Wednesday, April 3
2013 US Brewers Cup: The Road to Boston and #TeamHaru, Part 1
It’s been forever since I wrote a nice lengthy blog post about coffee and I think it’s high time I get to it. The next series of posts will be about my journey to the Brewers Cup and I’m attempting to gear these posts more towards friends and family who might not have extensive knowledge about coffee and/or what the heck this competition is that I’m about to throw myself into!
This time next Wednesday I’ll be on a flight to Boston where I’ll be representing the company I work for, Counter Culture Coffee, at the US national Brewers Cup Championship. I couldn’t be more excited and nervous, but the one thing that keeps me focused is, of course, the coffee itself.
Here in the US baseball season has started back up and I can’t help but see some similarities. Baseball is “America’s Favorite Pastime” and coffee, it could be argued, is America’s favorite beverage….well it’s my favorite anyway! But the better analogy I see here is the building of a team that works together, appreciates each other, and strives to help their teammates to succeed. The coffee I’ve used for the past two competitions has been the same: a delicious and delicate coffee from the Haru Cooperative in Southwest Ethiopia. This will be the coffee I take with me to Boston and it’s “Team Haru” who have brought us this far.
For fun, let’s think of these amazing people and equipment as an all star baseball team. (Some of these might be a stretch, but just have some fun with me here!)
The Bench Coach -
(Photo credit, Tim Hill - http://www.flickr.com/photos/counterculturecoffee/6392318557/)
This is the washing station manager of Haru, and with him we worked out a plan to produce some the best coffee possible from this washing station. The coffee I’ve been presenting is Haru and is what we are calling the “Grade 1” lot. We (Tim and the coffee buying team at CCC) committed to buying coffee at a high premium that 1) will be picked absolutely ripe, 2) comes from about 20-30% of the farmers that have great altitude and bring better cherry, and 3) will be sorted out to zero defects.
A great team usually has a solid coaching staff behind it and the “Bench Coach” in baseball is one of the most important coaches in the game. He reports directly to the Manager to report on how the game is going and offers insight to the manager to help him make the right decisions. The manager of Haru is responsible for this meticulous attention to detail and without his direct communication and input, you most likely would not know about this coffee!
The GM —
(Photo credit Tim Hill - http://www.flickr.com/photos/counterculturecoffee/6391559443/)
This is Takele Mammo. Takele is the general manager of the YCFCU (Yirgacheffee Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union). YCFCU is the umbrella organization that helps manage all of the washing stations we currently work with in Ethiopia, including Haru. YCFCU also is the organization responsible for exporting the coffee to us as well.
Like a great ball team manager, his passion and care for his team is evident from the first time you meet him. (I had the chance to meet him earlier this year when he visited Counter Culture Coffee in NC!). He knows what it takes, believes in his players, and is willing to put in the hard work beside them to get them to the pennant.
Welcome to Louisville -
(Photo credit Tim Hill)
There are so many great pictures to show you that Tim has taken during his visits to Haru, so allow me a few more that really hit home for me. What you see above is a representation of the “processing” of the coffee. One of the fun things you learn about coffee when you first get into it is that the beans are actually seeds that grow inside of a fruit. How people go about removing the skin and meat of that fruit from the seed has a huge effect on how the coffee will perform and what flavors from that fruit are enhanced or captured. So let’s go through the steps—
The first picture is someone picking the coffee cherry (only when it’s ripe!) from the coffee shrub. A couple of important things to note here that I learned from Tim… the trees on most of the farms that Tim saw in Haru are of mostly the same variety. He would later find out that there are actually three dominant varieties growing in that region and this is a pretty cool thing and helps us understand better what is building those “classic Yirgacheffe” flavors that we love…you know, that sweet lemon and sugary tea-like snap? The thing I love most about the brews of Haru that I’m preparing is that the flavors that show up remind me mostly of cascara, or coffee cherry tea. I’m literally tasting the cherry in the brewed coffee and IT IS AWESOME! It seriously makes me giddy every time I taste it!
The next picture is one that Tim took of his hand full of coffee that he pulled from the underwater fermentation tank. Once the skin of the coffee cherry is removed, the beans are covered in mucilage. How do you get that off? Well there are a number of way but the most common in this area is to soak the coffee underwater and let the enzymes in the water break the mucilage down naturally. What sets Haru apart is that this is done twice and both fermentations take place anywhere from 36 to 48 hours. That’s a long soak!
Then you see some fellows with rakes standing over a trough full of water and coffee. This is part of the washing process. There are different ways of sorting the coffee and helping to remove any leftover skins and the most efficient, typically, is to let gravity do it’s job…the most dense coffee sinks, the lighter stuff floats.
Next are the drying beds for the coffee after it’s been properly fermented and washed. The 360 degree open air circulation helps even out the drying and also extends the drying time. This is though to help promote those clean crisp flavors and preserve the integrity of the coffee.
This is home. This is where the coffee starts and is born. I think of these places as being the same kind of home where the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bat is made. Baseball legend and lore in America can be tied to a lot of different towns but if I’m thinking about the place that is responsible for producing the very things that make baseball happen, it’s gotta be Louisville, KY.
For Team Haru, it must all go back to these people and their small plots of land where they grow their coffee and the mill where they take their coffee to be processed and cared for. The attention to detail here is critical and it’s what makes Haru such a special coffee.
Keep a look out for the next post —
The Road To Boston, #Team Haru: Part 2!