Introducing Flor de Março

Today we celebrate the inaugural releases of two single-origin coffees: our Port of Mokha Al-Jabal Yemen Special Selection and our Flor de Março Brazil Limited Release.  The coffees come from origins that could not be less alike.  But they have three things in common.  They are both delicious and represent the best of their respective origins.  They are both fly-crop coffees.  And they are both likely to become permanent fixtures on our expanding single-origin menu.

From our President and Green Coffee Buyer for Brazil James McLaughlin:

Flor de Março, which translates literally to March Flower, is a bit of an environmental freak. The coffee in Espirito Santo region flowers in November. Nine months after the coffee tree flowers, the farmer will have cherries ready to pick.

But in the mountains of Espirito Santo where we sourced this lot of smallholder coffee, there is a second flowering four months later. While it is common for a coffee tree to have multiple flowerings, it is unusual that they are separated by a four-month period. This gap in time means that the coffee from the March flowering matures under very different climatic conditions than the November flowering. For example, the March coffee does not experience the dry conditions from November to April and it is maturing through the rainy season. For reasons we don’t fully understand yet, these environmental differences have a dramatic impact on the coffee’s flavor. We have cupped coffees from the same farm from multiple flowerings—one from the November flowering and another from the March flowering—and the March flowering is almost always better, and not by a small margin.  Coffees from the March flowering routinely outscore their November counterparts by five points or more!

The Flor de Março coffees have some of our favorites from Brazil. Over the past two seasons, we have been working patiently to develop relationships with a small group of family farmers in Espirito Santo who share our commitment to quality.  As we expand our project in Espirito Santo in the years ahead, we will have steadily more coffees from what is probably the most exciting and under-appreciated coffee region in Brazil. In the meantime, enjoy this release and celebrate the impact that Mother Nature has on flavor!

A most improbable coffee

We introduced you a few weeks ago here to the impossible-but-true story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali and his Quixotic quest to bring the ancient art of Yemeni coffee into the 21st century.

Dave Eggers tells a longer version of that story over more than 300 spellbinding pages in his bestselling book The Monk of Mokha.

Reading about how Mokhtar chased his dream across continents and cultures and into the upheaval of a civil war may instill some respect for Yemen’s storied coffee history, its ancient culture and the extraordinary work of his company Port of Mokha to bring Yemeni coffee to market against long odds.

But the best way to appreciate Yemeni coffee and Port of Mokha’s heroic work to revive it, of course, is to taste it.  And today we begin taking orders for a stunning lot of coffee that speaks more about Yemen’s coffee than all the words in the world.

It is a natural-process peaberry from the fly crop in Al-Jabal—a small second harvest produced by a modest second flowering of the coffee plants in the region—that tastes to us like cherry, applesauce and blackberry.  The idea that a lot from Yemen like this one—a tiny lot of peaberry seed, harvested at peak ripeness from the country’s second flowering, sorted with meticulous care and traced to its source—could be had at all, let alone delivered while still fresh, would have been laughable even a year or two ago. And yet, here it is.  Grab this unlikely lot of coffee while it lasts: there are fewer than 200 pounds available this year on planet Earth.

Buy our Port of Mokha Al-Jabal Yemen Special Selection HERE.

Buy a copy of The Monk of Mokha signed by Mokhtar and Dave Eggers HERE.

Buy both and save a cool 15% on the total.


Musings on The Monk of Mokha

The only real complaint I have about The Monk of Mokha, a new book by the incomparable Dave Eggers, is this: it ended too soon.   I packed it for my recent flight to Nicaragua, and read the whole thing before I landed, leaving myself nothing to read for the rest of the week.

Eggers tells the story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemeni-American born into trying circumstances in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, where he learned to hustle but steadfastly refused to learn much else, shirking schoolwork in favor of all the other temptations making claims on the attention of a boy prone to mischief in a city crowded with temptations.  More specifically, it tells the impossible-but-true of how Mokhtar stumbled out of his early-20s ennui and down the coffee rabbit hole and chased an audacious dream: ushering the ancient Yemeni coffee sector into the effervescent 21st-century specialty scene.  The tension in the story comes from the formidable obstacles that stood between Mokhtar and his dream.  Trifles, really.  Like, he didn’t know the first thing about coffee.  And he was broke.  Worse than broke, actually, he was in debt.  Oh, and this: Yemen, the place where he was going to source his coffee, was in the grips of a bloody civil war.

