Buyer’s Notebook: La Tortuga Honduras

Our La Tortuga Honduras takes its name and inspiration from the moral of Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race.

In Central America, the hares are easy to spot.  The great estates of Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala got a generational jump on their neighbors, planting their first seeds during the middle decades of the 19th century.  In some cases, those estates are still running strong today under the leadership of fifth and sixth-generation growers.  But this episode of the Intelligentsia Buyer’s Notebook celebrates the discreet charms of the tortoise.  Any lingering doubts about how Honduras stacks up to its fleeter-footed neighbors today were put to rest pretty definitively last year when Marysabel Caballero took top honors at the Honduras Cup of Excellence with a lot from Finca El Puente that set a COE record when it earned over $120 a pound.

Vice President of Coffee and Green Coffee Buyer for Honduras Geoff Watts tells the story of our La Tortuga Honduras and the extraordinary growers behind it, who made their way to the front of the pack through discipline, persistence and unwavering attention to detail: Don Fabio Caballero, his daughter Marysabel and her husband Moisés Herrera.

Listen to my conversation with Geoff about our La Tortuga Honduras here.

Subscribe to the Intelli Sourcing Sessions podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud and never miss another Intelligentsia Buyer’s Notebook: the stories behind our coffees in the words of the buyers themselves.


Buyer’s Notebook: Flecha Roja Costa Rica

The Intelli Sourcing Sessions podcast is back, and just in time: last week marked the start of a month-long run of delicious releases from our Northern Hemisphere partners in Mexico, Central America and East Africa.

Today we resume our Buyer’s Notebook series — conversations about our coffees with the buyers who sourced them — starting with J Mlodzinski, logistics manager and green coffee buyer for Costa Rica. In that role, J’s primary responsibility is buying lots for our Flecha Roja Costa Rica offering, a perennial favorite and an anchor of our Central America lineup. Since the inception of  the Flecha Roja I-mark, we have sourced it from our friends at Coopedota, a cooperative whose meticulous and progressive approach to everything it does make it, in the estimation of my colleagues here at Intelligentsia, the best in the world. After my inaugural visit with Coopedota last fall as part of our Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, I found little reason to disagree with that assessment.

J and I discuss what makes Coopedota so special, which is only partly the specific practices it applies in the field, at the mill and in the way it runs its organization. The real secret of Coopedota’s success lies in something altogether less quantifiable — a culture that actively encourages members to pursue and achieve extraordinary outcomes at the individual, family and community levels. This commitment is revealed in many ways: engagement with visitors that is generous and spirited, coffee fields that are orderly and vigorous, a mill that hums with precision and efficiency, a spirit of experimentation and continuous improvement applied to everything the organization does, and, not least of all, the quality of its coffee.

Listen to my conversation with J here, or subscribe to the Intelli Sourcing Sessions podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud to have each new episode delivered to your feed.

Either way, keep this page open on your browser as you listen to put some visuals with the audio.

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The sign.

Hand-painted by a worker in Coopedota’s mill, this gem now lives with us here in our Chicago Roasting Works: “A machine can do the work of 50 men, but no machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”



The RueDota.

Coopedota’s solar-powered coffee Ferris Wheel: dries 4-6 times as much coffee as patio drying in its footprint, slows drying, boosts quality, looks cool.



Don Roberto Mata.

A natural born leader who helped instill a relentless pursuit of excellence at Coopedota over a period of more than 20 years.  We will miss you, friend!



An Ethiopian Sensory Expedition

Last week, Gesha Village Coffee Estate in Ethiopia auctioned off 21 nanolots from its 2016/17 harvest.  Average scores for the best-scoring lots topped 91 points and prices were as high as $85 a pound.

Today we offer you the first two of four lots from the Gesha Village auction that we will release over the next few weeks.  One is washed and the other is natural, but both are Gesha 1931 varietals, both are from the Oma block of the farm and both are truly extraordinary.

