From our Green Coffee Buyer for Burundi J Mlodzinski:

Kirundi is the official language of Burundi, and Abagore is Kirundi for women.

Why Abagore?  Because this coffee was grown largely by women.  They are part of a farmer association led by women.  That association participates in a project supported by the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) designed to use coffee as a vehicle to empower women.  And we purchased it from JNP Coffee, a new Intelligentsia Direct Trade partner that is owned and operated by a woman.

The Burundi chapter of IWCA was the first one legalized in Africa, and it has quickly become one of the most successful and recognized in the world, with nearly 1,000 members.  Its short-term goal is to turn the sales of women’s coffee lots like this one into increased income for participating women coffee growers.

The cost of this coffee includes premiums as part of the IWCA project that go directly back to growers in the form of a bonus that help women meet basic household needs.  Other women have reinvested their bonuses in their farms through the purchase of fertilizer, compost and the seedlings that represent the future of coffee in Burundi.  Still others have put this additional payment toward the purchase of bicycles for transportation or savings for school and university fees for their children.

The benefits of the IWCA program go beyond the monetary needs of participating women farmers and include social and political empowerment. When the Burundi chapter of the IWCA was founded, there were national policies which prevented women producers from registering coffee farms in their own name. Reversing that exclusionary policy was among the first items on the IWCA Burundi advocacy agenda.

IWCA Burundi understands that coffee quality can be an engine of economic opportunity and gender equality, so it helps train women in all aspects of the coffee trade, including quality-focused agronomic practices, quality control at the coffee washing stations and in the cupping lab, and negotiation and marketing.

Our Abagore Burundi comes from the Mutumba coffee washing station in Ngozi Province.  It was exported by JNP Coffee, founded, owned, and operated by Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian, who was born in Burundi and educated in the United States.  Jeanine collaborates with the IWCA at Mutumba and other coffee washing stations throughout the country, working tirelessly to ensure that coffee quality drives gender equality and raises the standard of living in Burundi’s coffeelands.

Buy it and meet the growers behind it here.



Show your commitment


Zirikana is Kinyarwanda for “show your commitment.”  We can’t think of a better name for our annual single-origin offering from Rwanda.  After all, commitment is what this whole specialty coffee thing is all about, and Rwanda’s coffee sector offers more inspiring examples of commitment than just about anywhere else on Earth.

Rwanda’s push into the specialty coffee sector came in the wake of genocide, a gruesome spasm of violence that set neighbor against neighbor, claimed nearly one million lives in a period of one hundred days and left the country’s economy reeling.  The country’s elegant Bourbon varietals and ideal growing conditions helped, as did some of the most effective development projects ever implemented in the coffee sector.  But Rwanda’s extraordinary emergence as the source of some of the world’s sweetest and cleanest coffees is mostly a story of determination and commitment.  The commitment we made to be present every step of the way, to share everything we have learned over the years about quality and to deliver financial rewards for quality is important.  But the real story is the extraordinary commitment shown by hundreds of thousands of ordinary Rwandans: a commitment to focus meticulously on quality in every step of the process, from the farm to the drying table.

Our Green Coffee Buyer for Rwanda J Mlodzinski tells the story of this year’s Zirikana and the commitment of the remarkable Rwandan coffee family behind it.


We had the honor of being present at the creation of Rwanda’s specialty coffee sector, and collaborating from the beginning with its quality pioneers.  Among them was Epiphanie Mukashyaka, a natural leader and entrepreneur who firmly embraced Rwanda’s quality-first strategy and executed on that strategy like no one else.

Her family-run business is centered in Rwanda’s Southern Province, where it built its first coffee washing station (CWS) in 2003 at Remera.  Just two years later, it  built a second CWS in Nyarusiza, in an area bordering the Nyungwe National Park where the soil is extremely rich and the water supply is plentiful.  Some of the farmers who deliver cherry to the Nyarusiza CWS produce up to three times as much as growers in other parts of Rwanda. These two washing stations and one family have been the anchor of our Zirikana project from the beginning.  Epiphanie has passed the torch to her sons, Sam and Eloys, but Bufcoffee remains one of the brightest lights in Rwanda’s coffee sector.


The advanced quality control systems Bufcoffee has implemented at these washing stations have garnered worldwide recognition, earning a handful of Cup of Excellence awards and consistent quality premiums. These premiums have allowed Bufcoffee to reinvest continuously in its operations.

In 2017, it built a third CWS in the Huye District, purchased a fourth in the Kamonyi District and made plans to continue to grow the family business: Sam recently helped his sister with financing for the purchase of a washing station named Kibingo just a few kilometers from the Burundi border.

In all this growth, Bufcoffee has not lost its focus on quality of the spirit of restless innovation in the name of quality that has been the basis of its success.

At the Remera CWS, Sam has imagined, created, implemented and refined over the past few years something he calls the “Under-Shade Drying System.”  Resembling a giant carport for coffee, this covered structure houses drying beds stacked ten high, providing an arid, shaded area where coffee drying time is slowed down to as much as 30-40 days.  It is a lengthy process, but it is worth the wait: the coffees that this system produces are more vibrant for longer than those dried in direct sunlight.

We are proud to have played a role in Bufcoffee’s growth and excited to collaborate with it continues to grow the family business and expand the opportunities of specialty coffee to more communities in Rwanda.

As you enjoy this year’s Zirikana Rwanda from the Remera CWS, we hope you appreciate how far the commitment to quality we share with Bufcoffee has taken our Zirikana project and the coffee growers who have participated in to date.  (We introduce you below to the growers who contributed to this edition of our Zirikana Rwanda.)  We also hope you understand why, as good as this coffee already is, we believe the best is yet to come.

Buy it and meet the growers behind it here.


