Thirty or forty years ago, there was a functioning airport not far from Robot Mata’s neighborhood of Kelem Wollega. Trade relations with Greece were hot, and the federal government hadn’t yet turned a blind eye to its nation’s breadbasket. These days, however, if you want to taste fully washed, high-elevation coffees from the farmers of Kelem Wollega, you’ll need more than a simple plane ticket. You’ll have to become accustomed to traveling very quickly over very bumpy roads. But when you arrive, and a parade of co-op members greets you with flowers and smiles, you’ll understand why you came: you’ve just arrived at one of the most extraordinary co-ops, in one of the most extraordinary regions that exists. Period.
Four Barrel Coffee
Running a functioning co-op is never easy. This particular washing station fell on hard times recently, and was actually shuttered for the 2012 season. The Abaryoshyakawa co-op, which built the station in 2005 with help from USAID, couldn’t keep the mill at its full potential, and its members paid the price. Or more appropriately, they didn’t receive the prices they deserved. Justin Musabiymana stepped in last year to lease the washing station from the co-op, and revitalized its operations. Now co-op members can deliver their coffee with the confidence that it will be properly milled, and retain its high quality all the way to the cupping table. This tiny mill’s small capacity (20,000 kgs of parchment per year doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of global coffee) makes it essential that these farmers receive high prices for their limited output.
There’s a special little town called Agua Dulce (“sweet water”) tucked away in the northernmost corner of the Huehuetenango region in Guatemala, just a stone’s throw from the Mexican border. What makes the town so unique is that when the locals claim “there’s something in the water” it’s not just a cliched figure of speech. As it turns out, most of the land throughout Huehuetenango (say it with us - way-way-ten-AN-go) has been devoted to the production of sugarcane since the end of the 17th century. Over the years this has infused the region’s groundwater with a delicate but pronounced sweetness. As charming as the region itself, this expressive coffee from San Francisco darlings Four Barrel is a celebration of what we consider one of the most fascinating terroirs in the coffee world. The seasoned farmers of Flor de Cafe tend three separate lots of coffee across the estate, each under different growing conditions and with its own distinct qualities. Four Barrel’s head roaster Tal Mor went crazy for the youngest lot, which also happens to be grown at the farm’s highest elevation. As a rule of thumb, coffees from high elevations boast intensely developed flavors - and this one is certainly not an exception. Roasted with finesse in a vintage German roaster, Flor de Cafe is exuberant up front but gradually comes down for a smooth, sweet finish that shows off the agua dulce’s naturally enchanting character.
On a clear morning, you can stand on the canyon edge of Marco Anonio Romero's coffee farm in Hulia, Colombia and through your binoculars glimpse something on the opposite canyon edge – Antonio Zuniga's farm. Zuniga and Romero's shared commitment to great coffee has bridged this craggy distance. We're proud to bring you beans from these hillside neighbors, hand-selected by Four Barrel Coffee in San Francisco. They've roasted this dynamic, layered brew according to their hallmark computer-free, intuition and skilled based approach. So when you take a sip, think about the canyon between Zuniga and Romero, between Colombia and San Francisco, between San Francisco and your home, and remember – coffee has the power to make those canyons seem, well, pretty small.
Big things come in small packages, but what about small regions? When Four Barrel Coffee went to Gera Woreda, Ethiopia, they found a wealth of flavor that had previously been obscured by bad infrastructure. Thanks to the help of a nonprofit, the 240 small farmers of Yukro Cooperative now enjoy a shared washing station, better transport, and more direct payment than ever before. This new infrastructure means they can now ‘wet process’ their crops, leading to more flavorful coffees that yield bigger profits. In this brew, tropical fruit aromas lead into a luscious cup that is sweet like palm sugar. It finishes clean and dry.
For Rwandans, the road to recovery is paved with coffee. Coffee is the nation’s most important crop, but structural problems—like antiquated tools and land erosion—have undermined production. Enter Cotecaga Wet Mill, a collective that united 1,750 smallholder farmers in 2006 to pool resources for processing and export. This year’s harvest shows the true potential of coffee from the region, with an impressive complexity. In the hands of Four Barrel Coffee, the result is juicy lime acidity that complements flavors of toasted walnut and black cherry, a deep, syrupy sweetness, and a soft marzipan finish.
You have to admire the perfectionist streak of Luis Alejandro Ortega, a second-generation coffee grower in Colombia’s San Agustin. Rather than accept the status quo, Ortega is constantly working to improve his (already stellar) harvest. He grows only the Caturra variety, pays his workers a higher-than-average wage, and invests in equipment--like the raised drying beds that finished this wet-processed and fermented lot. The extra effort shows up in the cup: roasted by San Francisco’s Four Barrel Coffee, you’ll find bright, snappy notes of nectarine, orange zest and graham cracker.
One sip of this brew and you’ll understand that great things come in small packages. This particular batch of coffee originates from just three small lots farmed by producers Eliecer Guatin, Marino Ortega, and Leonel San Pablo. They hail from San Agustin, Colombia, a town blessed by rich land and diverse producers. Four Barrel Coffee’s roasting philosophy is humble as well, favoring individual, experienced artisans in lieu of complicated machinery. It’s no surprise that this coffee is wonderfully balanced: apple-cider acidity is complimented by notes of honey and caramel, then finishes with a taste of graham crackers and pears.