Coffee is a Crop, Not a Can of Pop.
Can you believe it took me 10 minutes to think up that catchy title? What I mean is that coffee comes and goes based on the crop cycle. It’s unreasonable (and undesirable) to expect all origins to be available at all times, stocked like soda pop in the supermarket. Here at Sweet Maria’s, it would be a lot easier to have year-round stock on all coffees. I would go so far as to say it is completely insane that we don’t. The amount of work we could avoid by simply buying a year-round supply of our micro-lots is staggering. Maybe I could even fix some of those old motorcycles I stashed in the back of the warehouse years ago! But that’s just not how it works here, for several reasons. The first is that the supply of green coffee of this quality is limited. We deal in micro-lots, coffees either from very small producers, or very specialized and distinct lots from medium-sized Estates or Co-ops. A good example is Carmen Estate in Panama. An award-winning farm, we buy their coffee grown at altitudes above 1800 meters. The farm ranges from 1500 to 1900 meters, and when you get into that top tier of altitude, each tree produces dramatically less coffee. In total, the farm has 500 to 600 bags of coffee each year. Of our coffee, there are 40 bags or less, and we purchase it all at a price far above the standard price for small-farm Panama coffees, above Fair Trade prices, above Organic prices … you get the picture. We must do that, not only because of our relationship with the farmer, Carlos, but because of the added labor to separate our coffee and mill it to the highest standard. It is more effort for the farmer at every step of the process. Not only that, for every 10 good and exportable bags of coffee that leave the farm, there are 2 bags of “seconds”: coffee that is rejected in the milling, picked too early or too late, seeds that lack density, or are broken. This coffee is usually sold off at a pittance to commercial roasters. So the farm must recover top dollar for its true micro-lot of “Gran Cru” coffee to offset the 20% or more of rejected coffee. From this perspective, I see that my former attitude of contempt for commercial-grade roasters, and even for “Specialty” roasters who buy mid-range coffees has changed greatly. I have a new appreciation for the role of each buyer, and their respective quality “tier” of coffee. After all, if no one bought the low grade and mid-grade coffee, the farmer couldn’t afford the time, labor and equipment it takes to produce my micro-lots! So the next time you enjoy a really fine coffee, perhaps it would be appropriate to tip your hat to the “Gourmet” coffee store, to the whole-bean supermarket bins and their oily “Columbia Supremo” or “Terrazu” coffee, or to that espresso drive-thru that specializes in “Skinny Caramel Lattes”. It is possible that they sponsored your stash of truly exemplary home-roasted coffee!
New Central America Arrival Highlights
I (Tom) spend so much time cupping coffees and writing reviews that keeping up with the newsletter has become difficult. When I started writing this newsletter, almost 10 years ago, I could not have imagined how quickly the information and the list of coffee offerings would become out of date. Many of our lots sell out so quickly that, when it comes time to write a newsletter, many listed coffees are long gone. Keep that in mind as I highlight some new arrivals, and some micro-lots that will be coming in the next month or two.
Costa Rica: I spent some time cupping at the cooperative mills this winter to identify new microlots with exceptional character. The result will be two special Sweet Maria’s Peaberry Reserves (not one as we have had in the past). We are going to have a winey, fruited Peaberry from the Dota Tarrazu region, with welldeveloped chocolate, silky body, and fruited hints. And from the region of Naranjo we will have a crystal-clean Peaberry
with citrus blossom aromatics, zingy bright acidity, and light body. We have offered “Miel” coffees before, but another lot from Dota this year is a full-on natural dryprocessed coffee, as they do in Ethiopia. It has intense body, rustic strawberry fruitiness, and fruit-laced chocolate roast taste. Guatemala: We have 2 lots of special 100% Bourbon coffees coming, along the lines of last year’s incredible “Blue Quetzal.” And we have a very interesting lot from Antigua of 100% Yellow Bourbon, a very unusual cultivar to be found in Guatemala. The Fraijanes Agua Tibia is in stock, and is the best lot from this farm that I have cupped in recent years; incredible tangy bittersweets.
Panama: We have been spoiled with our great Panamas, and this year will include the very-popular Carmen Estate 1800+ meter lot, the Hacienda La Esmeralda Gesha, and perhaps a surprise or two. Our early lot of Panama 12886 was a real sleeper, a fine coffee in a generic wrapper. I am always open to finding such “diamonds in the rough.” Mexico: It’s rare that I find 2 great Oaxaca coffees, but this is definitely an “up” year for the region in terms of cup quality. Our Fair Trade Organic Oaxaca Pluma has great semi-sweet chocolate notes, and the Oaxaca Pluma Don Eduardo has a winey and fruited subtext in the cup. I was in Chiapas to evaluate micro-regional coffees, and those should be arriving by June.
El Salvador: We have 100% Bourbon coffees lined up, as well as a new source for a full-body pulped natural coffee, coming mid May. I am sure the Cup of Excellence will yield some fine lots too.