It hardly seems possible that we first tasted coffee from Nshimiyimana Gaspard just three seasons ago. He has become such an integral part of our Rwanda sourcing program, and looms so large in our imagination of what coffee can be, that it seems he has been with us for much, much longer.

Surpassing Quality, Staggering Growth

The story of our relationship with Gaspard began in 2015, when we were introduced to him by our friends and long-time Direct Trade partners at Bufcoffee.  But Gaspard’s coffee story started nearly 20 years earlier.

Back in 1996, he purchased a plot of land in the village of Kigarama that was separated from Bufcoffee’s coffee washing station (CWS) at Nyarusiza by just a few kilometers of narrow dirt track.  The following year, Gaspard planted his first 100 coffee seedlings, and he has been delivering cherry to Bufcoffee at Nyarusiza ever since they first started yielding fruit.

When Gaspard cast his lot with coffee in the mid-1990s, Rwanda was recovering from a genocide that claimed nearly one million lives in a period of one hundred days, a gruesome spasm of violence that set neighbor against neighbor, decimated the population and left the country’s economy reeling.  As part of the reconstruction of Rwanda’s rural economy, the government set about gathering people into villages, investing in infrastructure and expanding education, including radio programs on agronomy.  During those years, Gaspard listened intently, wrote down as much information as he could and applied what he learned on his farm. His coffee flourished, and his neighbors took note. They asked for his help in bringing his good coffee-growing practices to their farms.  He has happily and humbly being doing so ever since.

From the start, Gaspard was rewarded for the intensity and precision of his effort with high yields.  More recently, he has complemented his effective agronomic practices with an explicit focus on quality.  Along the way, he has reinvested his growing coffee earnings into growing his farming operations.  He purchased and planted seedlings on his first farm until he ran out of room, running the coffee rows all the way to the boundaries of the farm.  Then he purchased a second farm in the nearby village of Bahina, where he continues to plant coffee, steadily improve his agronomic practices, and share what he knows with his neighbors.

The modest coffee grove that Gaspard planted in 1997 has grown to a staggering 23,000 plants, an unthinkable number in a region where most growers have fewer than 500 coffee plants.  At first, his farm grew in small steps based on steady increases in production, then in great leaps and bounds as quality premiums accelerated the rate at which he could earn money and reinvest it.

Getting Separation

For years, the cherry Gaspard delivered to the Bufcoffee washing station at Nyarusiza was bulked with that of his neighbors.  Eventually, however, Gaspard was producing enough coffee and delivering enough cherry that Bufcoffee was able to process it separately. Back in 2015, we cupped through dozens of lots offered to us by Bufcoffee that we found to be exceptionally sweet and clean.  One lot consistently separated itself from the pack, sweeter and cleaner than the rest: Gaspard’s.

A Shining Example

We have been sourcing coffee directly from growers for more than 15 years, and have been privileged to be part of stirring stories of success just about everywhere coffee is grown.  But it is hard to recall any story with beginnings as humble or growth as dramatic than Gaspard’s.  He epitomizes the promise of specialty coffee for smallholder growers committed to quality and hard work.  And we aren’t the only ones who feel that way.

In 2015, village authorities honored Gaspard as the farmer who applied the best agricultural practices within the district of Nyamagabe, and rewarded him for his work with a cow. This is a great honor in Rwanda, and a valuable asset for smallholder farmers anywhere.  Gaspard accepted the recognition humbly, but it is clearly a source of pride: when he invites visitors to his home to meet his family, he also introduces them to his prized cow.

Gaspard Rwanda

Gaspard has maintained his focus on quality even as he has expanded his farm and earned accolades.  He continues to work with the same small crew of farmworkers that has accompanied him through the growth of his farming operations, which he continues to oversee directly and manage with precision.  He dispatches workers to harvest specific areas of the farm at specific times, and ensures that they adhere to the strict composting, fertilizing, pruning and nutrition programs that he has developed over the years.

The first year we tasted Gaspard’s coffee, we released a small lot of it as a Zirikana Limited Release, a complement to our traditional Rwanda single-origin offering, Zirikana.  Last year, we presented Gaspard’s coffee as a single-farm lot bearing his name. This year, on the 20th anniversary of his first planting, we are proud to offer you our Gaspard Rwanda. 

Buy it here.


Rwanda’s coffee heroes

From our Green Coffee Buyer for Rwanda J Mlodzinski:

Kinyarwanda is the official language of Rwanda, and Imena is Kinyarwanda for hero.

Our Zirikana Imena Rwanda is a new Intelligentsia offering that marks the beginning of an exciting new phase in our Direct Trade relationship with Furaha Umwizeye and Kivubelt Coffee.

Furaha was born in Rwanda, raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and educated in Switzerland, where she studied economics.  Like many Rwandans who were abroad during the country’s horrific genocide in 1994, Furaha found herself searching for ways to contribute to Rwanda’s ongoing reconstruction.  Unlike many of them, her studies of international finance and trade had prepared her to lead processes of economic development and market engagement.  In 2011, she started Kivubelt, a coffee farming, milling and export operation in the Western Province of Rwanda on the shores of the breathtaking Lake Kivu.

Kivubelt owns and operates three large farms with more than 90,000 coffee trees, which makes it a considerably larger undertaking than most farms in Rwanda.  For years, Kivubelt rented a coffee washing station (CWS) in the village of Murundo to process the coffees it has grown on its three farms, delivering this coffee our friends and long-time Direct Trade partners at Bufcoffee for dry milling and export.  But the company has also been working for several seasons with smallholders in the region as part of its mission to leverage the coffee trade for positive social impact.

