One World Roasters' Coffee Blog
How & Where We Find Our Coffees
OWR Searches for the Perfect Organic Honduran Coffee
@ Royal Coffee New York
We spend almost as much time it seems scouring the world for the absolute finest coffee beans as we do roasting them. Why? Because we only want to offer our customers the very best coffees available — and that means a lot of traveling and maintaining a coffee supply that is ever-growing and evolving.
To show you how we find the very special coffees we roast, we wanted to give you a look into Royal Coffee New York’s recent industry-only “Micro Lot Cupping Event” that Ben and Eric recently attended.
The guys had a great time, got waaay-over-caffeinated, and had an opportunity to taste a huge variety of fine Costa Rican beans and some really killer organic Honduran coffees both from small micro lots across Central America.
We began our search a couple months ago for an extra-fine Honduran bean that would live up to the rigorous OWR standard. When Royal Coffee New York tapped us to attend their insider cupping, we knew it would be a great opportunity to sample some of the very best in this coffee genre and, obviously, we couldn’t say no to the promise of great coffee!
Now, what is a micro lot?
You’re probably familiar with the single-origin coffee trend, which is the practice of roasting coffees from singular growing regions (i.e. Cajamarca Peru). Offering single origin coffees demonstrates to the buyer, that a roaster cares about the flavor purity of their coffees and really wants their customers to taste the actual bean.
Micro lot coffees are the next level of specificity up — they don’t just come from one region, they come from one small piece of land maintained under very precise conditions (mineral content, shade, moisture, habitat relationships, etc.).
Micro lots are the ultimate in transparency and attention to detail for the discerning coffee drinker and offer the most true-to-source flavor on the market.
Who provided the coffees?
Coopro Naranjo: A micro lot provider in Costa Rica with a longstanding relationship with Royal Coffee New York. The co-op has been running for 49 years and has worked with Royal Coffee for 10. They offered 12 diverse micro lots from across the country, which, while not organic, were very high quality.
Royal Coffee Honduran Micro Lots: What we were primarily there for. Most of these micro lot coffees were both organic and fair trade, in addition to carrying a number of other certifications like shade-grown, which is very important to us.
The beans sampled were from a wide variety of independent micro lots throughout Honduras. We’ll point to the specific lots we were most impressed with below.
Witnessing a proper coffee cupping is a surreal experience for the uninitiated.
Where else do you see rooms full of well-dressed people standing in neat rows sniffing and slurping as loudly as possible? Eric observed that at times it sounded like an orchestra preparing to perform a classical waltz — with very bad table manners!
Cuppings, as we discussed in an earlier post, are meticulously organized events where virtually ever step is timed and synchronized. Here’s how this one went down:
- The guests split out to 3 tables
- Each table receives their flight of coffees and begins sniffing the coffees and observing their aromas (rotating around the table from coffee to coffee)
- 4 members of each 12-person table go the sink and pick up their pre-heated water pitchers
- When each guest finishes smelling the coffees, the four pouring members, at the same time, pour near-boiling water into each cup.
- A four-minute timer is started when the last cup has been filled.
- After four minutes each cupper “breaks the crust” on the coffees in front of them, gently breaking the layer of loose coffee grounds accumulated at the top of each cup
- Each guest deeply sniffs the hot brewed coffees and documents their aromas
- Using one or two spoons they gently remove the grounds floating on the tops and move them to discard cups.
- The guests spoon out some of the cooled coffee and begin the actual tasting phase by loudly slurping the coffee
- The cuppers once again rotate around the table and sample each coffee in this fashion (taking notes and washing off their spoons in between).
Want to learn more about the basics of cupping? Check out our beginner's cupping guide here!
Honduran coffees are a unique breed — in characteristic Central American fashion, they are generally smooth, balanced and slightly sweet with varying cocoa, spice, and sometimes fruit notes. Some of the qualities we found here really surprised us though.
We want any coffees we carry to be faithful to their regional heritages, but we also like to find some x-factors in them that give us the creative room to really make them one-of-a-kind in the roast process. Fortunately, we had a lot here to work with!
Here’s what impressed us most about these particular Hondurans:
Rich berry-like flavor – It isn’t uncommon to find some berry notes in Honduran coffees, but we were surprised by just how intensely fruity some of these coffees were, especially the honey or natural varieties. The Juan David Chavez “Finca Los Tuneles” really stood out to us in this respect with its intoxicating aroma and complex berry flavor to match.
*Honey coffees have been dried with some or all of the coffee’s mucilage on them and then are partially washed. This adds fruit, acidity, and complexity to the beans.
Notably sweet aroma and taste — Some of the beans had our mouths watering before we even took our first sips. We noticed that some of the micro lots like the Maria Jesus Aguilar “Finca Marychuy” had a dessert-like aroma even from a light roasting. And fortunately, the taste did not disappoint.
Refreshing juicy consistency – “Almost like an Ethiopian,” said Eric as we began sampling the Hondurans. Another cupper nearby exclaimed, “Like juice!”
We tend to think of African coffees, especially Ethiopians, as having the very juicy, refreshing mouthfeel, but we were really surprised not only by how fruit-forward some of these micro lots were, but also just how juicy and refreshing they were.
Definitely not qualities we normally associate with Central American beans. The Edgar Carillo – "Finca Pacayal Natural" was a clear standout in this respect.
Defects we watched out for
Coffee defects can pop up at even the most esteemed coffee cuppings. Ben joked with some of the other roasters at the table about some of current defect flavors on the new and updated coffee flavor wheel — at a glance, many of them seemed a little … farfetched (look at chemical and paper/musty below)
We think of it as odd to consider a coffee rubbery or skunky, but that’s because we aren’t usually looking for these tastes or indicators of defects — we just notice that something tastes a little … off.
In reality many of these off-colors can point to specific flaws in the coffee's growth, harvesting, drying, storage, or potentially transportation.
Some traits concerning Hondurans that we wanted be sure we omitted from the serious coffee pool we considered were:
Rubbery: Unfortunately, this is as it sounds … rubbery coffees have unnatural tasting chemical notes due to pollution or contamination in the coffee’s drying process or transportation
Sour: These coffees have an unpleasant overly acidic quality like that of old tomato juice and result from contamination from the increasingly problematic coffee molds
Bland/Cardboard: You know when you get a bad cup of coffee at a diner — one that tastes like it’s been sitting a little too long in the back? That’s this. Blandness can arise from a number of factors, like unripeness, insect damage, or improper storage.
Well, we actually didn’t buy a Honduran right then and there … The three coffees mentioned above in the Flavors section were the ones that we made special note of and will strongly consider as we continue our quest.
Part of being a discerning coffee roaster is taking your time and relishing in the excitement of the search! And with that, Chapter 1 of “One World Roaster’s Hunt for the Perfect Honduran” has come to a close – Stay tuned! We’ll be adding a very special new coffee to our inventory shortly!
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