Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #40.
BuyWell is a relative new-comer to the sustainable coffee arena, established in Colorado Springs in fall 2007. They focus exclusively on certified organic, Fair Trade coffees. BuyWell purchases Green-e certified renewable energy certificates from 3Degrees
to offset 100% of the electricity used for their entire operation. Further, they support a number of coffee-related charities such as Coffee Kids, Cafe Femenino, and Roots and Wings International.
Roots and Wings was a new one for me — a secular organization working to provide university scholarships in southwest Guatemala. I was impressed with this program; please visit their web site for more on what they do and how you can make a direct donation. You can also do it through coffee purchases: BuyWell donates $3 per bag of coffee sold online when customers type “RootsAndWings” in the coupon/promotion code.
We tried out several of their coffees.
Nicaragua Picaflor — These beans come from the 100-plus-member Cooperativa 5 de junio, in the the Las Sabanas region of Madriz department (a.k.a., Segovias coffee-growing area), in northern Nicaragua. The coop is part of a larger farmers association, Aldea Global (Associación Aldea Global Jinotega), which practices sustainable agriculture and has other Fair Trade products.
In 2006, Cooperativa 5 de junio scored an 84.46 in the Cup of Excellence competition. They grow mostly Caturra and Maracatu at 1200 to 1400 m in “extensive shade.” (Maracatu is a Caturra x Maragogype hybrid.)
The Picaflor is billed as a light roast. I was really pleased to see that “light” meant “light” for BuyWell. A gentle roast is often best for these more delicate Central American beans. A nearly unanimous flavor reported by tasters was “caramel”. There was also some citrus when piping hot, leaning towards orange for one taster. It had a silky mouthfeel, and was my personal favorite of the three coffees. 3.25 motmots.
Guatemala Fuego — These beans are sourced from the Nahualá cooperative (Cooperativa de Servicios Varios Nahuala) in the Quetzaltenango region of southwest Guatemala near the city of Pasac. Ninety percent of the 126 members are organic, and they also produce organic bananas and honey. The members have been working on a riparian reforestation project as well. The coffee varieties Catuai, Bourbon, and Caturra are grown at 1200 to 1500 m.
This was a medium roast — not too dark for a Central. It had an interesting aroma, which reminded me of American Robins (I know this is odd, but remember, I’m a bird bander, and I’ve handled tens of thousands of birds…some do have distinctive odors), sort of organic and leafy. Having made this rather esoteric comment aloud, a coworker actually agreed with me, in a more generic way: “Yeah, like the apartment I shared with Dale and Edgar the Crow. Sometimes we’d take in a starling or two.” Okay, strange descriptions of what are actually nice smells aside, we also had some consensus on taste, with three people volunteering they got a subtle cherry flavor. Nutty was also mentioned more than once. It had a creamy mouthfeel, also described as “round” and “smooth.” 3 motmots.
Sumatra Canopy — The Canopy coffee is from the Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association (Persatuan Petani Kopi Gayo Organik, or PPKGO) near Takengon in Aceh province, Sumatra. This is a big co-op, with nearly 2000 members, and all are organic. The farms are located at between 1100 and 1500 m in the buffer zone to Gunung Leuser National Park. Shade grown coffee in Sumatra is especially important because illegal logging threatens remaining forests, including those in protected areas. The demand for timber has been particularly acute since the 2004 tsunami. PPKGO grows a number of varieties of coffee: Bergendal (they typica variety most often grown in Sumatra), Sidikalang (I presume this is another typica cultivar from the named region near Lake Toba), and the hybrids Catimor and Caturra.
This was a medium-dark roast. It’s been awhile since we’ve reviewed a dark roast, and a long while since we’ve done an Indonesian coffee. The origin was instantly recognizable earth (one person specified loam), leather, pepper or spice, and resin. I liked it much more than I expected I would, given that this isn’t my favorite flavor profile. But the roast was handled correctly, so the characteristic Sumatran taste came through without being all about a “rich” or burnt taste. The score of 2.75 motmots in part reflects one taster who just couldn’t come to grips with an Indonesian coffee; she described it as tasting like “those little hard sesame breadsticks.” I’m going to temper that comment by saying that this coffee will please anybody who does like Indonesian coffees, as it’s probably one of the most approachable I’ve had.
Overall, I was pleased with BuyWell’s selections, the information on their web site, and their commitment to sustainability in their business practices. I was also impressed with the way their roaster handled each bean. I think sometimes working with beans from co-ops, which are likely to vary in quality because they come from so many producers, leads some roasters to over-roast to cover up or even out the impact of the lowest-quality beans. I thought BuyWell honored the origin and the bean and did a really nice job.
You can also check out BuyWell’s blog, Screaming Monkey.