People’s Farm

In the rolling hills that surround the Murundo CWS live hundreds of smallholder growers with small coffee gardens.  The scale of their operations may be modest, but little else is: they are set in a growing environment ideal for coffee quality, planted with traditional Bourbon cultivars and tended by farmers with a fierce work ethic.  The two recent Cup of Excellence awards won by coffees grown on these smallholder farms and processed by Kivubelt at the Murundo CWS are testament to the potential of what Furaha calls the People’s Farm.

Hero Coffee

Furaha describes the inspiration for the name of this release:

The idea behind Imena is that our neighbors are small-scale coffee farmers who grow their coffee in very high and very hilly terrain, places that are accessible only on foot, or perhaps by bicycle or motorbike.  Basically they grow their coffee with their hands, hoes and feet. When the cherry is ripe, they hand-pick it and walk with it on their heads to the coffee washing station, and all this during the rainy season when the roads have turned to mud.”  

To Furaha and the team at Kivubelt, in other words, Rwanda’s coffee farmers are heroes.

But Imena isn’t just the way Furaha and her team from Kivubelt feel about the farmers that neighbor the Murundo washing station.  It is also an aspiration: they want to make heroic contributions to the economy of the region, which is why they work so hard to deliver agronomic assistance, pay the highest prices possible for cherry, process coffee with meticulous attention to detail and build lasting relationships with leading roasters.

Zirikana Imena

In 2017, Kivubelt bought the Murundo CWS and began introducing tighter controls on cherry reception, improvements to sorting procedures and upgrades to the milling process.  We tasted the difference immediately in this lot of Zirikana Imena, which is simultaneously the culmination of years of hard work and the beginning of a new chapter of collaboration between Intelligentsia, Bufcoffee, Kivubelt and the hundreds of heroic farmers who deliver their coffee to the Murundo CWS.

We introduce you to them individually and offer you their coffee here.

Enter Buziraguhindwa

From our Green Coffee Buyer for Burundi J Mlodzinski:

Ramadhan Salum has been an Intelligentsia Direct Trade partner for the past three years.  He owns and operates Kayanza Premium Coffee (KPC), a quality-focused coffee company whose growth has helped to drive the emergence of Burundi’s coffee sector as the source of some of the world’s cleanest and sweetest coffees.

KPC: Quality pioneer

Just 10 years ago, every coffee washing station (CWS) in Burundi was government-owned.  In 2009, when KPC opened its first CWS at Buziraguhindwa, it was one of the first in the country to be privately held.  From the outset, Ramadhan and KPC have married a strategic commitment to quality with a meticulous approach to operations to deliver exceptionally clean coffee.

We have sourced coffee from KPC regularly for our annual Karyenda Burundi releases, but the investments Ramadhan has made in recent years are paying dividends in the form of increased cup quality.  Beginning tomorrow, we are delighted to offer this Buzira Burundi Limited release from the KPC CWS at Buziraguhindwa. Our QC team chose this coffee from dozens of samples carefully selected from all four of KPC’s washing stations. It represents coffee delivered during a single day by over 100 growers from the same village.

Buziraguhindwa: The land of milk and honey

Ramadhan’s operations create incentives for quality not only at Buziraguhindwa, but at all of his CWS.  He pays more for cherry that is ripe and clean, of course, but that isn’t all.  KPC also pays a little extra to farmers who travel farther to deliver their cherry: a way to compensate them for their additional transportation costs.  And farmers who bring KPC their cherry return home with compost created at a nearby KPC washing station, as well as milk and honey that is raised at the CWS.  When it first opened the Buziraguhindwa CWS, KPC even distributed coffee seedlings to the local farmers for free to renovate local coffee farms, where most plants were 20-60 years old.  KPC has even worked to give growers access to finance and has implemented a financial literacy program designed to help growers boost household savings.

ECW: Cross-Pollinization

Ramadhan traveled to Central America in 2016 to join us for our annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop for the first time.  There he visited the Coopedota cooperative that is source our annual Flecha Roja Costa Rica offering.  He was so impressed and inspired by the quality of the co-op’s mill and post-harvest processing that as soon as he hit the ground back home in Burundi, he immediately set about modifying the design of two new washing stations that were under construction and implementing changes to the two washing stations already in operation at Buziraguhindwa and Mbirizi.

The improvements included tiled fermentation and soaking tanks, an important contributor to clean washing that has become a common feature of mills in the Americas but one not seen too often in Burundi.  KPC’s washing stations were already among the best examples anywhere in our Direct Trade network of meticulous attention to detail and exhaustive sorting and separation throughout the entire post-harvest process, from the moment cherry is delivered to the day it is finally removed from raised beds.  These marginal improvements in CWS infrastructure have only made KPC’s coffee even better.

And that’s just at the washing stations.  Ramadhan has also begun implementing some of the agronomic practices he saw in Costa Rica on his own growing network of farms and incorporated them in KPC’s agronomic extension services.

Ramadhan is a rising star in our Direct Trade family who delivers pristine coffees for our annual single-origin Burundi releases from his growing network of washing stations in Burundi.  He has also become a coffee bee, buzzing from one origin to another and taking ideas and inspirations from our Direct Trade partners in other countries.  If Burundi’s emerging specialty coffee sector is a flower, then the ideas and practices that Ramadhan brings home with him are the pollen helping it bloom.  We are excited to share with you this Buzira Burundi Limited Release, whose intense aromatics and persistent sweetness represent the lovely blossom of Burundi’s coffee sector.

Purchase our Buzira Burundi Limited Release and meet the growers behind it here.

Llano Redondo | Colombia Cup of Excellence #4

Our Llano Redondo Colombia COE #4 Special Selection is the third and final winning CoE lot we will release for 2017, capping a short run of extraordinary single-farm lots that mark our reengagement with a competition platform that has played a vital role in the development of many of our most important trading relationships.

