IMG_0812This is the second of the three coffees I bought about a month ago on a trip to the Silver Lake outpost of Intelligentsia in Los Angeles and have been enjoying in the weeks since. (Earlier, I wrote about Itzamna from Guatemala.) I was guzzling this, both as espresso and regular coffee, and it was my impression that it worked better as a regular cup. The name translates as "the turtle," and, alas, this "in season" offering may be sold out now. I'll have to savor the last bit left in the bag. Name La Tortuga

Origin Finca La Tina, farm of Don Fabio Caballero and Moises Herrerra, in the Mogola, Marcala region of Honduras.

Roasted July 2, 2009.

Purchased July 5 at Intelligentsia Coffee Silver Lake Coffee Bar, 3922 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles.

Description A catuai grown at 1550 to 1670 meters. The bag says this is "tangy and buoyant, with orange and butterscotch notes, and a finish of sweet cane sugar."

In the Cup This is certainly tangier than the Guatemalan Itzamna, but it has a lingering sweet aftertaste. There's a silky feel to it, and I picked up the butterscotch as well, but not the "subtle notes of tamarind" mentioned in the buyer's report. This might be a little challenging for those who do not care for complicated coffees with hints of fruit; that would be the orange. It is an acquired taste, and I would not have cared for this at the start of my coffee-blogging quest.

I drank most of this in mid-July on my return to New York. I had nearly finished the bag but saved a little to compare when I finally got around to blogging. This coffee is also purchased direct trade from the grower, and carries Intelligentsia’s “In Season” sticker, which is explained here.

(This coffee no longer seems to be listed at the Intelligentsia site, which suggests it might be sold out. According to the Google cache of the page, "La Tortuga keeps getting better every year. For 2009, not only has the Caballero family improved their drying processes, Intelligentsia financed the coffee ourselves which means that it arrived earlier than ever before. Last year we released this coffee on July 3rd. Launching it on May 22nd means that we are getting it to you six weeks earlier. This is the promise of Intelligentsia In Season.")

An excerpt from the report by Intelligentsia's chief buyer, Geoff Watts:

In 2006 Intelligentsia contracted the exclusive rights to the annual coffee production of Fabio Caballero’s “La Tina” farm. This is the first farm Don Fabio owned, which he inherited from his mother-in-law. The land first entered the family in 1930, making it their only 3rd generation farm parcel. Don Fabio also believes that the genetic purity of the original heirloom varietals planted on the farm adds to its quality. It also has the historic privilege as being the first coffee farm in Mogola region of Honduras.

At over 5,400 feet, La Tina farm is one of the highest farms in Honduras. The views are breathtaking, and there is no doubt that this piece of land is a wonderful place to grow coffee. Of course, growing the coffee is really just one step in many that lead to a great cup. The preservation of the quality that nature produces is as important in the equation as the actual growth. The sequence of events that take place after picking, beginning the moment that the cherry leaves the tree, help to define the difference between an “artisan coffee farmer” and a “harvester.” Don Fabio and his son-in-law Moises Herrera are artisan farmers. The reason they’ve had so much success in comparison to many of their neighbors has less to do with the quality of the land than it does the quality of the workmanship and the amount of investment that the Caballero family has been willing to make in their coffee operation. The fact that they do their own wet-milling gives them an advantage as well. They have the ability to control quality all the way to dry parchment....

This year we added a focus on maintaining lower temperatures in the mechanical dryers in order to reduce any leeching of organic materials from the coffees during the drying process. We also took steps to streamline the logistics from farm to port, which is a huge consideration when thinking about the preservation of coffee quality. In Honduras this is especially critical as most of the coffee milling takes place in San Pedro Sula, a city that for much of the year has at least two things in common with Chicago in July—high temperatures and heavy humidity. Unfortunately for producers, these are two of the biggest enemies of coffee quality and longevity. Both can dramatically reduce the vibrancy and shelf life of coffee. Imagine a gorgeous flower wilting into a lifeless, drooping eyesore and you’ve got an idea of what often happens to coffees that spend too much time in San Pedro. To combat this problem we orchestrated a tight relay-race that saw the coffee moved from Marcala to San Pedro, milled immediately in waiting machine, stashed in special bags with very low permeability, and packed into an insulated container... The shipping date was booked in advance of milling and once the coffee was prepped it left immediately for port to begin its journey to the US.

Alas, it looks like I'll have to wait until next year to try La Tortuga again.

AuthorPatrick LaForge