In Search of the Perfect Holiday Blend

Here at Desert Sun we love the holiday season. Not only because it’s a time for gathering together and winter adventures, but also because we can start experimenting with our holiday blend.  Over the past few weeks we’ve been busy testing different 004coffee profiles that will fit perfect with the holiday season. To be completely honest, we still can’t make up our minds. We’ve laid out five different blends daily and are slowly narrowing down our favorites. We want this coffee to have a smooth, full bodied taste everyone in your family will enjoy, whether you’re sitting by a warm fire, hitting the slopes, or just enjoying time together.  We’ll have our minds made up soon….promise!

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La FEM Trip Report

For most, a person’s morning coffee is just a beverage that they consume. Maybe it’s a ritual, maybe it’s cultural, likely it’s for stimulation, but to me it’s a powerful story of the world’s most valuable renewable resource. It’s the reason why I am a coffee roaster, because I believe in coffee. Returning from Nicaragua I am reminded of how amazing the work that we do is, how much it changes the lives of those that we support and how coffee is not just a beverage.

El Colorado

El Colorado

Down in Estelí, Nicaragua, deep in the mountains two hours outside of town, in the community of El Colorado, is an amazing women’s cooperative called La FEM (Foundation between Women). The long, bumpy, dirt road to the community wasn’t short of breathtaking views or anticipation to meet the women who grow our coffee. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed into a large empty room with chairs all along the walls and asked to take a seat. After the room filled with women, and a round of introductions, they shared their story with us.

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Processing cherries at the mill.

In response to changing roles of women in the country side, La FEM began to organize women from rural communities in the North of Nicaragua. The initial focus of the organization was to create an autonomous space for rural women that would challenge the traditional, male-dominated model of rural development and to promote women’s rights. La FEM later established the coffee cooperative Las Diosas (The Goddesses), an all-female coffee cooperative in the community of El Colorado, from where our coffee comes.

Christian, director of Las Diosas

Christian, director of Las Diosas

La FEM identified a few main ways to support women in rural communities starting with education and access to land. They formed an adult education program that has helped over 2,000 women become literate, and many graduate from primary and secondary school. With help from La FEM, women gained access to land and began to grow coffee, along with other crops, for economic empowerment and food sovereignty. Helping women buy their own land creates autonomy and gives them the control to work the land as they see fit; for many this means growing organically. For most women, it was the first time they had their own money and could decide how to spend it. One woman stood up during our meeting and with a smile on her face filled with pride, she stated, “I went and bought myself clothes and didn’t have to ask for money or permission.”

Un-ripe coffee cherries from la roya

Un-ripe coffee cherries from la roya

As in many patriarchal societies, the husband controlled all aspects of decision-making and at first women had a very difficult time participating. Their husbands were threatened by their participation in a feminist organization. Resistance came from the men who were not used to seeing the women manage the land and expected them to play a more common role of working in the kitchen and with the kids. But over time it has been a learning process for the men who now think it’s not an issue and understand it’s about women’s empowerment and find that their wives’ are creating more income for the household.

We wrapped up the emotional meeting talking about what the women like most about La FEM. Just the question alone solicited many smiles and feelings of pride. In no particular order women shouted out praise for helping them feel empowered, teaching them their rights, helping them own land and homes, living a life without violence, getting educated, and learning the value of being a woman.

Excited to see their coffee in our bag!

Excited to see their coffee in our bag!

Desert Sun is proud to support this community in Nicaragua. All products are marketed under the label “Las Diosas” (The Goddesses), with a symbol that represents the moon and the rain together with the women’s symbol. By having access to their own parcels of land while also participating in the fair trade market, women organized under La FEM have seen dramatic changes in their lives. While the story of La FEM and Las Diosas is inspiring they also have their challenges.  In part 2 I will discuss the epidemic of La Roya, or coffee rust, that is sweeping across Central America.  For more information please contact roaster@desertsuncoffee.com

Thanks,
Zach

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Piura Gold – Back to Tradition

Piura Gold

Piura Gold, our latest single origin release, brings the region of Piura back to it’s tradition. Desert Sun Coffee Roasters is very excited to offer this coffee to our customers, since we are one of the first roasters in the industry to have access to this unique Peruvian coffee. Monika Firl, Producer Relations Manager for Cooperative Coffees, tells us about her recent trip to the region and what is unique to this unwashed coffee, where the cherry is dried naturally in the sun.