Intelligentsia, COE and Direct Trade

For four or five years beginning in 2003, as we were establishing the foundations of our Direct Trade program, Intelligentsia was one of the leading U.S. buyers of CoE coffees.  Many of the single-origin coffees that are perennial favorites on our menu today have been built around relationships that began as many as 15 years ago and were originally brokered by the Cup of Excellence, including our La Tortuga Honduras (Finca La Tina), Itzamna Guatemala (La Maravilla and La Soledad), Malacara (Los Inmortales El Salvador), Zirikana Rwanda (Nyarusiza and Remera coffee washing stations), Matalapa El Salvador, Los Delirios Organic Nicaragua, Takesi Bolivia and even a few lots from our annual Tres Santos Colombia releases.

The two winning CoE lots from Colombia we have released this week represent more of the same: the purchase of specially selected lots from growers already in our Direct Trade network to deepen established relationships (La Mina Colombia COE #8 Special Selection) or accelerate emerging ones, like this CoE winning lot from Llano Redondo.

The Axis of Quality, Buesaco and Llano Redondo

Colombia’s traditional coffee growing area, located in the departments of Caldas, Quindio, Risaralda and the northern reaches of Valle de Cauca, is known as the Eje Cafetero, or Axis of Coffee.  Over the past decade, a new configuration of four departments in southern Colombia has mounted a challenge to the primacy of the Eje Cafetero.  They are Cauca, Huila, Nariño and parts of Tolima, and they have come to be known as the Eje de Calidad, or the Axis of Quality.  

Since Colombia held its first Cup of Excellence back in 2005, these departments have dominated the competition.  Three municipalities in particular have cast long shadows: growers from Pitalito in Huila, Planadas in Tolima and the quiet town of Buesaco in Nariño have taken home more hardware than farmers from any of Colombia’s other storied coffee regions.  These areas seem to be custom-built for quality, since they keep rising to the top of CoE winner rolls.   This year, there were 12 winners from Planadas and 10 from Buesaco.  One of those was Llano Redondo, a modest family farm in a tiny village called Medina Orejuela in Buesaco.

The ultimate father-and-son project

Llano Redondo may not have the same pedigree as many of its neighbors, but its owner Ángel María López Loaiza has been quietly working on quality for several years with our partners at the progressive exporter Inconexus and some of the growers in Buesaco who have been part of our Direct Trade program there for years.  This year we were impressed enough with Llano Redondo’s coffee that we purchased a single-farm lot for release in January as part of our annual Tres Santos Colombia offering.

Recently, Ángel María began to compete in local competitions, and this year decided to try his luck for the first time at Colombia’s CoE.  He enlisted the help of his son Jesús, pictured here, in the ultimate father-and-son project: trying to produce a coffee worthy enough to stand out among a crowded field in one of Colombia’s most celebrated coffee regions.

Our Llano Redondo Colombia COE #4 Special Selection is an extraordinary debut, even by CoE’s lofty standards.  It earned some of the highest scores awarded by our Quality Control team in all of 2017, and reminds us of nectarine, honeydew and butterscotch.  

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Pre-order this stunning lot here.  Orders received by Thursday, 12/14 at 3 pm will be roasted and shipped on Friday, 12/15 and arrive in time for Christmas.

If the person on your shopping list has been especially good this year, add the La Mina Colombia COE #8 Special Selection to your cart and take 15% off the total.

La Mina | Colombia Cup of Excellence #8

From our Vice President of Coffee and Green Coffee Buyer for Colombia Geoff Watts:

There’s a place

A short drive up the winding road outside the small mountain town of Buesaco in Nariño lies is a small family farm called La Mina.  At first glance, it looks much like all the other farms in the area.  But La Mina and its owner, Franco Héctor López, are in a league all their own.

This lot represents the fifth time La Mina has finished in the top 20 in Colombia’s prestigious Cup of Excellence competition, making it the most decorated farm in the entire region.

Don Franco grew up around coffee.  His mother and grandparents were coffee growers.  They taught him to love the culture of coffee, and he learned the lesson well.  He purchased his own farm more than 30 years ago and has been pouring himself into ever since.

Today, he has nearly 20 hectares (roughly 54 acres) of land, seven of them planted with coffee, the rest a densely wooded conservation area.  At 71 years of age, he continues to be a leader in his community and a model for other farmers who look to follow in his footsteps.

Do you want to know a secret?    

When you’ve had as much success growing coffee as Don Franco, no one would blame you for wanting to take it easy for a while.  He’s got a great market for his coffees, a wall full of awards and the respect and admiration of his peers.  What more does one need?  Fortunately for all of us thrill-seekers who find the beauty in coffee taste to be a source of overwhelming joy, Don Franco is not slowing down.  He’s having fun, and he is wired for work: I’m not sure he could stop even if he wanted to.  

And therein lies the real secret behind the consistently show-stopping quality of La Mina’s coffee.  Sure, it helps to be located in Buesaco, Nariño, a municipality that seems to have a special sauce for its quality recipe and has become a hotbed for high-end coffee buyers in search of treasure.  But it takes more than a favorable growing environment to produce coffees that demonstrate the real potential of the species.  Bringing out the best in a coffee requires deliberate effort, a willingness to go to great lengths achieve optimal flavor and persistence.   And Don Franco is nothing if not inexhaustible.  Every year I’ve visited La Mina, I have seen new investments in the farm and its processing set-up.  A few years ago, Don Franco built a drying system that was the envy of his neighbors, complete with automated fans and thermostats.  This year, he’s constructed a new lab on-site for quality control.

