June Sneak Peek... what is it?

Coffee, context, and the discovering the in between

For those of you who haven’t yet subscribed to espy coffee, here’s a little background info: all of our subscribers have been receiving little bonus “Sneak Peek” bags with their orders. We do this because subscriptions are the backbone of our business! 

The Sneak Peek is partly a gift, coming to you as a little surprise, and partly an experiment. We believe the context around the things we love is just as important as the work itself. We want you to know why each coffee is special, and how each coffee is made. As customers, we’ve always wanted to know the context of the coffees we loved, and it’s our goal to give you this info in an accessible way!

As we mentioned in the June Subscription blog, the Sneak Peek is directly related to Sam and Peter’s Faves. Sam’s Fave was La Claudina, and Peter’s Fave was Nuevo Trujillo. Some of you got both, and most of you got one or the other. So what did ya’ll think? Any taste connections? Did it seem related flavor wise? Any guesses as to how the Sneak Peek is related, or what it is?

The big reveal… almost.

Let me start with what I (Sam) noticed when tasting the Sneak Peek.

When I first roasted this coffee, I immediately noticed how similar it behaved in the roaster to Nuevo Trujillo. When I first tasted my sample roasts, I noticed the earthy, vegetal qualities right away, like green snap pea acidity. Those flavors were followed by a sweetness and bitterness that reminded me a lot of Nuevo Trujillo again. It was brown sugary, and had a pleasant dark chocolate quality. The texture was very similar as well - both coffees had a creamy, soft, and silky mouthfeel.

So why is this?

It’s because the Nuevo Trujillo and the Sneak Peek are the same coffee variety, and are processed nearly the exact same way. They are both washed coffees, and both are of the Caturra variety.

It’s really exciting that we’re able to taste these coffees together! They are grown by different people in different environments, but aside from this they are almost identical. It leads me to think that we can attribute a lot of the similarities to variety and process, and the uniqueness of each coffee can be left to the fact that they are grown in different environments!

So where is the Sneak Peek from?

This washed Caturra was grown by Juan Saldarriaga, on his farm La Claudina. Variety and process connects the Sneak Peek to Nuevo Trujillo, but it was actually produced by someone that we have bought coffee from before!

To me, this coffee couldn’t taste more different than the La Claudina coffee we already know and love. That’s the point I really want to weigh in on for a minute (so don’t forget it). But real quick, here is some context for Juan’s coffee production history.

Juan Saldarriaga’s Family Coffee Operation

Juan took over his family's coffee production in 2012. They own two farms, La Claudina, and El Encanto. These two farms make up about 42 hectares of coffee plants.

In Antioquia, much of the coffee has a similar, “Classic” profile. Much of what is produced is washed processed Caturra. It’s proven to be a successful coffee for consistent quality, and importantly, good production volume. This region has become known for full bodied coffees, with heavy chocolate notes, and a specific spice quality.

When Juan moved back to Colombia to take over his family's business, he planted various hybrids and varieties to accompany the long standing Caturra lots his family has grown for years. He has been experimenting with what varieties grow best on his farms, and what types of processing are best for each variety of coffee hes growing. Each year, he has scaled up production on some of his best experiments, and has been paving a new way for his family's coffee legacy. All the while, he continues to grow Caturra and regularly uses traditional washing methods for his coffees, maintaining the classic flavor profile that his family, and Antioquia, has grown for decades.

Here's a video of Juan showing off his Mechanical Air Dryer. It was originally used for sugar cane and he has now repurposed it for drying his coffees.

Sam’s journey of understanding coffee

When I think back to the first bits of coffee information I can remember, I saw grocery store coffee tins and hotel room coffee packages. Beyond the brand names, what stuck out the most in my memory, words I clearly remember, were “100% Colombian”, or “Colombian Supremo”.

As I got into drinking coffee myself, the first layer of information to help differentiate between coffees was the Country it was from. This is true for many of us! We often define our tastes by country of origin.

I realized I liked Colombian coffee, and Ethiopian coffee, and Guatemalan coffee! For a while, it felt empowering. I was using the country as a reference for flavor profile. Colombian coffees had dark chocolate, heavy bodied, rich flavors. Ethiopian coffees were bright, fruit forward, lively acidity, and sweet throughout. Guatemalan Coffee reminded me of milk chocolate, it was nutty, and had apple/pear flavors.

I became a barista and this level of information was a common foundation for understanding and describing general coffee quality. But the more I learned about coffee, the more I realized I didn’t have the whole picture! I was stereotyping coffees by their country of origin, and missing out on the unique qualities, and why they came to be.

Later on, I worked in an environment (at Stovetop Roasters) where we were actively focusing on variety and processing. These were more specific and relevant pieces of information for understanding characteristics in specific coffees. It felt immensely liberating! I started building a deeper index for coffee varieties, and processing styles, and my glossary for coffee flavor and descriptions expanded significantly.

Ok! Back to the point...

To recap, La Claudina “Experimental” couldn’t have tasted more different than the La Claudina “Classic”. Yet they both came from the same country, region, farm, and coffee producer!

American coffee culture has spent a long time talking about “place” when trying to differentiate coffee. It’s not inaccurate or unhelpful to describe coffee this way, but these aren’t the details that really make the cup of coffee taste the way it does. The journey from knowing a coffee by country of origin, to learning the variety of coffee plant and processing techniques takes some time. Understanding all that a coffee went through, and how it affects your coffee brew, was a long learning process for me (still working on it). For much of my first decade drinking coffee this was confusing and difficult, and it’s something we really hope to make easier for everyone who drinks espy coffee. 

We’re always learning and reconceptualizing what all of this coffee information means, it’s exciting and interesting now. When people say “coffee is addictive”, I can deeply relate. Especially when someone hands me a coffee that challenges my expectations. The pursuit of HOW and WHY is endlessly fascinating for me.

Bringing it home

This is why we wanted to introduce to you two coffees, two processes from the same farm and producer. To show you the “Classic”, both of Juan’s family production and the entire Antioquia region, while also revealing to you the innovation and unconventional potential of what amazing people can do with coffee.

This is a chance to recognize that coffee flavor isn’t exclusively about place! A reminder that people aren’t confined to being known for one thing! That we are all divergent, unique and when given the opportunity, can do things that are unconventional and beautiful. We hope you get the chance to enjoy both coffees from La Claudina, that you fall in love with both of them, see their similarities, and their differences, and all of the mystery and beauty in between.