When the Calderon Sol family bought this farm in Canton Alvarez, El Salvador, the beautiful views of Santa Tecla volcano seen from the pinnacle of their land inspired them to change the farm’s name to Bello Horizonte, or Beautiful Horizon. They can also see the El Chingo volcano in Guatemala.  Nearly 10% of the farm is maintained as a forest reserve in this remote region, which requires a good 4WD because of the rugged terrain which is incredibly steep at this high elevation.

How to serve

As an espresso:  Notes of dried plums, dates, apricots and cocoa powder, medium body and drying sensation at the end.

With milk: 5-7oz, flavours of Golden Syrup, honeycomb and panna cotta.

Makes us want

Discover the beans

Bello Horizonte washed bourbon, El Salvador

Plummy, nectarine and sweet white stone fruit. Complex grape and apple acidity, fresh sweet figs on cooling

Varietal – bourbon

Process – washed

We’re very pleased to introduce something new to you, a very special single origin decaffeinated coffee, Decaf Liberacion.  It is a melange from smallholder cooperatives, Todos Santos and La Libertad, in the Northern Guatemala Highlands. This region is famous for producing some of the finest coffees in Guatemala, placing high in the Cup of Excellence. Only farmers growing at altitudes above 1500mASL are invited to join the organisation and they now work with the Slow Food “Salone Del Gusto” movement in Italy. The coffee is described as a “Baluarte”, meaning it has a particular sensory characteristic, in this case a delicious taste, which clearly marks it as being from a specific region.

We think Liberacion is a fabulous coffee and chose these very special beans for a delicious decaf that preserves everything that’s great about this coffee. We use Carbon Dioxide (CO2) one of the most important compounds of our natural environment, for decaffeination. It’s in the air we breathe, it makes mineral water effervescent, and plants assimilate it to grow. It’s also a highly selective solvent for caffeine.

Natural CO2 is changed to a liquid state under sub-critical conditions of low temperature and pressure. These particularly gentle processes, along with CO2’s good caffeine selectivity ability, make for with high retention rates of the delicate flavour and aromatic compounds in the green coffee, ready for hand roasting. There’s no health risk because the coffee is only treated with natural substances and the result is a superb quality 98.5% caffeine free decaf for the most discerning palates.

This coffee tastes of dark chocolate with hints of orange, and tart crisp acidity.

How to serve

As an espresso:  gives delicious sweet orange chocolate, crème caramel, sweet burnt sugar, vanilla

With milk: think deliciously creamy praline crème caramel

 Now we want

Discover the beans

Decaf Liberacion and Liberación, Esquipulas, Guatemala

Vibrant and fresh, sweet orange citrus acidity, notes of apricot and peach

Category – single estate

Varietal – Bourbon, Pache, Catuai, Typica

Process – Fully washed, sun-dried on patio


Photo from Nutmeg Design‘s Flickr photostream under a Creative Commons Licence

Have you tasted our Ethiopian Konga natural Yirgacheffe yet? We think it’s rather special. It’s even been compared to “a hoppy IPA”.  We’re very pleased to say that Eniko Kantor, winner of the Hungarian Barista Championships will be using the Konga at the WBC in Melbourne this week.

It boasts a heavenly fruited dry fragrance with vanilla sweetness. The wet aroma is sweet like honey and the cup has notes of fresh hay with chocolate – the Yirgacheffe district produces some of the most exotic coffee in Africa. This is one of the most distinctive we’ve found, with sweet dried strawberry emerging as the temperature cools.

Where this particular coffee differs from other Yirgacheffe coffees is in the drying, as it’s very simply treated. The natural process is the most rudimentary method of processing: traditional dry-processed coffees are not pre-sorted after picking and tend to be sun-dried in a what could be seen as a haphazard fashion. Having worked with Konga Cooperative since 2003 for our washed Yirgacheffe,  we are very happy to offer this very special “natural” preparation.

At the beginning of the season a small number of farmers are chosen who have the capacity to select and deliver perfectly ripe coffee cherries to see central mill facility at Konga.  The cherries are immediately resorted to remove any imperfections and the whole coffee cherries are carefully dried in the sun on shallow square wooden trays for up to 21 days as they gradually darken and to dry out to resemble a dried cranberry or real cherry. The cherries continue to be hand sorted throughout their drying stage and then hulled in a dry mill to prepare for export.

The sweetness from the cherry fruit is absorbed by the bean which intensifies the syrupy pulpiness and produces a cup that is sweet, full-bodied, distinctive and irresistible.  We think the result is outstanding.

