img_0481So by the time I went back for more of the sweet-tooth yellow icatu, it was sold out, alas. I am tempted to order some directly in bulk from the roaster, Ritual of San Francisco. I may yet, though that would be admitting my quest was at an end, and, of course, given the ephemeral and perishable nature of coffee beans, not to mention existence itself, that is not likely. I could have bought more of the oddly tea-flavored selection from Guatemala, or even the standard Heartbreaker espresso I started all this with, but I'm not ready to repeat myself yet. Onward to the new, this time a direct-trade bean from Colombia. Name: Santuario, Colombia: Heliconias

Origin: Farmer/producer is listed as Camilo Merizalde of Finca Santuario, in the Cauca region.

Roasted: Feb. 17 by Intelligentsia.

Purchased: Feb. 25 at Café Grumpy, 224 W. 20th St., Manhattan, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Description: "Gentle and transparent, this lot shows the delicate nature of the Bourbon varietal. Cherry and apple lend crispness to the acidity while caramel glides in the finish," according to the Grumpy label.

The Pour: Not long after picking up this bag of beans on Wednesday, I learned that my uncle, a retired firefighter, had died in his 80s in the Boston area. He was not a coffee connoisseur, but during his good long life he did appreciate a well-cooked meal, a well-made wine and a good pour of single-malt scotch, so I think he might have understood this obsession. I can see him and my father in my mind's eye, tasting a savory dish or sipping a single malt with some satisfaction on many a Christmas break, which we often spent with my mother's side of the family. That older generation is dying out -- my uncle was one of the last -- and we cousins all have our own families scattered across the country now. Nothing lasts. It's hard to get that through our thick heads when we are caught up in the day to day grind. That's why it is good to just sit down and really focus on one thing for a while, either a point on the wall or a good cup of espresso.

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So what about this bean? It's not bad. I do catch the cherry and apple, though flavors like that are always a little disconcerting to me, even now. The finish is smooth, not acidic. I guess that's the caramel notion, or perhaps something else. Intelligentsia's tasting notes differ slightly from the bag, listing a licorice root and milk chocolate flavor, refined acidity and a finish of sweet dried fruit and nuttiness, "almost candy-like in its sweetness." I didn't really pick up on any chocolate, or candy-like sweetness for that matter, but that description of the finish seems accurate. My perception may change as I continue to drink it this week, as I seem open to the power of suggestion in these matters.

Have I mentioned that I love coffee blogs? Here is what Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia, the roaster, has to say about this coffee, a botanic varietal known as Heliconias from a lot at Finca Santuario. It is rare for a farm to be able to separate a single, tiny variety so precisely. But this farm was started in 2000 by a Cali native and Purdue graduate named Camilo Merizalde.

That's unusual in itself. The odds were against starting a new coffee plantation, as Watts tells the story, "given that the global coffee market was already mired in the most serious and sustained depression we’ve seen this century, with prices far below even basic costs of production in most cases. When considering where to invest, coffee production would not even appear on most economists’ lists."

Mr. Merizalde bought land in Cauca, just outside of Popayan, that was ideal for growing coffee, at elevations of 1820 to 2000 meters. It was nearly barren land used for grazing cattle. The blog post details how he created a sustainable farm with the help of experts in biodiversity. About the beans he chose:

Rather than pick the high-yielding, easier to grow varieties widely available in Colombia (Caturra, Catuai, Variadad Colombia), he chose varieties known for their ability to produce sensational tasting coffee seeds. Old Typica and Bourbon stocks, including the original Bourbon Pointu from Reunion Island, are generally less productive and more fragile than the hybrids that are often being planted these days, but they have a much higher ceiling when it comes to cup quality. He then planted them separately, keeping each lot restricted to one type so that the different varieties could be easily segregated during harvest.

So this is a coffee with a story, one that is well worth reading in full. [April 15 update: Sadly, the link no longer works. But there is an updated pdf about the farm on the site.]

Prepared as an espresso, the Heliconias seems a little lighter than I generally like, not nearly as rich, smooth or sweet as the Guatemalan Yellow Icatu. I guess I had grown a little too attached to that. I'll have to work on the non-attachment, as this is a fine, fine coffee in its own right. May all the cups you drink this week be as good.