Mokhtar emerges as part Quixote, part Magoo, part Bond, chasing a ghost recklessly into the path of car bombings, aerial campaigns, rebel uprisings and a popular counter-insurgency, finding his way into a holding cell only to talk his way out of trouble again and again like a tested agent.  Sometimes, Eggers suggests, his pursuit of his dream was used by others to advance their own dark ends.  Other times, Mokhtar dragged unknowing accomplices with him into harm’s way, but he never left a man behind.

This is clearly a love story: a breathtaking, heart-pounding, swashbuckling love story, to be sure, but unmistakably a love story.  It is the story of Mokhtar’s love of the idea of Yemeni coffee, and his stubborn refusal to bow to fear or pragmatism as he pursues it.

There are minor points throughout the book related to coffee farming or processing with which a coffee professional may choose to quibble, but not me.  I will take issue here with only one brief passage in the book: the one in which Eggers marvels at the number of coffee growers, which he suggests reaches the “tens of thousands.”

The number of people who grow coffee, of course, is an order of magnitude larger, not tens of thousands but tens of millions. And Eggers doesn’t even consider the tens of millions more who earn a living more precariously as coffee farmworkers.

But if Eggers underreports the scope of participation in the coffee-growing enterprise, he is guilty only of faulty accounting.  It is hard to imagine he would do anything to undercut the heroic efforts of the coffee growers he has come to respect every bit as much as Mokhtar has.

In the end, Mokhtar isn’t the only one in this love story who falls hard for coffee.  In researching and telling Mokhtar’s story, Eggers gets hooked, too.  This remarkable and moving passage is testament to the work behind every cup of coffee we enjoy, and evidence of Eggers’ own conversion.

Everywhere along the line there were people involved.  Farmers who planted and monitored and cared for and pruned and fertilized their trees.  Pickers who walked among the rows of plants, in the mountains’ thin air, taking the cherries, only the red cherries, placing them one by one in their buckets and baskets.  Workers who processed the cherries, most of that work done by hand, too, fingers removing the sticky mucilage from each bean.  There were the humans who dried the beans.  Who turned them on the drying beds to make sure they dried evenly.  Then those who sorted the dried beans, the good beans from the bad.  Then the humans who bagged these sorted beans.  Bagged them in bags that kept them fresh, bags that retained the flavor without adding unwanted tastes and aromas.  The humans who tossed the bagged beans on trucks.  The humans who took the bags off the trucks and put them into containers and onto ships.  The humans who took the beans from the ships and put them on different trucks.  The humans who took the bags from the trucks and brought them into the roasteries in Tokyo and Chicago and Trieste.  The humans who roasted each batch.  The humans who packed smaller batches into smaller bags for purchase by those who might want to grind and brew at home.  Or the humans who did the grinding at the coffee shop and then painstakingly brewed and poured the coffee or espresso or cappuccino.

Any given cup of coffee, then, might have been touched by twenty hands, from farm to cup, yet these cups only cost two or three dollars.  Even a four-dollar cup was miraculous, given how many people were involved, and how much individual human attention and expertise was lavished on the beans dissolved in that four-dollar cup.

The author admits that he was a specialty coffee skeptic when he started his work on the book. One of the not inconsequential number of people who aren’t seduced by the elaborate rituals of specialty or the passion of its adherents, but put off by the fussiness and, perhaps occasionally, repelled by the sanctimony of people who are passionate about the craft of coffee. But Eggers is finally won over, both by Mokhtar, in his single-minded devotion to it, the millions of people who produce it with their hands and by coffee culture itself.

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Purchase copies of The Monk of Mokha signed by the author and Mokhtar Alkhanshali HERE while they last.