Extremely Extraordinary! RT @thecoffkitch: Lots of Konga Yirgacheffe from @unionroastedto be brewed today. Quite an extraordinary taste

— FreeState Coffee (@FreeStateCoffee) March 1, 2013


How to serve

As an espresso:  tastes of blueberry and tangy sweet lemon sherbet with a milk chocolate base

With milk: presents as a chocolate truffle, a soft centre with strawberry and tea rose

Makes us think about

Discover the beans

Konga Natural, Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. Exclusive Microlot.

Vanilla and honey, fresh hay, chocolate, sweet dried strawberry emerging

Varietal – mixed heirloom cultivars

Process – natural, sun-dried


Photo from TJ Blackwell‘s Flickr stream under a Creative Commons licence

If companies really want to make a difference in the developing world, it’s time to go beyond fair trade and get involved with farmers directly.

When commodity markets crash, smallholder farmers suffer. This is why British consumers participated in Fairtrade fortnight recently, recognising the work the Foundation has done to protect vulnerable groups of farmers and ensure they receive a fair price irrespective of how low the markets may fall.

But is the fair trade model the grandest of them all?

While the benefits are strong, allowing farmers’ co-operatives to attain higher prices and retain access to markets, drawbacks do exist. For example, the minimum price is only guaranteed to the co-operative, and not the small-scale farmer, or their workers at the end of the chain. Prices are fixed without adapting to country context, and costs are often high for producer organisations to become Fairtrade certified. And with coffee, roasters can end up bearing the cost of marketing the Fairtrade brand, through the payment of a licence fee to Fairtrade Foundation as a percentage of sales.

So is a cafe that serves Fairtrade coffee simply asserting they pay producers minimum wage?

Over the last 10 years, artisan coffee roasters such as Intelligentsia and CounterCulture in the USA, and Union in the UK, have pioneered direct trade as an alternative trading model. Ongoing market growth has been increasingly driven by higher quality coffee – so it has been within our interest to engage with farmers able to grow this high quality crop directly and build sustainable, long-term relationships. Prices can be personally agreed that cover the cost of production, and have an additional premium for high quality, with no additional cost to the farmer for certification.

While fair trade promotes ‘protection’ of farmers, direct trade offers ‘aspiration’. The fixed price a farmer receives from Fairtrade will not be affected by the quality produced, so farmers are not incentivised to take on the extra labour and input costs needed to grow a better crop. Quality-centric direct trade, however, allows for bespoke pricing agreements and collaboration in the field. A farmer that may be based in a region with outstanding climatic and topographical attributes for producing coffee, could, through a direct trading approach, become enabled to grow a greatly superior crop, and earn more money as a result.

An added benefit of working directly with farmers is the ability to spot the needs that arise within a community that would improve farming practices, and subsequently the quality of a crop.

Pro-active support in agricultural services for members of Esquipulas Co-operative in Guatemala. Demonstrating building a living wall "barrier vivo" to retard soil errosion on steep terrace.

An artisan company such as Union is driven by providing our customers in the UK with high quality coffee. So if we are able to invest our money in a centralised coffee washing station in Rwanda, or on workshop training in Guatemala that will train farmers to evaluate their coffees and not just to remove defects but to select for complex sensory attributes, it benefits business as we are constantly able to raise the standards of our coffee, and simultaneously improves the livelihoods of the farmers as their incomes increase.

Direct trade is not without its challenges. Not only is it another confusing term for consumers, particularly as there is no definition so the term can be freely (mis)used. To take up an authentic programme of direct trade takes a significant commitment from the buyer which requires building trust over a long period of time, and costs can be intensive. The obligation to improving quality needs to be at the heart of the organisation.

The overall objective of direct trade is to eliminate the power imbalances that exist in traditional supply chains. Poor information exchange on quality requirements can lead to farmers getting a lower price than they deserve – this builds distrust towards intermediaries in the supply chain and can induce farmers to tamper with the sacks or to augment weight. To counter this, direct trade is an approach taken to build mutually beneficial and respectful relationships between businesses and producers, by fairly distributing benefits and involving producers in decision making processes.

Interviewing farmers to gather information for our Monitoring and Evaluation study by our academic researcher in origin Pascale.

Above all, buyer and producer work together long-term, to produce a high quality coffee, and the farmer is paid a price linked to the quality of their crop. Just as no business would brag it pays minimum wage – so should any industry reliant on commodities be striving to pay their producers in the developing world above minimum requirements, to incentivise innovation, and improvements in quality. It can only result in a better wage for the farmer and a better coffee for consumers at home.

This blog appears on the Guardian Sustainable Business site.

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