Cooperative: Cooperativa Agraria Cafetalera Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui
Alititude: From 1,000 – 1,600 mts above sea level
Varieties: Primarily Typica and Bourbon

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Cherry drying, naturally, in the sun

“Prior to 1990, nearly 100% of Sierra Piurana coffee was unwashed… and according to Santiago Paz, this “Cafe Canchaque” was famous world-wide for its special flavor profile. Now, Santiago says, the current Specialty Coffee trend favoring unwashed coffees makes this the “ideal moment” for these farmers to recuperate their traditional natural coffee preparation. The producers themselves say, recovering the Cafe Canchaque is both a sentimental move and also a way to distinguish themselves, re-opening a unique market niche as one of the only producers of high-quality, unwashed coffees in Peru. Cherry is passed through a double-floating tank, then transported through tubing to the drying patios. Cherry is spread out about 1.5 inches thick and “turned constantly” to assure stable drying. The process can take between 10 – 14 days.”

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Due to the uniqueness of this processing method and the effort it takes to develop, this coffee is our premiere offering for the season.  Available now.

Some Tasting Notes:

Aroma: Rich and Sweet, Ripe Berries
Flavor: Sweet, Ripe Berries, Cocoa
Body: Rich, Round, Fudgy

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The Care Found in Quality

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“For some roasters, quality management starts when green beans enter their warehouse” says, Glenn Lathrop, the Chief Bean and working owner at Desert Sun Coffee. “But, the roasting process is only one part of the coffee beans life… Our vision of quality, requires care from farmer to cup…” 

As we stand around the tiled table in the middle of the tasting room at Desert Sun Coffee, quality is on our minds and pallets. It is Wednesday morning, and the team is meeting to asses the coffee they produced the week prior. Twice a week, blind coffee cuppings are performed to ensure the roasted coffee is living up to the raw beans potential, as well as the teams standards and vision of their coffee.

- Raw Ethiopian coffee beans-

– Raw Ethiopian coffee beans-

The the black-and-white table before us has four different coffees which were prepared minutes ago. Armed with spoons, stainless cups and focused expressions, the team begins to move around the table, dipping their spoons into the ceramic dishes of coffee, slurping and analyzing…then moving onto the next. The team holds all conversation until the end of the short tasting, so as not to disturb others thoughts, leaving the room quite accept for the abrupt slurps… which is a key technique used to decipher the many flavors coffee can depict. By slurping and airating the fluid, aromas are released and can be smelled. Thus, engaging the olfactory senses as well as the taste buds. As it turnes out, most taste is actually smell… which this group knows and is using to pinpoint the hundreds of different flavors in their coffee.

 - The Analysis -

– The Desert Sun team sampling coffee during one of their bi-weekly cuppings -

As the group finishes the tasting and begins to converse, colorful words describing the characteristics of the different coffees begin flying around room.  Ranging from “earthy” and “bold… to “exotic” and “blueberries…” Comparisons between roasts as well as questions about how to pair flavors come out. Along with new ideas for the future come observations that affirm the strengths of the long standing blends. Ultimately this last week’s roasts lived up to the quality standards set by the team, but that does not mean that the their work is over. The conversation quickly shifts again, but now, the question becomes how to work with the current stock of coffee and new arrivals, amidst constantly changing conditions to both bring consistency, as well as allow for the space and attention necessary to bring out unique flavors in every batch of roast.

As the head roaster at Desert Sun, ZacharyRay says, “We really try to bring out the best flavor that each lot of green beans has to offer…” And what that means for the production team, is that their process cannot be overly mechanized. Instead, a form of lean-artistry is essential in their processes. The same attention to detail and discovery of character found in all truly hand-crafted goods can be found in the roast process at Desert Sun. In other words, the team must have a vision and understanding of coffee beans from start to finish. This requires careful selection and importation of raw beans from small coffee-cooperatives around the world, a roast-on-demand process catered to each unique batch of beans, and then a method of packaging that can preserve those characteristics as they leave the small warehouse and finally end their journey in your ceramic mug.

Great quality is attained through great care. In every step of the process, these flavor-smiths must use their discretion and skill to bring out the best experiences the raw beans can offer. But, a quality coffee experience depends on the consumer as well.

