New Education Lots from Divino Niño and the Galápagos Islands
Passenger’s Education Lot menu was created as a home for coffees that highlight something of interest regarding plant genetics, unique microclimates, comparative or experimental explorations of processing, or coffee regions of historical significance. Two of our latest three additions to the menu are single variety separations - highlighting particular plant genetics - that were purchased from members of the Divino Niño producer group in Suaza, Colombia and one of Passenger’s Foundational Partnerships since 2018. The third coffee that we are adding to the menu at this time is La Tortuga, a coffee produced in a highly unique microclimate on the Galápagos Islands.
In a region with no shortage of beautiful coffee farms, José Edwin Cuellar’s Finca la Esmeralda is particularly memorable, with panoramic views and an impressive array of coffee varieties under cultivation (colombia, pink bourbon, red tabi, maragogipe, gesha). Passenger’s green buying team first visited Finca la Esmeralda in 2019, shortly after José Edwin was recognized as the 3rd place winner of the inaugural Copa Suaceña. Since that year, we have had the opportunity to taste many lots from his farm, but 2021 marks the first year that we were able to taste and contract a small separation of maragogipe, an Arabica variety long known for its giant “beans”, that has become relatively rare in recent years.
Maragogipe is named for the city in Brazil where the variety was discovered in 1870. It is a natural mutation of typica and is characterized by large internodal spacing, large leaves, and particularly large cherries - hence the huge coffee seeds that, whether green or roasted, are simply impossible to miss when encountering this unique variety. While the size of its seeds has long been prized by the coffee market, maragogipe is quite low yielding and highly susceptible to leaf rust and coffee berry disease. Given these challenges, the pacamara and maracaturra varieties were both the result of experimental projects that crossed maragogipe with other coffee varieties in the interest of retaining the marketable size of maragogipe, while improving productivity and disease resistance.
Given that maragogipe is one of the parent varieties of pacamara and maracaturra, it is fascinating to note the similarities in cup profile between Edwin Cuellar’s maragogipe and examples of the other two varieties that we are currently roasting or have roasted recently. As with our current Montecarlos Pacamara Reserve Lot and our previous maracaturra selections from El Barril in Nicaragua, this maragogipe selection is notable for its delicate sweetness and gentle, beautifully integrated acidity. We have looked forward to tasting this coffee ever since our first visit to Finca Esmeralda in 2019 and we are absolutely thrilled to share it with you now.
We continue our exploration of plant genetics with Divino Niño Gesha, a single variety community blend composed of small deliveries of the gesha variety that were produced by individual members of the Divino Niño group, and carefully screened and compiled into a single lot by the Colombia-based team of our sourcing partner Osito Coffee. This release joins Divino Niño Pink Bourbon as our second variety separation on the Education Lot menu that represents the coffees and community of Divino Niño in this way.
Among the many known varieties of coffea Arabica, gesha has enjoyed unique notoriety since its “discovery” at the 2004 Best of Panama competition, where an intensely floral gesha from Hacienda la Esmeralda shattered the previous record for the highest price paid for a coffee at auction. It is now known that the gesha variety was originally selected and transported from the forests of southwestern Ethiopia by an expedition that had been commissioned by British colonialists in the 1930’s. Gesha trees were initially selected by the expedition because they were thought to be hardy and resistant to disease, not because of their flavor profile. The variety made its way from Ethiopia to Tanzania and, through an international network of genetic variety gardens, eventually arrived at the CATIE agricultural research center in Costa Rica. Much later on, the Peterson family of Hacienda la Esmeralda acquired gesha seeds from CATIE, but again, the seeds were acquired primarily for disease resistance rather than cup quality. It wasn’t until gesha plants were cultivated on a higher elevation plot on the Petersons’ farm and after the decision was made to keep lots from different parts of the farm separate and taste each of these separations individually that the family realized that the high elevation gesha trees were producing remarkable coffee unlike anything they had tasted before.
The unprecedented success that the Esmeralda gesha enjoyed at auction in 2004 triggered a “gesha boom” throughout Latin America and beyond. Many coffee farmers planted, and continue to plant, the gesha variety with the understandable aim of securing similarly attractive prices. In some cases, this strategy has worked out very well. Geshas of excellent quality, offering contrasting expressions of the variety due to the diverse microclimates they represent, are produced in a wide spectrum of coffee producing countries today. However it is also undeniable that, due to the fact that gesha is quite low-yielding and tends to thrive in very specific conditions, it can certainly be a high-risk proposition for small coffee farmers.
While not exhibiting the heady florality of a classic Panamanian gesha, this community blend from Suaza offers a beautifully gentle and nuanced expression of the gesha variety. Subtle florals, raspberry, and wafer cookie on the nose introduce a cup offering a delightfully clean acidity, excellent sweetness, and refreshing flavors of honeysuckle, melon, and kiwi.
One thousand kilometers west of mainland Ecuador, and straddling the equator, the Galápagos Islands are ostensibly the least likely place to produce specialty coffee. Made famous by Charles Darwin, who, thanks to the notable biodiversity fostered by the islands’ isolation, developed his Theory of Evolution there, the Galápagos are home to diverse populations of birds, sea lions, ancient tortoises, and iguanas. Somewhat surprisingly, the islands are also home to hundreds of small coffee farms.
Even though there is a volcanic peak on the islands that reaches 1,700 meters above sea level, the vast majority of the coffee farms of the Galápagos are located at elevations between 130 and 550 meters above sea level. These are elevations far below what is typically considered appropriate for specialty coffee production. Coffees grown at elevations below 1,000 meters above sea level are typically characterized by a complete lack of sweetness, little to no acidity, and overall flat and uninteresting profiles. La Tortuga is anything but.
Specialty coffee needs to be produced in regions with large diurnal temperature variations. A diurnal swing is the difference in temperature between the warmest part of the day and the coolest part of the day. The larger this swing in temperature, the slower the maturation of the cherries, which contain the seeds we roast and present as coffee. The more slowly this maturation occurs, the more concentrated sweetness and heightened acidity can be found in the cup of the finished product. Generally speaking, the higher the elevation, the greater this diurnal swing. There are relatively few known factors that influence quality as directly as elevation.
So how is it that this coffee, which was grown at a mere 250 meters above sea level, is so enjoyable in the cup? The answer to that question lies with the Humboldt Current, a low-salinity ocean current that flows north along the western coast of South America. Despite the low elevations and proximity to the equator, daytime temperatures rarely exceed 82°F, while evening temperatures routinely hit 53°F. This diurnal swing correlates to elevations from 1,400 to 1,800 masl in a country such as Colombia - ideal elevations for producing top quality specialty coffee. So, despite being produced at very low elevations, La Tortuga is a complex and enjoyable specialty coffee as a result of a highly unique microclimate: favorable diurnal temperature swings that simulate higher elevation growing conditions thanks to the Humboldt Current.
The Cooperativa de Cafetaleros de Galápagos is an association of approximately 100 small-scale coffee farmers who produce coffee in this fascinating region. This particular lot is a community blend from the group, traditionally washed and processed in small wet-mills. Coffees tend to undergo approximately 14-18 hours of dry fermentation following pulping and are dried on raised beds or parabolic driers until the target moisture content is achieved. Passenger has presented a La Tortuga selection from this region for a number of years now and we are thrilled to see this 2021 harvest selection rejoin the Education Lot Menu at the present time.