We’ve been getting a lot of questions about Central American coffees lately. As you’ve probably noticed, it’s been slim pickings for Centrals for the past couple months. Fortunately, that’s about to change as new crop Centrals are now arriving, but we sat down with Tom and Aleco to find out what’s going on in Central America, what they’re excited about, and why the temporary dry spell. The edited transcription is below.
Q: What happened with Central American coffees this year? Why are they so late?
T: The first thing is: they’re not so late. A long time ago, I bought a Costa Rican coffee in January and it was one of the worst coffees I’ve ever bought. So you can buy Centrals in January/ February and what you’ll get is the lowest grown coffees that were rushed through processing. That particular coffee had this smoky smell in the green coffee and I thought that was really special. It turns out it was just because it was dried at a high temperature to get it to market. So, you’ve got to wait for good coffees.
A: The highest altitude coffees in Central America are harvested most likely around February and March, even into April in some places. By the time you get that processed, dried, stored and conditioned to a decent degree (a kind of equalizing of the moisture content inside of the coffee), some of those really great coffees aren’t going to ship until May or June. So we’re looking at a lot of coffees that are starting to arrive right now.
T: Coffees from Mexico show up early, but we’re not doing a whole lot of Mexico because we’re not finding a lot of quality there.
A: Coffee from Antigua (Guatemala) is another very early crop, and we’ve already sold through the first container so. But the other stuff, Huehuetenangos and those types of coffees come later.
Q: Why don’t we always have Centrals?
A: We don’t want to. Coffee is a perishable product like virtually any other food out there. It has a little bit longer shelf life, for sure, and is more stable, but we want to offer Central American coffees through a certain part of the year, hopefully fall and into winter, and then replace them with South American coffees that are harvested in the summer (those are just beginning to be harvested now) so that there’s something fresh and really great available at the peak of the crop.
T: This coming year, we'll actually be running out of Centrals sooner by design. We don’t want them around forever mainly, because if something fades on us we have to take it, get rid of it and we lose money. So, wedon’t want to be in that position. You know, even if you buy a great coffee, if it starts to show age and you don’t do something about it, you’re selling bad coffee and our whole purpose is not to do that. People have to let us do our job and not consider coffee to be like canned goods at the supermarket—they should always be there. It’s also not fresh fruit; it’s neither of those things but it’s something in between.
A: As kind of a side note to that, I understand why people would want Central American coffee specifically: they’re mild or they’re kind of sweetness-forward in a lot of ways, subtle in others, but if you look at the offering list right now on SM you’ll see a lot of really fabulous African coffees that are so fresh. I mean, we had Ethiopian coffees on our menu before anyone else did. And these Rwandan coffees are holding up really, really well. So there’s stuff that’s really fantastic, available fresh right now.
T: People who have some flexibility benefit in coffee buying. I think it’d be the same in wine. If you went in looking for the same thing every time, maybe you’d get what you want, but by being flexible and exploring a little, you might actually find things that also suit your taste, but from a different origin you haven’t tried.
Q: Anything you’re particularly excited about from Central America this year?
A: I’m really looking forward to the next Guatemalan container that’s coming: some really great coffees from both Antigua and Chimaltenango that we’re going to roll out. For the serious coffee folk, Guatemala is about as good as it gets in Latin America; for me I'm excited about Guatemala and Colombia, those are going to be really great. We have some new Panamanian coffees arriving soon that are really awesome. Those coffees are from some projects that I’ve been personally working on for a long time. And those coffees will be new to SM, so people should definitely keep their eyes peeled for those.
T: We have a beautiful La Montanita El Salvador that’s ready to launch and we have a Gesha from Guatemala that’s probably cupping better than ever. Last year was great, and this year I think it’s 92.5 points. Also we have a nice container of Nicaraguan mixed lots coming and that should be arriving pretty soon. Honduran coffee is coming; the next container is filled with coffees that cupped really well. The pre-ship was really good; it was like 87 points at least.
On the downside, we’re just trying to reject 2 containers from El Salvador. So, you know, not everything is working out.
Q: What about new processing/varietals from Central America?
T: We’re more conservative with those things I think than we have been in the past. Some processing methods have not held up as well, the flavor faded. We used to participate more in the COE auctions, but that seems like it has gotten out of control. There are these auctions now with people are talking about the $500/lb. El Injerto, 8lbs. sold. These things are not real coffee buying to me.
A: We want to refine the way we buy coffees and focus more on the producers who are doing things well. We want to focus on finding the very best washed coffees in Central America and a broader array from Ethiopia and those places, instead of looking for the next gimmick, because honestly that’s what I think a lot of this stuff is. I think that’s what Tom is leaning towards too.
Tom, Aleco and Amanda
We are excited to introduce a few new shirts for summer. We have new brown logo shirts as well as a coffee leaf design (see below). This is the same artwork we use on our 100 lb. wholesale "Coffee Shrub" bags. The t-shirts come in black and navy printed on super-soft American Apparel 50/50 shirts resulting in a very comfortable garment.