Cementing the longstanding relationship between cycling and coffee, just in time for the festive season, Spin X LCF Xmas is a collaboration between the organisers of Spin London, The Urban Cycle Show and the team behind The London Coffee Festival on the 29th November to the 1st December.

Come down to Spin X LCF

We’re going to be at the event doing brew demos, sampling and taking orders for Christmas gifts. Grab some microlots or sign up someone for our Roastmaster, with specially selected beans (whole or ground to your needs) delivered monthly to your door. The organisers have signed up some amazing international brands and smaller independent makers to showcase their wares, with everything from cycling fashion and handmade frames, accessories and cycle-wear, to beans, brewers, grinders and espresso machines.

 

Why we love bicycles

Here at Union we’re longstanding fans of the not-so-humble bicycle, for a special reason: we understand the difference it makes to our producers when we help them to get credit to buy a bike. We’ve seen how farmers benefitted directly with the Coffee Bike program in Rwanda. 1,000 specially designed bicycles were distributed to selected coffee farmers in 4 cooperatives.

The Coffee Bike Project

Rwanda is blessed with the ideal condition;  high altitude and rich soils perfect for producing speciality coffee.  Rwanda the “land of 1000 hills” – has very steep inclines making carrying heavy loads of freshly harvested coffee cherries for several hours over long distances very difficult. To reduce transport time and increase coffee quality, renowned mountain bike designer, Tom Ritchey, the father of the Mountain Bike, worked on a new ‘cargo’ bike design for developing countries. “Project Rwanda” was created, to manufacture and distribute an inexpensive but high-performance cargo mountain bike designed to carry heavy loads of up to 200kg of freshly harvested coffee cherries, over difficult terrain.

Better quality coffee

The bike coffees yielded 3.5 SCAA quality points higher than non-bike coffee at the Maraba washing station, supporting other research experiments on the effect of cherry transport times on coffee quality. This higher quality enabled farmers to produce more high quality coffee, and receive up 20% more for this crop. The cooperatives set up a micro credit system to give the farmers the credit they needed to buy the coffee bike. Farmers agreed to pay the loan and agreed to bring their cherries by 3PM to the washing stations.

Many producers live far away from their cooperatives so having a bike can mean cutting their travel time from hours to minutes, and no more carrying heavy sacks of beans. It also means the beans are delivered in better condition and so gain a better price. Coffee-bike coffee was kept separate from other coffee and evaluated for quality and sold on its own quality merits which means better coffee for us, and again, better prices for the producers. They gain more independence as they can take the beans to the mill the moment they are ready, rather than having to walk.  All in all, the bicycle can be one of the farm’s most important tools.

Competition time

We’re running our Daily Draw during every day of Spin, to win some great goodies from the lovely folks at Chapeau.

We’ve hand-picked delicious coffees to taste and buy, and don’t forget that everyone who buys a 6 month Roastmaster subscription will go into the prize draw to win a Mahlkonig Vario Grinder. We’ll have some very special microlots on taste too, come and ask us to try.

So, on your bike, and we’ll see you at the show!    

I got into a conversation recently with a customer who buys from us on-line from our website, and he also purchased our pre-ground coffee from a store local to his home. He asked me why we offer pre-ground coffee?

I had to tell him we recognize that most homes don’t have a coffee grinder, and we want people to try our coffee so we’ve tried to remove that hurdle.  But it’s true that pre-ground coffee is accepting a compromise in quality. It may appear to be a convenience but the notable difference in taste will more than compensate for the investment in extra preparation time and cost!

It may be expensive, but a burr grinder is probably the greatest investment you can make to improve the quality of your brew.  Certainly whole bean coffee retains freshness longer than ground, as you’re preserving the delicate flavours  of your precious beans. Also you can grind your coffee to achieve the most effective particle size for your chosen  brewing method.  Whether you use a pour over or high-ticket priced domestic espresso machine, the quality of the drink preparation will be vastly superior if you grind just before brewing.

Achieving an accurate grind to produce the best extraction will require experimentation, but this will allow you to extend the depth of your coffee knowledge by referencing how the flavour profile of the cup changes against adjustments to grind particle size and dose.

If you are considering spending on a grinder, search for a model with burr discs, not a simple blade grinder;  the latter has a tendency to chop rather than grind beans, which will prevent you from achieving the consistency of grind particle size required to produce a correct extraction and balanced flavour profile (read up on Coffee Geek for the technical details.)

There is a recent review of home grinders in Caffeine Magazine. They recommend the Ascaso i1 or Eureka – both set up for dosing to portafilters (espresso).  At home we use the Mahlkoenig Vario, RRP £350 – which was also well reviewed, but got some negative comments about an adjustment needed for cafetiere grind which I don’t agree with. In fact we think it’s so good we are giving one away to one lucky purchaser of our 6 month Roastmaster subscription in the coming weeks, more details here.

Consider how much you’ll be using the grinder and what quantity of coffee you’ll be grinding when you choose what to purchase. Here are some ideas where you can invest your cash for your first grinder.

Hario Mini Mill – £29, grind by hand

Porlex Ceramic Burr Coffee Grinder – £52, again a hand grinder but more robust with less plastic parts

Krupps Burr Grinder – £40.99, a basic burr model that’s had good reviews

Cusinart DBM8U Grinder, £59.95 and 18 grind positions to experiment with

Dualit Burr Grinder – £79.96, a conical burr grinder at entry level

Have you just bought a grinder or is there one on your Christmas list? We want to hear what impact it makes on your brewing at home!