With a little help from my friends

Don Franco may be the heart and soul of La Mina, but his is not a solo act.  He gets by with a little help from his friends and family.  His daughter Cielo runs the commercial side of the family business, and his son-in-law Nilson helps out with operations.  (Nilson is a formidable farmer in his own right: his farm El Bado, just up the mountain from La Mina, took top honors in Colombia’s 2014 Cup of Excellence.) Adriana Villanueva, from the quality-focused exporter Inconexus, is also a good friend who has been providing support for years.   This kind of collaborative effort is part of the reason that La Mina has been able to hit home runs year after year.

Getting so much better all the time

We have purchased coffee from the López family for six straight seasons.  Some old-timers may remember the debut of La Mina on our menu back in 2012, when it was included in a spectacular release we referred to as “Amigos de Buesaco.”  In early 2018, we will launch a single-farm Limited Release from La Mina.

In the meantime, we are delighted to offer this superlative lot, which placed eighth in this year’s Colombia Cup of Excellence competition.  It is La Mina’s fifth winning CoE lot, bursting with flavors of pear, apricot and mission fig.

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Pre-order this truly special coffee here.  Orders received before 3 pm on Thursday, 12/14 will be roasted and shipped on Friday,  12/15 and arrive in time for Christmas.

Learn about Intelligentsia’s involvement with the Cup of Excellence competition here.

Find more information on the Cup of Excellence here.

El Cerro | Peru Cup of Excellence #2

From our Green Coffee Buyer for Peru Jay Cunningham:

Most of the truly great coffee in Peru has been blended into obscurity.  There, coffee is mostly collected from thousands of growers and bulked into large, homogenized lots that dilute the quality of dozens or perhaps hundreds of small lots of exceptional quality.  In the United States and other countries where Peruvian coffee is consumed, you may find it hidden in colorfully named blends on grocery stores shelves, but you would have to look hard.

Peru is one of the top-10 coffee-producing nations in the world by volume, but it is still struggling to make a name for itself where quality is concerned. Thankfully, that is beginning to change.

Peru’s Past

Peru’s coffee sector faces challenges that are typical of many coffee-growing countries, including persistent poverty, limited economic development in rural areas and poor infrastructure, and others that aren’t: it is massive, meaning that many parts of the country’s coffeelands are exceptionally isolated from ports and markets.  Development aid and organic and Fair Trade certifications have made an impact in Peru: coffee growers are making a better living and the cooperatives that link them to markets are able to reinvest in technical and agronomic assistance.  

A Culture of Quality

Peru has not had a reputation for great quality, but not because it doesn’t have the conditions to produce extraordinary coffee. Peru’s soaring Andean peaks, lush coffee forests, cool temperatures and traditional varieties make it a natural source of quality coffee.  What it lacks are a culture of quality, the commitment to lot separation and premium prices that make all that separation worthwhile.

Incentives for Quality

In recent years we have been working to create incentives for growers to begin to separate their lots based on quality, and the results have been genuinely exciting.  Last year we released the first edition of our new Rayos del Sol Organic Peru lot, our first Direct Trade single-origin from Peru in years. Earlier this year, the Cup of Excellence underscored the idea that there is value to be captured by lot separation when it held its first-ever competition and auction in Peru.

Enter CoE

In our blind cupping of all the winning Peru CoE lots, this particular one really stood out on the table as exceptionally sweet and clean.  We were thrilled, but not surprised, to learn that it came from Efraín Carhuallocllo, a member of the Café Solidario cooperative that puts together our Rayos del Sol Organic Peru lot.

Efraín and El Cerro

The village of El Corazón is located in the Province of Jaén, four hours north of the bustling city of the same name that serves as the official capital of the province and the unofficial capital of Peru’s coffee sector. To reach Finca El Cerro requires another hour-long walk from the village. The landscape of the farm is rugged, with elevations up to 2000m and lots of natural shade and untouched forest. Or at least, that’s what we have come to understand from members of Café Solidario’s leadership team, who have been telling us for years about Efraín and his farm.  We attempted to make our first visit this year but were thwarted by roads that weren’t merely too muddy to navigate, but too much for our vehicle to take: the effort to make it through the mud to the farm actually killed our truck and we had to hitchhike back to our hotel!

Like most coffee farms in Peru, El Cerro is small: a two-hectare plot (less than five and one-half acres) planted with about 10,000 Caturra trees. Unlike most coffee farmers in Peru, Efraín is hyper-focused on quality and part of an organization committed to relentless separation.

Efraín has been working this farm for seven years, making steady improvements every year. He maintains a small but pristine depulper and fermentation tank, as well as a small solar dryer that allows him to avoid the risks of El Corazón’s finicky wet weather.

Efraín was already well-known for his meticulous approach to coffee before this year’s Cup of Excellence.  Now he is nothing short of a celebrity in El Corazón, where his neighbors have sought his advice on fermentation, his help constructing new drying infrastructure, and most of his Yellow Caturra seed, all of which he has shared happily.

This spectacular lot, which reminds us of persimmon, turbinado sugar and dried cherry, is the harbinger of a new era for Peruvian coffee.

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Visit our single-origin coffees page to pre-order this coffee.  It will be roasted and shipped on 12/15 and arrive in time for Christmas.  If there is any left after that, we will fulfill orders every Friday until we run out.


Three Cups of Excellence

The Cup of Excellence (CoE) is the world’s most rigorous and prestigious coffee quality competition. With events in 10 different coffee-growing countries and an internet auction that exports winning lots to every major consuming market in the world, it is the only truly international coffee quality competition.  Forget about the gold standard, the CoE is the platinum standard for quality.