The Variety: Gesha 1931

Varietal diversification in coffee is a thing.  Growers and roasters alike have come to understand that coffee genetics represent, together with environmental and management variables, a key determinant of flavor.  But it wasn’t always that way.  In fact, it is easy to forget that just 20 years ago, varietal diversification really wasn’t a thing in coffee.  Arguably no single moment was as pivotal in coffee’s understanding of the importance of variety than the emergence of Panamanian Geisha in 2004.

When Price, Rachel and Daniel Peterson stumbled onto a small stand of spindly coffee plants on their La Esmeralda estate that looked like nothing else on their farm (and tasted like nothing else on Earth), they rediscovered an ancient flavor set that traveled through time and space, with the help of some plant researchers, from Ethiopia to Panama.  The flavors in that coffee weren’t new, but the circumstances into which they were thrust were—a vibrant specialty coffee sector desperately seeking to push on the outer bounds of flavor.

The Geisha revolution set off a frenzied search for Geisha among coffee buyers and a primal pilgrimage to Ethiopia to find the source of that flavor.  The roads those buyers traveled converged in a wood in far western Ethiopia near a small town called Gesha in the forests where coffee was born and still grows wild.  Gesha 1931 is from this hallowed place.  Its name reflects the place and year it was collected by scientists who fanned out on a research expedition in Ethiopia to catalogue its coffee varieties.  It is the genetic forebear of Panamanian Geisha—the seed that started it all.

The Coffees: Washed and Natural

Both the washed and natural Gesha 1931 coffees are luminous, but the light they radiate is refracted differently through the prisms of two different post-harvest processes.

Washing coffee highlights the intrinsic flavor qualities of coffee with an emphasis on clarity and detail.  It is a process that allows coffee’s inner beauty to be experienced in high-definition, where the nuances and delicate taste attributes of the individual coffees are presented transparently.  

Our Gesha Village Washed Gesha 1931 Special Selection delivers exciting flavors that remind us of peach and sweet melon and complement the delicate floral notes that are a hallmark of the Gesha variety.

Natural coffees offer a much different character than their washed twins—they tend to taste more overtly fruity and sweet, in ways that we often associate with port wines.  Often the perceived acidity is diminished because the delicate organic acid tastes are overpowered by more dominant flavors that suggest red wines and dried cherries.  The aromatics are distinctly fruit-like and can be very intense.  Compared with washed coffees, naturals are like photographs that have been layered over with a vivid color filter, obscuring some detail while elevating the dramatic impact.

Our Gesha Village Natural Gesha 1931 Special Selection is more dramatic: mouthwatering berry and stone fruit flavors overflow in a juicy cocktail of a coffee that comes with a side of dried flowers. 

A Sensory Expedition

Back in 1931, intrepid researchers had to set off on a coffee expedition across the rugged highlands of Ethiopia to get their hands on Gesha.  Today, it is a little easier.  We have collaborated with our friends at Gesha Village to do most of the work for you.  In fact, you don’t have to leave your kitchen to go on a sensory expedition of your own.

When you brew these two coffees together, you taste the dazzling array of flavors created by an Ethiopian heirloom variety and two different, but equally meticulous, post-harvest processes. We want you to taste these coffees together so much that we are offering a screaming package deal: buy either one and get a $5 discount on the other.  Click here to buy these very special Gesha Village lots.  They won’t last long.

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About Gesha Village

By now, you probably know all about our friends Rachel Samuel and Adam Overton and their ambitious undertaking at Gesha Village, a coffee farm in the western highlands of Ethiopia near the forests were coffee was born that applying modern precision agriculture practices with a revival of ancient heirloom coffee varieties and traditional processing methods.  If not, you’re in luck — we recorded two podcasts last year that can get you up to speed quickly:

  • Our Vice President of Coffee and Ethiopia Green Coffee Buyer Geoff Watts explains here why Gesha Village is unlike any other place he has seen during more than 20 years in coffee.
  • Gesha Village owner Rachel Samuel explains here the circumstances that surrounded her return to her native Ethiopia and led her to put her work as a storyteller on hold to start a coffee farm.