Other Origins: I can’t fit all I need to in this article, but besides Centrals there are many other new crop arrivals. We have just received our first Kenya from the 2007 Main Crop Auctions, and that is the tip of the iceberg. I have cupped well over 300 lots, and found 8 (at this writing) that are exceptional. Those are all in transit over the next 2 months. Ethiopia: Early dry-processed Harar lots have been disappointing. They had poor weather conditions during the flowering of the coffee trees this season. I have higher expectations for the dry-process Sidamo coffees, and we have some special projects with farms in that region. Our first wet-process Yirgacheffe is here, and it is spectacular, with strong jasmine aromatics. We will have the dry-process Yirgacheffe Idido Misty Valley in late June or so.
Yet Another Weird T-Shirt.
Note the chicken-n-coffee image in this newsletter? You too could be wearing that all over your city! Would you? Maybe not, but I would. We are t-shirt people here at Sweet Maria’s and the odder the better. Maybe that’s why we keep trying to make shirts that few people will really like, let alone buy. But what the heck, it’s not like we need to advertise, and since when is a weird t-shirt going to hurt anyone? In this case, we have 2 new designs that are based on photographs I took in my coffee travels. I love commercial paintings (the kind you see in Mexico advertising a chicken shack or in Panama advertising an internet café), all quite folksy and one-of-a-kind. So we made a couple shirts based on these. We called this one the “Cubist chicken” not because it is particularly Cubist in style, but because it doesn’t make much sense. -Tom
Sweet Maria’s Coffee
1115 21st Street, Oakland CA 94607
Sweet Maria’s Green Coffee Offering List
as of May 2, 2007 – there are many, many incoming lots weekly
at this time of year, especially Centrals, Kenyas, and Ethiopia.
Check the web site – this list is certainly out-of-date!
Central American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Costa Rica Dota Tarrazu -Conquistador $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Costa Rica Tres Rios -La Magnolia $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Guatemala Fraijanes - Finca Agua Tibia $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Mexico FTO Oaxaca Pluma $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Mexico Oaxaca Pluma -Don Eduardo $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Nicaragua FTO Esteli - Miraflor Coop $5.15 $9.79 $22.40 $42.75 $79.31
Panama Lot 12686 $4.60 $8.74 $20.01 $38.18 $70.84
South American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Bolivia FTO SHG EP Caranavi $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Brazil Daterra Farms - Yellow Bourbon $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $48.97 $90.86
Brazil Cachoeira da Grama -Yellow Bourbon $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
Brazil FTO Dry-Process Poco Fundo $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Brazil Screen-Dried Moreninha Formosa $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Colombia Organic Narino - San Lorenzo $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Peru Tunquimayo - Juan de Dios $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Peru Las Delicias - Zenon Vargas $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Peru Norte Especial $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $39.01 $72.38
African- Arabian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Ethiopia FTO Yirgacheffe Oromia $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Kenya AA Kiambu - Kimathi $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $45.65 $84.70
Rwanda Butare Bourbon $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Rwanda FT Duhingekawa Womens Coop $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Tanzania Mount Meru Nkoanekoli $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $45.65 $84.70
Tanzania AAA Songea Flat Bean $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Yemen Mokha Haimi $6.60 $12.54 $28.71 $54.78 $101.64
Yemen Mokha Sana'ani $6.40 $12.16 $27.84 $53.12 $98.56
Indonesian- Indian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
India Monsooned Malabar "Elephant" $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
India Mysore Nuggets Extra Bold $4.75 $9.03 $20.66 $39.43 $73.15
Java Government Estate Pancoer $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Sulawesi Grade One Toraja $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Sumatra Aceh Gold Peaberry $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $48.97 $90.86
Sumatra Classic Mandheling $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Sumatra 19+ TP - Lake Tawar $6.00 $11.40 $26.10 $49.80 $92.40
Sumatra FTO Gayo - Tanah Tinggi $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
Timor FTO Maubesse $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Islands- Blends -Etc. 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Hawaii Kona - Moki's Farm $16.60 $31.54 $72.21 5 lb limit
Hawaii Kowali Extra Fancy In Stock 1 Lb Limit
SM's Moka Kadir Blend $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
SM's Espresso Monkey Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
SM's Classic Italian Espresso Blend $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
SM's Decaf Espresso Blend $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
SM's Liquid Amber Espresso Blend $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
SM's French Roast Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
SM's Puro Scuro Blend $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
SM's Roasted French Chicory $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Decafs 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
African Highlands WP Decaf $5.80 $11.02 $25.23 $48.14 $89.32
Costa Rica Tres Rios WP Decaf $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
El Salvador PN Las Ranas WP Decaf LOW $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe WP Decaf $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
Guatemala San Marcos WP Decaf LOW $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Guatemala Finca Injertal WP Decaf $5.70 $10.83 $24.80 $47.31 $87.78
Indonesian Organic SWP Komodo Blend $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $48.97 $90.86
Mexico Organic Oaxaca WP Decaf $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
Peru Organic WP Decaf $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Sumatra Tapanuli WP Decaf