spearheading our new processing methods. This year was our first try at the anaerobic process. We’d heard so much about it from other producers and origins that we wanted to give it a try. In addition to the anaerobic process, we also tried our hands at performing the anaerobic process in cold temperatures. To do this, we built a cold room inside our warehouse and kept the temperature between 6°Cand 10°C. We then placed the anaerobic tanks in there and allowed the coffee to ferment for 48 hours. We actually have your former Head of Coffee, Joshua Tarlo to thank for inspiring this process.

Following this, we sent these new processes to Paul Songer’s lab in the US to get them analysed. Following this, we found the anaerobic process added notes of cinnamon, clove, and brown sugar to the cup profile of most of the coffees we experimented with. The anaerobic process in cold temperatures provided a “cleaner” cup profile. The flavours were very easy to identify. Some of the naturals even cupped like they were washed coffees. We also saw an increase in the acidity of the coffees, with sweetness unaffected. This is due to the production of lactic acid inside the fermentation tanks. The cold temperatures allow for the rate of fermentation to slow down, which allows for longer fermentation times (we had one experiment that lasted 6 days and produced really good results, however, it’s not practical at a larger scale) and lessens the risk of overfermentation.

The team also have some new experiments in the planning stages for the upcoming harvest but they are keeping it a secret for now. They won’t even tell me!  

You’re also hugely committed to the welfare of your workers and the environment – with your healthcare programme offering free dental and medical care to the full-time staff that live onsite. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

The clinic serves around 300 people during the harvest and the 15 full-time workers on the farm. We also provide free schooling from the age of five to ten for children of staff and pickers. Alongside this, free day care for infants is also provided.

We like to see our employees as assets and not liabilities. Due to this, we strive to provide additional training every year and teach our team skills that can diversify their income (for example knitting and pottery). We looked at the UTZ program and learned that providing additional training and information to your employees not only increases productivity and quality, but also provides employees with additional tools that can help them in their careers if they decide to get into a different line of work. We like to see our employees succeed and we will try the most we can to help them do that.

origin-coffee-roasters-los-altosOur Head of Coffee, Freda Yuan, and Eleane Mierisch

We’re excited to have Los Altos back in the Roastery and look forward to supporting the amazing work being undertaken by Eleane and the Mierisch family across their farms in Nicaragua and Honduras for years to come. 

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