– Afternoon cappuccino poured in the Desert Sun Tasting Room -

Farther down the line, Desert Sun reaches out and provides information for both consumers and connoisseurs, on to how to prepare quality coffee in their cafe’s or homes. This blog, Slurp is a great resource for tips, tricks and behind the scenes info on roasting, coffee trade, and production.

So dig in, and please feel free to contact the Desert Sun team by replying to this or other postings on Slurp, with thoughts, questions or new topics on which, the knowledgeable and passionate staff can share their expertise.

Enjoy,

Alex Pullen

Photo Credits: Alex Pullen of Perins Peak Photography
Perinspeakphotography.com 
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– A Two Man Team: The Production Floor of Desert Sun –

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Nick March – Production Manager

“The beans never stop moving… I mean really, from the moment they stop growing until they end up in someone’s cup, they don’t stop … and neither do we,”  laughs Nick March, the Production Manager at Desert Sun Coffee.  Watching Nick and his counterpart Zachary Ray, the Head Roaster, it is easy to see why they never stop moving. In an average week, these two adamant individuals blend, roast, process, package and distribute over 2000 lbs of organic and fair-trade coffee. “It’s all about the workflow”, says Nick as he preps the vacuum bags that are about to be filled with a batch of coffee that has just cooled. Over the roar of the roaster he yells, “Zach, I bet ya I can do this batch in six minutes flat!”  Zach, glancing away from the churning and rumbling roaster yells, “ well let’s see it then… and we have two more batches after this”.

Nick turns back to the workbench where he begins to weigh and package the freshly roasted coffee. The bench is covered in different sized bags, colorful labels, bearing the names of foreign countries where the beans originated, and stickers signifying special blends for customers. After the coffee is weighed and put in the appropriate package, it is sealed and inventoried.  Within a day, most of the beans are transported to coffee houses and markets in the Durango and larger Southwest region. The remaining are shipped out to other parts of the U.S..

Zachary Ray – Head Roaster

As I move across the production floor, to the roaster and the colorful computer screens that chart the beans Zach’s roasting, I ask, “What about the green beans?”  Before he turns to answer my question, he cocks his head to the side as he listens and takes note of some minuscule change in the sound of the thundering roaster. Looking over to me with a laugh he says, “not only do I have to pay close attention to the beans we’re actually roasting, but I have to be on top of all the green beans in our ultra-lean inventory”. Zach then steps away from the roaster, to the adjacent set of computer screens, excel sheets, and live-streamed information provided by Cooperative Coffees. That essential info, detailing the whereabouts and condition of coffees making their way from three different continents, to this small warehouse in Durango.

Nick and Zach on the production floor at Desert Sun

Although every two weeks, a new shipment of green beans gets brought in to the Roastery, Zach has to be up to speed on the ever-changing coffee markets across the globe, forecast Desert Sun’s green bean consumption, and commit to purchases three to four months in advance. Which can be challenging… proving the point, he goes on to say, “Through our supplier, Cooperative Coffees,  we import beans from over a dozen countries across the globeWe get some of our beans from a farming cooperative in Peru, and recently there was a fisherman’s strike there. Due to the strike, nothing is entering or leaving the ports. So, I have to adjust our blends, and the volumes that we roast, to accommodate those beans being unavailable.” This being just one example of how the two-man team that works the production floor, has to adapt and react to the global economy it participates in.

Nick turns and yells, “Got it, under six minutes!“, as he seals the last bag of coffee, inventories it, and walks back to his station, beginning to prep for the next batch of roast Zach will send him. Zach laughs, and turns back to the roaster, already loaded with raw beans, and begins the next roast cycle.

Watching these two people, work with every bean that comes into Desert Sun, and every bag of roast that leaves it… It truly seems, like it is the beans themselves, that don’t allow these two gentlemen to stop moving.

Cheers,

Alex Pullen

Photo Credits: Alex Pullen of Perins Peak Photography
Perinspeakphotography.com 
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La FEM – More Than Coffee

This month we have brought in some new Nicaraguan coffee, from the all women organization, La FEM.  These folks have a great story and we want to share it with you via another Cooperative Coffee’s member, Just Coffee.  They are responsible for a lot of grass roots work in the participating communities.  See what else Just Coffee is doing with this cooperative here.  We have this delicious coffee now for a limited time, so get it now!

