New year, new coffees!

This is our first blog since we’ve been back in Ireland and lots of exciting things have happened since then. We started exploring the possibility of setting up a coffee roasting business during our time in Colombia and were thrilled to finally launch Carrow Coffee Roasters and start selling our coffee bags at local markets and shops throughout Sligo last November. And the response has been very positive! We plan to bring you regular insights and stories about the coffees we’re roasting on this page, so stay tuned! This month we have two new coffees, a bright Colombian and a fruity Rwandan, both light roasted and recommended for filter.

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Colombia

We are delighted to have our first Colombian coffee for sale, a country where we lived for four years and travelled extensively. This coffee is a blend of micro-lots from several small farms located in the area of Bruselas and Pitalito in the Huila region, Southern Colombia. It displays wonderful grape-like acidity and juicy notes that remind us of greengages, with a sweet finish of ‘panela’ – the unrefined cane sugar produced throughout Colombia.

The bean varieties are called castillo and caturra, both typical of Colombia. The former was developed by the Colombian Coffee Federation’s scientific unit to resist coffee leaf rust (roya), a fungus that has decimated many plantations throughout Latin America by eating coffee leaves.

Huila isn’t one of Colombia’s traditional coffee-producing regions, but thanks to increased planting and improved farming techniques it is now Colombia’a largest beans producer. And it’s not all about volume, as several winners in the Colombia Cup of Excellence in recent years come from Huila.

Rwanda

The Rwandan is bursting with mandarin juiciness and more subtle floral notes with a distinctive taste of sweet tobacco on the finish. The mouthful is creamy and smooth.

The beans come from several small farmers in the Nyamasheke District in Western Province that borders Lake Kivu, an area we visited some years ago on the Congolese side of the lake. The coffee variety is bourbon, originally from the island of Réunion and today prevalent in Rwanda.

The country’s coffee industry was decimated during the 1994 genocide but since then the country has made a concerted effort to focus on higher-grade specialty coffee with considerable success, inspiring Burundi to replicate the model.

If you would like to read more on this we can recommend the following books: ‘God in a Cup’ by journalist M. Weissman and ‘The World Altas of Coffee’ by coffee expert J. Hoffmann.

As we are still building our online shop, please drop us an email if you would like to order some coffee (info@carrow.ie).

The world’s highest coffee

Landing in Pasto airport is a challenge for even the best pilots. The runway in Colombia’s Nariño province sits on a narrow plateau, constantly buffeted by crosswinds that swirl across the Andes mountains.  

What lies below - some of the highest-grown and finest coffees on the planet -makes it worth the bumpy approach. Indeed, altitude and coffee quality are inextricably linked.

In Nariño coffee can grow up to 2,300 meters, thanks to unique micro-climates and its proximity to the equator. Colder temperatures in the high mountains slow the beans’ development, resulting in more complex sugars and flavours in your daily cup.

Another factor influencing the taste profile of local coffees is the region’s fertile, volcanic soils. Nariño is dotted with active and dormant volcanoes that have blanketed the surrounding areas with mineral-rich lava and ash over the years.  

Nestled at the base of the La Jacoba volcano near the village of La Union is a five-hectare farm that belongs to Frank Torres, his sister Yorgeny and brother Gabriel. We first met Frank on a Q Grader course in Bogota earlier this year, vowing to visit his farm one day.   

The three siblings in their 20s are injecting new life into the family business, renovating crops and opening a restaurant beside the farm house, serving local dishes like ‘fiambre’ – a delicious mix of pork, chicken, rice, banana and potato, all wrapped in a banana leaf for added flavour.

Aware of the growing demand for high-quality ‘specialty’ coffees, Frank and his siblings are refining their farming techniques. Several coffee varieties, as well as bananas, lulo, mandarins and limes, all grow together on the farm, a mixed-cropping technique that helps provide shade, improve soil fertility and naturally control pests.

“It’s an opportunity to work on environmental conservation while improving the quality of our crop,” Frank says. “It’s hard to do, but not impossible. Impossible is travelling to the moon, at least for me.”

Technology is also helping. Frank uses a Brix meter to measure the sugar level of coffee cherries, useful information when deciding when to harvest and how best to process the beans.

If you’re in Colombia and want to learn more, go and visit yourself (elranchodema@gmail.com). The farm is open to tourists. We recommend it!

After taking the bus back to Pasto airport, we headed for one final coffee inside the main terminal to steady our nerves before take-off. There we discovered the very knowledgeable Diuver Obando who makes excellent espresso at the Caffeto café.

“Narino is known for its acidic coffees with fruit notes,” said the young barista while working the machine. “They’re different to others in Colombia.”