Collectively, our Direct Trade partners have more than 60 CoE awards among them.  But it has been several years since we have sourced a winning CoE lot.  Tomorrow we start taking pre-orders for the first of three winning lots from the most recent CoE competitions in Colombia and Peru, every one of them from a grower already part of the Intelligentsia Direct Trade network:

These release of these three stunning coffees signals our return to the CoE circuit and our continued commitment to source the world’s most extraordinary coffees.  It also reflects our belief that the CoE doesn’t just set the platinum standard among coffee quality competitions: it is also the one that delivers the most value to growers and roasters committed to building long-term trading relationships rooted in mutual pursuit of quality.

Intelligentsia, COE and Direct Trade

Our current single-origin menu is filled with coffees that can trace their origins to the CoE.   

From 2003-2007, as we were establishing the foundations of our Direct Trade program, Intelligentsia was one of the leading U.S. buyers of CoE coffees.  CoE was never just a reliable source for great coffees for us, but a reliable source of access to growers committed to producing great coffees year in and year out.  While some buyers may see CoE as coffee’s version of Tinder, we think of it more like match.com: a matchmaking service for parties more interested in committed long-term relationships.

As a result, many of our perennial single-origin favorites have been built around relationships originally brokered by the Cup of Excellence starting 15 years ago, including our La Tortuga Honduras (Finca La Tina), Itzamna Guatemala (La Soledad), Malacara (Los Inmortales El Salvador), Matalapa El Salvador and Los Delirios Organic Nicaragua.   Two of these farms — La Tina and Los Delirios — have taken home the top prize.  

The three winning lots we release this week represent more of the same: the purchase of specially selected lots from growers in our Direct Trade network to accelerate emerging relationships or deepen established ones.

Efraín Carhuallocllo Salvador of Peru is a member of the Café Solidario organization that grows our Rayos del Sol Peru single-origin offering.  We have been working with the organization’s members and leadership for the past three seasons to develop a shared understanding of quality and lay the groundwork to a long-term Direct Trade relationship.  After our second visit earlier this year, we became the single biggest buyer of Café Solidario coffee.  

For Franco Héctor José López, this purchase brings our relationships full-circle, since we originally connected through our participation in Colombia’s CoE competitions beginning in 2010.  La Mina has been a perennial part of our single-origin Colombia lineup, originally released as part of our Amigos de Buesaco offering.  Franco’s daughter Cielo recently joined the entire Intelligentsia Direct Trade family in San Francisco for our annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, reserved for our most valued trading partners.

His La Mina farm is in the same neighborhood as Ángel María López Loaiza’s Llano Redondo farm in the Buesaco region of Nariño. This year, lots from both farms are part of our annual Tres Santos Colombia lineup: our annual Direct Trade lots from both farms are scheduled to arrive in January.

Sourcing these extraordinary CoE lots in addition to the lots we normally source from these partners enables us to help celebrate their achievements and contribute to financial impact CoE has on them and their families.  To date, CoE has generated more than $55 million in premiums to growers, but that is only a part of its overall impact.  Over time, the benefits of sustained access of CoE winners to Direct Trade relationships and the expansion of the specialty sectors in CoE origins is exponentially greater.  According to an impact assessment commissioned by ACE and published by the non-profit TechnoServe in 2015, when the value of expanded access CoE was $137 million in Brazil alone.

These are among the very best coffees you will drink this year.  They are also part of a system that creates powerful incentives for quality, supports the establishment of mutually beneficial long-term tradition relationships and drives real financial impact at the farm level.

Visit our single-origin coffees page to pre-order these exceptional lots before they sell out.  Orders received by Thursday, 12/14 at 3:00 pm will be roasted and shipped that day and arrive in time for Christmas.  In the (unlikely) event we have any left after that, we will repeat this fulfillment plan weekly until we run out.

CoE 101

This week we begin our releases of not one, not two but three winners of recent Cup of Excellence competitions in Colombia and Peru.  It has been a few years since we have had CoE coffees on our menu, so here are some CoE basics to jog your memory, courtesy of my colleague Geoff Watts, who has been involved from the beginning and served on more than 20 juries to date.

What is Cup of Excellence?

The Cup of Excellence, or “CoE” for short, is the world’s most rigorous and prestigious coffee quality competition. It is the only truly international competition in existence, serving 10 different producing countries and exporting coffees to every major consuming market via an online auction.  It is considered the gold standard for coffee tasting events.

What is the purpose of CoE?

The CoE was developed with four goals in mind:

[1.] serve as a discovery mechanism for coffees of exceptional quality that do not have clear paths to markets that reward quality;

[2.] create a prominent international stage for those coffees on which the growers who produced them and the origins in which they were grown can show a highly discerning and influential audience what they are capable of;

[3.] promote the values of transparency and traceability in the coffee industry; and

[4.] foster greater connectivity between roasters and farmers focused on coffee’s intrinsic quality.

How does it work?

The competition takes place every year at the end of the harvest season in each of the participating countries. There are six separate rounds for each competition, followed by an online auction.

National Jury | Rounds 1-3

Round 1 | Pre-selection

Up to 1,000 coffees or more are submitted by farmers wishing to compete. These are evaluated over a period of the weeks by a panel of national cuppers.  Coffees that score 86 points or higher are qualified to move on to the next stage of the competition.

Round 2 | 150 > 90

The coffees that are pre-selected in Round 1 (up to a maximum 150) are then roasted a second time and submitted to a National Jury comprised of as many as one doze of the best tasters in the host country. Up to 90 coffees scoring 86 points or above move on to the next round

Round 3 | 90> 40

Lots that survive the second round are roasted and tasted one final time by the National Jury, with up to 40 coffees scoring 86 points or above moving on to the International Jury segment of the competition.

International Jury | Rounds 4-6Round 4 | International Jury

In the third round, all the coffees that survive the National Jury segment are cupped by an International Jury made up of 20-25 professional cuppers from leading consuming markets from around the world, generally Japan, Korea, Europe, Scandinavia, Australia and the United States.  