La FEM

Members – 260 producers (all women), divided into 5 cooperatives
Location – Esteli, Nicaragua
Elevation – 950-1200 meters above sea level
Established – 1996
Diversification – Corn, Beans, vegetables, hibiscus rose, fruit trees
La Fundacion Entre Mujeres is a well organized all-women’s NGO in northern Nicaragua that promotes ideological, economic, and political empowerment of rural women through projects such as the fight against violence by creating community networks of rural defenders, an education program promoting literacy, primary and secondary education with a focus on gender equality, education in alternative careers connected to sustainable development, the promotion of sexual and reproductive rights and access to health services for women, and promoting a strategy of economic empowerment, prioritizing food sovereignty, diversified and organic production. All projects are carried out under a focus of sustainable economic development for the adults and youth that these programs reach. Through such programs, women from the rural communities are able to participate and be real actors in transforming their own realities, making decisions in the development politics carried out by la FEM.La FEM began in 1995 when director Diana Martinez began to organize women from rural communities in the north of Nicaragua. The initial focus of the organization was to create an autonomous space for rural women that would challenge the traditional, male-dominated model of rural development and to promote women’s rights. Access to land has always been a key aspect of FEM’s proposal, allowing women to be autonomous and individual subjects of their own development. With that, comes the need to provide adequate access to reproductive resources such as credit, seeds, alternative technologies, infrastructure, and markets. With an overarching feminist vision, FEM participates actively in the larger Feminist Movement of Nicaragua and promotes raising consciousness on the rights of women.
Under the larger umbrella organization of La FEM are six smaller cooperatives scattered throughout the northern region of Nicaragua and groups together nearly 200 women farmers. These women are cultivating a total of 164 manzanas of land, focusing on organic production. Through their connection with La FEM, women farmers have access to trainings on different topics relating to organic coffee production in order to improve their production. At a centralized location, women also have access to a large nursery full of 80,000 healthy, new, organic plants as well as organic fertilizers made with recycled materials from the nearby farms, as well as a coffee roaster. Each of the cooperatives contains a wet mill, where coffee is depulped before it is sent to a nearby processing facility to be dried on patios, milled, and exported. Focusing on alternative markets and being educated on the entire production chain, FEM sells their products both locally in Esteli as well as internationally. All local products are marketed under the label “Las Diosas” (goddess in English), with a symbol that represents the moon and the rain together with the women’s symbol.By having access to their own parcels of land while also participating in the fair trade market, women organized under La FEM have seen dramatic changes in their lives. This organization not only helps women to increase their household incomes, but it is also changing the machista culture of each of the communities that it reaches. Through their relationship with Just Coffee, many women farmers have gained access to new information through delegations and farmer exchanges both in Nicaragua as well as in Madison. Currently, Just Coffee offers two travel delegations a year to spend a week with the incredibly inspiring women of la FEM.
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Nicaragua: This season’s featured origin

As seasons change, so do our single origin coffee offerings.  We’re super excited about our latest batch of 100% Organic coffee coming from Nicaragua, known as País-poeta, land of poets.  From this beautiful region of rain forests, lakes and volcanoes, we share this earthy yet pure tasting cup of coffee produced within a culture where poet means friend.  In our latest cupping session, we are getting a well balanced coffee with nutty and chocolate notes rounded out with a nice earthy aroma that is sure to please.

This lot of coffee is brought in from the PROCOCER cooperative, part of the larger CECOCAFEN coordinating union.  PROCOCER has approximately 600 members.  Membership is open and voluntary; and the organization is controlled democratically with members actively participating in decision and policy making for the coop.  Representatives are chosen from the separate farmer groups in the different geographical territories to participate in the delegates’ assembly and are required to report back directly to the communities they represent.

They have a clear mission: to strengthen the organizational and financial capacity of the coop, increase their productive yields, and assure the quality of their coffee in order to meet the demands of the specialty coffee market.  They’d also like to diversify their productive and economic activities in order to improve the well-being of their member families while upholding environmentally sustainable practices.

Desert Sun owner and employees have visited these farms on 3 different occasions between 2007 and 2009 with Cooperative Coffees.  Direct relationships with the farm owners have proven to be very effective in our goal to have a partnership that is valuable for both the farmer and us as a buyer.

We are proud to roll out the Nicaraguan this season from the Jalapa and Matagalpa regions.  You can order our organic Nicaragua at desertsuncoffee.com or request it at your favorite local café!

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