Innovation is key in specialty coffee; many producers at origin are always looking to implement new ground-breaking ways of growing and processing, aiming to quality and receive a fairer price. This idea of pushing boundaries can be risky and a huge amount of work, not all methods will work out, and it can take years of trial and error to produce something unique, delicious and repeatable.
Last year in 2019, we found something special. A nano-lot from the beautiful Finca Guadalupe Zaju, found nestled in Chiapas, Mexico’s famed ‘Ruta de Cafe’ (‘Route of Coffee’). This 310-hectare farm has been led by Eduardo ‘Teddy’ Esteve since 2004, where he and his expert team produced and processed a deliciously sweet, boozy and complex coffee… The ‘secret ingredient’; wood!
Now usually this is NOT the ‘secret ingredient’ you are looking for in a specialty coffee, but when you are talking about wooden barrels, you are into a whole new category of excellence.
Teddy and his team found that Barrel Aging green coffee, as a process, is a quick method of enhancing and emphasising the complex and intrinsic characteristics of a coffee bean, without damaging its structure and with minimal risk in introducing negative characteristics.
On the surface, it might sound like a simple process, chuck some green beans in an old whiskey barrel and see what happens. However, it took some experimentation and fine-tuning to get the perfect result. Teddy and his team needed to consider a few factors; what coffee lots to use, what kind of barrels to use and how long should they age the coffee for? Green coffee is extremely susceptible to picking up aromas and flavours from its environment, which can be a farmers/importers/roasters worst nightmare. Timing is everything, leaving the coffee in the barrel too long may result in an overwhelming unpleasant experience, not long enough and you may not get those sweet, boozy, woody flavour notes.
The farm was originally known simply as Zajú – named after the river that runs through it: Guadalupe was added only when the Virgin of Guadalupe icon was introduced to the farm’s chapel.
Teddy purchased the farm in a true act of faith and commitment to making the formerly great farm into a bastion of quality again. To complement his passion for coffee farming, Teddy surrounding himself with experts, to ensure that Guadalupe Zaju establishes a name for itself as a producer of high-quality coffee. This team of experts and the devotion with which Teddy approaches his role as a coffee producer has paid off, with Guadalupe Zaju’s yields unusually high for a Mexican farm.
Variety’s grown at Finca Guadalupe Zaju include, Marsellesa, Mundo Maya (H16) and Evaluna Hybrids (H18) and are 100% shade grown. These cherries are selectively handpicked when they are ripe and delivered to the farm’s mill. Here, the cherries are pulped using an ecopulper, which hugely reduces the farm’s environmental footprint, as it only uses one cubic meter of water per 20 tonnes of coffee.
Once pulping is complete, the coffee is separated into tanks to be fermented. This process can take between 15-40 hours depending on the weather constantly being using a traditional method called ‘prueba de palo’ to check its readiness for the washing stage. The coffee is then demulced and dried using the farm’s 10 Guardiola’s. Temperatures of these wood fired driers are carefully monitored, and coffee is dried at a slow and constant temperature of 40 degrees until they reach between 11-12% humidity.
The result is an extremely sweet and clean cup, boasting of caramel and orange rind flavour notes, with a honey like mouthfeel.
The Barrel Aging Process:
Lots can then be selected for barrel ageing. The lots must have a fruit and wine profile, with a score of 83+. Teddy and his team have chosen to re-purposed whiskey barrels, from the Brown Forman Group, whose famous bourbon brands include Jack Daniels, Gentleman Jack and Woodford Reserve.
Once the green coffee and barrels were selected, the green coffee lots are blended and placed into the whiskey barrels. The parchment skin of the coffee is left in during this process; it is usually removed after drying during hulling before the beans are shipped. The green coffee is then left to age for three weeks, this length of time results in a complex, sweet, boozy and deeply satisfying brew.
All in all, the story of Guadalupe Zaju is the story of a coffee lover devoted to what he does. Passion has led him to forget budgets and push boundaries when trying to produce a great coffee. Teddy will continue to take every step possible to ensure that coffee from his farm is the absolute best in the region.
These new lots will be hitting our offer list from the beginning of August, once it safely arrives at our UK warehouse. If you fancy getting your hands on some, get in touch with your account manager, or reach us at here.