Rhubarb and custard sweets, floral, green apple, silky
Finca El Fuerte was named in honour of the 'Fort of Samaipata', which is a unique ruin in Bolivia. El Fuerte de Samaipata (Fort Samaipata), also known simply as 'El Fuerte', is a pre-Columbian archaeological site. It's unique in that it represents the legacies of Inca, Spanish and Chanè cultures, and it's one of Samaipata's main attractions. Situated in the eastern foothills of the Bolivian Andes, in the Santa Cruz department of Florida province, the archaeological site is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
El Fuerte was a first experiment in developing coffee in a region with excellent characteristics for producing amazing quality coffee (good soil conditions and high altitude), but which traditionally produced small amounts of coffee and no specialty coffee. After consulting with a specialised agronomist, the region of Agua Rica at the edge of the Amboró National Park was chosen as the ideal location. The region is some 20 KM east of Samaipata.
Several different varietals were tried initially. The varietals included Red Bourbon, and Yellow and Red Caturra – although nowadays Agricafe (which runs the farm) has ventured into growing other varietals. Caturra and Typica (both are traditionally grown in Bolivia) are commonly seen, but alongside other slightly rarer varietals like Java and Geisha – and the peaberries and petites that we see in this coffee, of course! Although there is little need for shade trees because the altitude keeps the temperature down, trees were planted to protect the coffee trees from the strong winds that are common in the region.
The decision to plant coffee at El Fuerte was something of a risk, but it's one that has undoubtedly paid off. The location has proved to be strategic and the weather is ideal; so much so that a second wet mill will soon be established at the site. Once it is, all coffee produced in the Samaipata farms will be processed at El Fuerte.
Processing coffee in the Natural style isn’t common in Bolivia, and it presents a number of challenges with the conditions there. However, the Rodriguez family saw the value that Natural (and Honey) processed coffees could bring in terms of diversifying the range of flavours you get, so they decided to invest both money and effort into creating a way of doing these processes which would work in Bolivia.
When they were asked about this new method of processing their coffee, they called it 'Coco'. So in fact all the Natural processed coffees we have from Bolivia could also be nicknamed 'Coco Processed', but we've just stuck with calling them 'Naturally processed'.
That said, here's a bit of information about what happens with the Bolivian Coco natural process.
Cherries selected: They can only do small batches of Naturals at a time, so from the beginning a lot of attention is paid to only choosing the very ripest cherries. Ripeness is checked both by colour and using a measurement of the sugar content in the fruit.
Sun drying on raised beds: having checked the weather reports so they know when to expect a period without rain, the farmers lay the chosen cherries out on raised beds in the sun. During this period, the cherries are moved around every 30 minutes to make sure the drying is even and any slightly under or overripe cherries are picked out. They will stay outside for between one and three days, depending on the weather. To finish this stage, they may be moved into greenhouses lined with material to block out UV and keep the heat in.
Drying out in stationary driers: The cherries then need to be dried out to a stable moisture level at which further fermentation won’t occur. To do this, the family have built large boxes with hot air vented in through the bottom. These 'stationary driers' keep the temperature below 40C for the 40 to 50 hours it takes to finish drying the cherries. During this stage, the coffee is moved every hour (again, to keep the process even across all the cherries).
Geisha is a varietal that has attracted lots of attention among coffee buyers and farmers, with some super high prices being paid for tiny lots. The name comes from the Gesha village in Ethiopia, where it’s said to have come from. I say 'said to' because it’s believed that coffee stock from this region made its way to Costa Rica (and then on to Panama) in the 1950s, but didn’t find much favour in its new home.
As with other experimental varietals that didn’t do particularly well, the plants were largely ignored or forgotten. Some grew wild or mixed in to difficult-to-reach corners of farms. That means it’s difficult to be sure how close what we now call 'Geisha' is to those seeds from Ethiopia many years ago. Regardless, Geisha’s reputation suddenly hit the big time around 2004 as it attracted praise (and high prices) in the Taste of Panama competition, and it became a must try for coffee geeks.
There has been talk recently of the name – Geisha vs Gesha – and we like to listen to the people that grew the coffee. It says 'Geisha' on our bags from the farm, so we're going with 'Geisha'.
It’s a spindly plant that needs quite a lot of space and care, but the distinctive floral flavours it delivers have seen it being planted more and more throughout Panama and Costa Rica. It's also slowly appearing in other countries where producers are looking to experiment with new varietals.
In the cup this reminds me of rhubarb and custard sweets, right down to the silky texture. Behind that, there's a delicate hint of the florals you associate with this varietal. Then there's a little green apple on the finish. A delicious and complex cup.
Department: Santa Cruz
Farm: Finca El Fuerte
Altitude: 1,550–1,700 m.a.s.l.
Process: Coco Natural
Rhubarb and custard sweets, floral, green apple, silky