 

 

How did we discover COCASMIL?

It has always been bit of a quest for us to find really tasty organic certified coffees that comply with our strict quality requirements. Finding a coffee with the flavour profile we look for and also certified organic that we can roast for our Organic Natural Spirit Blend has not been easy. Fortunately we were introduced to COCASMIL by Beneficio Santa Rosa in Honduras. We were excited because we weren’t offering any Honduras coffees. For many years, when talking about speciality coffee, Honduras was not an origin that popped to our mind and our concern was that harvesting techniques would not be to the stringent degree we require which would affect the flavour profile.

 

What impressed us about this coffee?

So when we first cupped COCASMIL, we were very happy. We found the coffee was exceptionally fresh, creamy and sweet with notes of vanilla, peach and fudgy-like finish.This is the first season we have bought from this producer and we are in that process of getting to know them and their coffee.  Pascale Schuit, who manages our farmer relationships, visited them in March to understand how we can developing a long-term Union Direct Trade relationship with them. She is hopeful because she observed how Beneficio Santa Rosa, the dry mill organization through which the coffee is prepared for export, delivers regular training on quality, and also on social aspects such as security and hygiene on the farm. Effective management is the key to success.

About these Producers

COCASMIL is a Co-operative; which means they are a group of 82 organized small-scale farmers, including 6 women, located in a mountain range up to 1700 mASL near San Miguel in the Intibucta department. The cooperative takes its name from this: Cooperativa Cafetera San Miguel Intibuca or “Coffee Cooperative San Miguel Intibuca”.  It started in 1999 and has built cement patios for sun-drying and an office for good administration; and now they work with the local school to provide books and help to support the health centre.

These 82 producers organized themselves to work together as a cooperative entity because they all have small plots of land for their farm. Each individual producer would never have enough coffee to export directly to Union Hand Roasted Coffee. They have different varieties, but mainly Catuai, Caturra and Villa Sarchi. Their coffee is washed and then sundried.

 

About the farmers

All farmers in the co-operative produce organic coffee. Each farm takes special care to weed by hand or using a machete, no herbicides are allowed and they apply microorganisms; coffee pulp compost and bocashi to enrich the soil. Bocashi (from the Japanese bokashi) is a highly effective natural organic fertiliser grown from microbial cultures from locally available organic material resources.

 

 Jorge Vásques

Jorge Alberto Vásques

 

Jorge Alberto Vásques is a member of COCASMI and he is committed to producing coffee through sustainable farming.

The technique of land management by terracing

 

The picture above shows terracing; a method used to transform steep sloping farms that can be unworkable, into areas with level strips of land that are easier to manage. Constructing these terraces is very labour intensive and very few farmers opt to do so.

Terracing manages soil erosion, avoids landslides and prevents fertiliser and mulch from washing away quickly.  They make working in the coffee more comfortable.

 

Meet Benjamín Mejía Vásquez

When Pascale was in Honduras earlier in the year, Benjamín Mejía Vásquez explained how he prepared cultures of microorganisms to apply on his farm.

Farmer Benjamín Mejía Vásquez

 

Benjamín collects layers of sand from high up into the mountains, an area untouched by human activity and where there is a vibrant and healthy ecosystem. The microorganisms present in the sand are brought back to his farm and applied to the soil; this can support re-establishing the equilibrium in the farms soil.

This in turn yields a healthier crop, with fewer problems from pests, and is a convenient and cheap way of managing soil fertility. Bejamín has a very small de-pulper and does not work with a washing channel.

The coffee is both washed and fermented in the same tank. On his cement patio it takes around 3-4 days to dry the coffee.

Benjamín’s de-pulper; simple but perfectly functional

 

Cristal farm is located in the El Sauce community in the municipality of Santa Bárbara.

Cristal farm owner Jose Villanueva

Jose Esteban Madrid Villanueva started growing coffee with his father in 1985 when he was a child and now about 10% of his farm (about 2.5 hectares) is dedicated to coffee. Jose clearly understands the relationship between selection of ripe, healthy coffee cherries, a good technical approach to post harvest processing and excellent cup quality because his coffee is a regular finalist in Cup of Excellence competitions. He represents the new generation of farmers from this region.

The Cup of Excellence is a competition established to discover and promote the very best coffees from the producer countries in which it operates.
We were pleased to have two representatives invited to take judge as part of the international panel. Read more about their experience here.

How to serve

Our recommendation is that you experience this amazing coffee as a filter, ideally brewed in a Hario V60 and served without milk to get the best from these beans.

Discover the beans

Cristal Cup of Excellence microlot 13

Roasted apple, honey and  cinnamon milk chocolate flavour with  gooseberry and sweet tropical fruits on the finish. Clean and balanced with a lovely soft silky mouthfeel.

Category: Microlot

Varietal: Pacas

Process: Washed, sun-dried on patios.

Defining Excellence

The Alliance for Coffee Excellence established the Cup of Excellence to promote coffee quality in the countries where it works. The prestigious award generally represents the best coffee at that particular time from a given country.

Prices at these auctions can reach around $45/lb of coffee, with the highest bidders often being from coffee roasters in Japan, China and other countries in that region.

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