Round 5 | 

During the fifth round, the International Jury whittles the remaining lots down to a smaller number that will be awarded Cup of Excellence honors and advance to the auction.  Coffees in that survive round 5 are divided into two categories — International Jury winners and National Jury winners — and qualify for the online auction that follows the competition.

Round 6 | Top Ten

On the final day of the competition, the 10 highest-scoring coffees from the first two heats of the International Jury round are roasted a third time, scored and ranked to identify an overall winner.

That evening an awards ceremony is held and the winners are revealed. These events are a BIG DEAL in coffee-growing countries, often attended by heads of state and other high-placed government officials. The excitement among the farmers in attendance is tremendous, because winning the CoE can completely change the trajectory of their lives for the better. There is a long list of past winners who were on the verge of failure before getting discovered in the CoE and who today are among the most successful coffee farmers in their respective countries.

Why is it considered the gold standard for coffee competitions?

There is no other coffee competition that comes close to the rigor and the discipline of a Cup of Excellence. Every coffee that reaches the finals goes through a minimum of five rounds of evaluation to get there, and hundreds of individual cups are tasted for each sample. Even a single defect can cause a coffee to be eliminated from the competition, and more than three dozen individual tasters from different countries need to agree on a coffee’s quality for it to make it through to the end of the competition. It is extremely hard to win a CoE.

There is also an unmatched level of traceability and transparency in the process.  International auditors are hired to oversee and manage the sampling process, and only they have access to the codes. Each coffee that passes pre-selection is held in a bonded warehouse under lock and key, and only the auditors know the identity of the coffees until the codes are revealed on the night of the awards ceremony.

Who runs Cup of Excellence?

CoE is owned and operated by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (“ACE”), a non-profit organization committed to promoting quality in coffee and creating opportunity for coffee growers.

Why is CoE such a big deal in coffee-growing countries?

Cup of Excellence has had an outsized impact on coffee growers around the world, and has played a pivotal role in helping us develop the long-term sourcing relationships behind some of your favorite coffees.

CoE has delivered more than $55 million to coffee growers around the world since it started — revenues to which those growers simply would not have had access in the absence of the CoE competition and auction.  But the real impact of CoE goes well beyond the dollars and cents generated at auction.  Over time, the benefits of sustained access of CoE winners to Direct Trade relationships and the expansion of the specialty sectors in CoE origins is exponentially greater.  According to an impact assessment commissioned by ACE and published by the non-profit TechnoServe in 2015, when the value of expanded access CoE was $137 million in Brazil alone.

What is Intelligentsia’s history with CoE?

Intelligentsia has been a vigorous supporter of CoE almost from its inception.  We were a major U.S. buyer of winning CoE lots during the competition’s early years, and have participated in more juries than any other U.S. roaster.  Geoff has been on the jury for the inaugural competition in seven of the 10 countries where CoE has been held, and more than 20 juries in total.  He is also a current member and past chair of the ACE Board of Directors.

Karyenda: Music (and coffee) worthy of royalty

The karyenda is a traditional drum in Burundi, but it is not just any drum.  It occupies the highest order of sacred drums in a country that takes its percussion seriously.  It once enjoyed semi-divine status in Burundi, heralding the proclamations of kings at royal ceremonies and marking weddings, harvests and funerals, perhaps even the burial of the Burundian queen who reportedly lies in repose in the shady spot beneath this tree.  Whether in celebration or mourning, the karyenda thrums relentlessly with rhythms that are nothing short of mesmerizing.  We have named our annual single-origin release from Burundi for the karyenda because its coffees make us feel the same way as its drumming: pulsing with energy and marveling at the complexity of what Burundi has to offer.

Our 2017 Karyenda Burundi, in the words of our Green Coffee Logistics Manager and Burundi Buyer J Mlodzinski:

Yandaro Rises to the Top.

For the second year in a row, our Karyenda Burundi comes from the Yandaro coffee washing station (CWS).  It is located in the Kabarore Commune in the heart of the Kayanza Province, home to what are arguably the best coffees in the country.  The Yandaro CWS has been processing coffees since 1986, but in recent years the Greenco team that runs the washing station has elevated its coffees to a level that makes them worthy of the karyenda name.  

Although we loved the coffee we sourced from Yandaro last year, we cast a wide net in our search for year’s Karyenda Burundi as part of our commitment to find the very best coffees Burundi has to offer.  We cupped blindly through dozens of lots from Greenco operations in Gitega, Ngozi and Kayanza, and the Yandaro lots just kept rising to the top.

More than 3,500 coffee growers from 22 different villages scattered across Kabarore and beyond deliver fresh coffee cherry to Yandaro, but traffic doesn’t just flow into the mill there.  Yandaro’s team also pushes out into the hilly terrain that surrounds the washing station to deliver technical assistance in coffee agronomy and train growers on how to meet its high standards for quality.  The results have been evident in the cup.  The extraordinary efforts of the Greenco team and the growers they serve have turned the gifts that nature bestowed on Burundi – fertile soil, high elevations, regular rains, warm days and cool nights –  into impeccably clean and sweet coffee.  

This coffee goes to six.

Greenco’s team at Yandaro sorts its coffee relentlessly, dividing it into six quality tiers, with a relatively small amount reaching the HG/High-Grade tier at the top of the pyramid.  This coffee has been so good over the last two years that we have doubled down on our commitment to the Yandaro CWS: we bought all the HG coffee that Yandaro produced for the U.S. market this year and invested in the future of coffee in Kabarore.

Kahawatu: People’s Coffee.

