Specialty green coffee traders, sourcing from 26 origins on behalf of over 1000 roasters.


Custody battle: Cattura vs. Sarchimor

An extract from Falcon North America’s fortnightly newsletter.

I always pride myself on a nice beginning that does not seem forced like a bad 80’s movie, where they skip all the character development and just make everyone best friends and ready to confront Dracula together in 15 minutes. I have toyed around with several beginnings, but they are all too forced and feel like I am trying to be amusing for the sake of being amusing. So, I will just guide you into the next paragraph and topic like a bowling ball rolled by someone with a bad back: BAM!!!

The SCAP (Specialty Coffee Association of Panama) put out a statement after cupping four coffees submitted for the Best of Panama (BOP) that the national judges felt were co-infused or co-fermented. They were kicked out for trying to cheat (in their words) by adding things that mute the terroir and DNA expression of coffee.

This conversation of terroir, co-infusion, co-fermentation, purity of coffee is very nuanced. I got into coffee and stayed in coffee because it is more fun, less snobby (right??), has a lower barrier of entry on the farming side, importing, and roasting sides: meaning you do not need a PHD to make a difference and impact people’s lives and make a living in coffee, you just need passion and a willingness to learn. I don’t want to get too far off-topic before I start talking about coffee, but I need to talk about wine a bit first.  

With wine being specialty coffee’s original model in terms of 100 point score, descriptors, terms, agricultural ideas (grafting, biodynamic), marketing, varietals, body, acidity, etc, etc, the path of how to talk about, market and sell a high quality beverage has been laid by the wine industry.

If you look at additives, the wine industry has standards for what can be added to wine and how much can be added while still calling it wine. Many of these acceptable additives purposefully change nose, flavour, colour, body and acidity of the finished product.  Sugar, acidity, foreign yeast, mega purple, things to mute greenish “unpleasant notes” etc etc, are added to wine regularly. In the US, they do not even have to disclose any of these additives on the label.

Climate change has caused wine makers to adapt as their grapes mature faster. They produce lower acidity wines and thus they add acid to make their wines more complex and to prevent spoiling as the PH rises closer to neutral 7%. Maybe these acids are produced locally and are part of the terroir, and maybe not. Is terroir telling winemakers that they should not make wine because it would spoil without intervention?

In coffee, adding yeasts has been generally accepted since it replaces local yeast that would be doing the same thing, but true “terroir” seems like it would be using things that come from the region and are not brought in.

Variety is another factor. The Ethiopian government made the removal/export of genetic plant material illegal many years ago (look it up I don’t remember the date) and yet we see so many varieties that have clearly come from Ethiopia planted in other countries to amazing effect. Pink Bourbon, Caturro Chiroso and of course Geisha to name a few. Are these varieties part of local terroir?

Also, some of these co-fermented coffees use citric oils from local fruit which is part of the terroir of the region technically as well. If you use fertilizer manufactured in another country, are you still preserving your terroir? The more you try to force something complicated and nuanced into a clean, tight argument, the messier it becomes.

Should coffee competitions become more like Moto GP and F1? Basically, putting limits on the size of engines, but you can do whatever you want to improve horsepower through aerodynamics or invent something that gives more horsepower with the same size engine. Money and technology are no object. This sounds more like wine to me, not coffee.

The beauty of the COE and other competitions originally was to find farmers who were doing great things but maybe were just selling to middlemen because they had no access to market. While many of the farmers who repeatedly win competitions over and over are the same farmers who now are wealthy, there are still a lot of new farmers who get discovered who do not have endless supplies of money, and also the farmers who win the competitions every year now, were those same unknown farmers 10 to 15 years ago that won and got famous and made money, and there is nothing wrong with that.

While all-out F1 style coffee competitions may not be in the best interest of the farming community, there is benefit in being inclusive and learning from science and coffees that push limits and use expensive or self-manufactured equipment.

The techniques, technology, and science from the test coffees will make its way to regular coffee producers to make better coffee over time. Technology from F1 and Moto GP does end up getting implemented into the motorcycles and cars we drive over time including fuel injection, throttle by wire, air suits for motorcycles, tire technology, etc.

Could this happen in coffee? I was visiting a farmer who uses thermal shock fermentation, and he mentioned that adding ozone to the water while cleaning cherries before pulping and then using filtered water and UV light on the water to remove all bacteria were the most important steps to amazing fermentation. Penagos has several bolt-on options for floating cherries directly before pulping, conveying, etc, etc. Could filtration systems including UV lights and ozone generators be additional optional equipment?

Drying is also a big innovation of some of these technically advanced farms. Some use little to no sunlight to dry their coffee. Every PDF we send out gives a drying time range from 7 to15, 15 to 25 days. That variation can be tough on coffee quality. Not to mention space needed for raised beds if coffee needs to move up the mountain due to climate change.

One farmer who does not sun dry mentioned to me that his coffee, once vacuum-packed, would not show age for 2+ years. Is it possible to achieve this more cheaply in the future for volume coffees? Does 3 to 5 days more energy consumption at origin make freezing green coffee with 2 or 3 years of high energy consumption moot? Does a 2-year time frame before things are past crop make people more apt to buy coffee from importers when a shipment goes wrong and it arrives 6-9 months late so they don’t have to take a bath on the coffee?

Fundamentally I just don’t think coffee is in a place to shut down innovation that could potentially help farmers make more money for their coffee. Until we become wine, where everyone who farms coffee builds a castle tasting room on their farm with bricks imported from Italy and sees coffee as more than a nonprofit business, we still have work to do.

Not to mention climate change; the more science and ideas are tried and adapted in coffee the more we can adapt as an industry and continue to make sure this industry can grow and actually support millions and millions of people.

I think these coffees should have their own category within these competitions with ingredients used listed and basic processes explained as well. It is already being done, there is a roaster and customer appetite for these coffees, there is literally no reason to try and stomp it out or make a separate competition called a cheaters competition.

Bring it into the fold and learn from it, make sure that people are not adding harmful things to coffee that could affect the entire industry and see if a coffee can get to an SCA 100 score!

This is meant to be a conversation starter and I will say I am not an advocate or a non-advocate for these types of coffees. They are fun and interesting and sometimes very gross too but if the farmer, importer, and roaster can make good money on them, who I am I to judge?

– Brian Speckman