Bethlehem of Umbria
Welcome to the beautifully named farm Bethlehem of Umbria (Spanish name: Belen de Umbria) and it's farmer, Don Mario, one of our first Colombian Relationship Coffee. Vict...
Bethlehem of Umbria
Welcome to the beautifully named farm Bethlehem of Umbria (Spanish name: Belen de Umbria) and it's farmer, Don Mario, one of our first Colombian Relationship Coffee. Victims of our own success, we used up all of our previous original Relationship Coffee, from Don Omar Arredondo at Finca La Maria but thanks to our friends at Café Granja la Esperanza in Cali and D R Wakefield in London, we have a worthy replacement from the farm next door.
A Virgin from Bethlehem
The most exciting thing that we should stress here is that this coffee has never been tasted or marketed on its own before. It is the first time it's been segregated. And so we gladly enter into the deal, where we pay a premium for this extra degree of separation, as Don Mario's coffee was looking so incredibly good on the tree when we were there. Normally his coffee would be going into the general basket of coffees in the Co-op of Café Cristalina de Risaralda, so now we have a unique opportunity to taste a brand new stellar coffee, as though a star is born, in Bethlehem...
I was looking back to see if she was looking back at me
I remember on the morning we visited we saw some of the ripest, lushest cherries we had ever seen. So perfect, in fact, that we use the slides as examples of what a coffee tree can look like at the height of peak ripeness and in the full rudeness of health. I also remember our visit as being such an event that his wife filmed our every move on her smart phone. We were actually filming each other! Surely the first part of any relationship, as you suss each other out.
Thanks to an on-site wet-pulping machine, donated by Nestlé no less, Don Mario is able to process his cherry straight from the field in micro-batches and dry the parchment on the sliding covered patio on the roof of his house. A very local, closed-loop process that ensures a genuine artisanal approach to the preparation of his coffee.
"Artisanal?!" I here you cry and roll your eyes.
Yes, I deliberately use this word, even if it has been worn out by over-use. This is because I recognise a certain approach to working intimately with the coffee that informs all the crucial stages of decision making throughout the process. It is informed by instinct and experience. We adopt a similar approach to roasting micro-batches on our old Uno roasters. The sensory experience is a visceral gut feeling that comes through sheer dent of doing the actions over and over again, for the ten thousand hours or more that qualify you as an Artisan.
The Don Mario Monitor
Don Mario doesn't need a Brix meter to tell him when his cherry is at peak ripeness. He's been monitoring it throughout the whole season as it gradually ripens, then accelerates towards the moment of maturation. He also doesn't need a colour swatch. For, as well as knowing from experience when the cherry has reached the perfect shade of Burgundy red, that cherry he has just chewed tells his taste buds that it is at a sensationally sweet honeydew melon degree of ripeness.
The same reliable instinct, born of experience, also goes for putting the coffee cherry through the wet-pulper. Setting the pulping blades to the right distance and the speed of pulping will be calibrated by judging the situation, as he has done tens of thousands of times before. He knows his coffee and he knows the vagaries of his old machine and can coax the best out of them.
Up on the roof, regularly turning the parchment to achieve an evenly dried batch, Don Mario doesn't need a moisture meter to tell him when his pergamino has reached the right level of moisture and density to go to the mill. He can tell by the heft of the beans in his hand when it's time to go.
A Wealth of Experience
None of this wealth of experience has ever been sampled before because none of Don Mario's coffee has ever been available on its own before. So, both you and I are tasting the fruits of his labour and expertise, for the very first time. I feel quite honoured to have this privilege. I'm also extremely glad that the excellence of the cherries on the tree translates so well to the actual flavour in the cup.
The Flavours Revealed
There is pleasant array of muted citrus notes, Amalfi lemon, satsuma and particularly lime but more akin to the lime in a chocolate-lime boiled sweet. In the background you can pick up a well-rounded nuttiness like macadamia or hazelnut and a spreadable buttery mouthfeel. The lasting impression, though is the lingering finish of honeycomb candy. When it comes to hitting the sweet spot of a coffee, I think Don Mario has prepared a fairly large target for us to aim for.
I hope you can enjoy this micro-lot of coffee all the more for knowing how unique this particular micro-moment in Time is in the long history of coffee. We can say we were there when a new bean was born in Bethlehem!