Our visits this year to the villages surrounding Yandaro confirmed what we suspected: that as good as these coffees are, they can get even better; that coffee can create meaningful economic opportunities there; and that we want to make a long-term commitment to the region.

As a demonstration of that commitment, we are teaming up with Greenco’s Kahawatu Foundation to invest in the communities surrounding the Yandaro WCS. Kahawatu, or People’s Coffee, engages directly with the communities that deliver cherry to the washing station at Yandaro to help develop educational, financial and agronomic programs that directly benefit coffee growers and their families.  A portion of the price we paid for this coffee will be reinvested in renovation that positions growers to boost coffee production and increase coffee income.

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The 2017 edition of our sparkling Karyenda Burundi reminds us of blood orange, white peach and butterscotch.  Buy it here.


An architectural approach to agriculture

From our Vice President of Coffee and Colombia Buyer Geoff Watts:

The Santuario Farm Project was created in 1999 by visionary farmer-in-training Camilo Merizalde.  His explicit goal was to produce extraordinary coffee using traditional heirloom varieties that had nearly disappeared from Colombia. It was a huge leap of faith and more than a decade ahead of its time.  In those years, the idea of planting fragile varieties known to have low yields was considered a fool’s errand, extremely risky given the conditions in the marketplace and region.  Back then, specialty coffee was still a niche industry known more for French Roasts and Vanilla Lattes than for rare coffee types.

Nearly 20 years later, the farm is living, breathing proof-of-concept.  Camilo hasn’t merely demonstrated that it is possible to build a sustainable coffee farm on a vision that values quality over quantity, balances biodiversity and productivity and sees the heirloom coffees of Colombia’s past as the best bet for its future.  He has demonstrated that, if financial profitability and resilience in the face of climate change and volatile markets are important parts of sustainability, this vision may be the best blueprint for the future of coffee.  It is a model that farmers around the world have replicated, but few have matched.

An Architectural Approach to Agriculture

Nothing about the blueprint of the farm is arbitrary or accidental. Before a single seed was planted, Camilo spent two years investigating the critical factors that contribute to quality coffee production and plant health.  In consultation with agronomy experts from Colombia, Central America, and Japan he slowly developed a plan for his farm.  There would be wide spacing between rows of coffee to allow light and air to reach the cherries, promote good productivity and discourage disease. He would plant a diverse selection of leguminous trees and vegetation to provide shade, protection from winds, moisture retention and leaf litter as mulch to deliver nutrients and organic matter to the soil.  This biodiversity, while costlier initially, is the basis for long-term sustainability on any farm.  Creating an environment where nature can work its magic in the form of interdependent biological systems that support plant and animal life is critical to maintaining a healthy farm environment.

Camilo approached the layout of the farm as any good architect would, plotting it out meter by square meter and making arrangements that made sense based on the existing environment.  The original map of the farm is pixelated to detail every tiny parcel, with precise demarcation of all the various types of trees and shrubs planted there.  He chose specific varieties to plant after studying the specialty market and consulting with friends.  Rather than pick the high-yielding, easier-to-grow varieties widely available in Colombia like Caturra or variedad Colombia, he chose heirloom types known for their ability to produce sensational tasting coffee seeds.  Old Typica and Bourbon stocks are generally less productive and more fragile than the hybrids that are more commonly cultivated today, but they have a much higher ceiling when it comes to cup quality.  He planted them in distinct sections, keeping each lot restricted to one type so that the different varieties could be easily kept separated during harvest.

The Everlasting Gobstopper

The Santuario experience has been a gustatory journey without end, filled with discovery and invention and an endless variation of flavors.  It is a real-time experiment that has generated new knowledge about the best way to manage a boutique farm at scale, and its coffees have become a reliable, perennial standard for our customers.  Each season offers slightly different forms of the same kind of pleasure, and the wellspring of flavor at Santuario is virtually inexhaustible.  

The farm has occupied a feature role at many groundbreaking Intelligentsia events of the last decade. Our inaugural Extraordinary Coffee Workshop took place there back in 2009 and launched an institution.  The next year we hosted an ambitious coffee tasting dinner at our Pasadena shop where local chefs developed an eight-course meal, each dish constructed to pair with a single coffee from the Santuario variety garden and reflect its most outstanding traits. More recently, we began showcasing individual cultivars in special edition tins created to allow our customers to experience how genetic differences between tree varieties can lead to intriguingly distinct flavor characteristics, even when these trees are grown under identical conditions. Naturally, Santuario was at the center of that exercise.

A Noble Variety

We often bring in Bourbon varieties from Santuario, sometimes with red cherry and sometimes with yellow.  This this year we are featuring a red Typica specimen that caught our fancy.

World Coffee Research calls Typica “one of the most culturally and genetically important C. Arabica coffees in the world” for good reason.  Typica is a tall, gangly tree with an important role in coffee´s history as the ancestor to many of the planet’s most celebrated coffee types, from Java to Blue Mountain. It was the coffee that seeded Yemen’s emergence as a global coffee power, the one that later traveled both east and west to become the rootstock used to establish coffee industries in countries as diverse as India, Jamaica, Indonesia and Colombia. Today it is increasingly difficult to find, as most farmers have transitioned to more modern varieties selected for their vigor and ability to generate higher yields. Typica is one of the least productive coffee tree types, and for that reason has largely been replaced over the past few decades. Thankfully there are still some farmers around the world who continue to keep these trees in production and preserve their legacy for the coffee drinkers of today to enjoy and appreciate.  This ancient seed is renowned for delicate, nuanced flavor and produces gorgeous flavors that remind us why coffee was once considered a sacred drink.  This year’s Red Typica harvest at Santuario reminds us of pomegranate, plum and lime.

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Buy our Santuario Colombia Red Typica here.