Coffee review: Birds, Bees, & Trees

by on June 23, 2010

In recognition of National Pollinator Week, another review of a coffee with a great backstory.

Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #44.

The Great Northern Roasting Company out of Traverse City, MI has started an initiative called Birds, Bees & Trees. They will donate 3% of all proceeds from Birds, Bees & Trees-designated coffee to the Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit organization geared toward the preservation of bees and all other pollinators.

About the Pollinator Partnership
P2, as they call themselves, is one of the best sources for information on pollinators and pollination, including many resource links and excellent planting guides for North America. They also manage a number of projects, such as the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) a collaborative group of over 120 organizations and individuals that promote and implement a continent-wide Action Plan to encourage activities to protect the numbers and health of all pollinating animals.

GNRC joins a number of other companies (Burt’s Bees, Häagen-Dazs) as a supporting partner of P2. Since arabica coffee is self-pollinating and P2 appears to be exclusive to North America, at first blush this might seem like an odd partnership. However, a number of studies have shown the importance of shade coffee to pollinators in general, and the benefits of cross-pollination to coffee fruit set. The NAPPC does include Mexico and a number of Mexican organizations are partners.

About the coffee
GNRC has chosen their Terruño Nayarit Sun-Dried Organic as their primary Birds, Bees & Trees coffee. (This is currently available online from their site, and the BB&T-badged version, which will generate the donations, is coming soon; I’ll post a link as soon as it is.)

This coffee comes from cooperatives in the west-central Mexican state of Nayarit, mostly around the extinct Cerro San Juan volcano west of the capital Tepic. This is one of the northernmost locations in Latin America where coffee is grown. Most is grown at over 1100 meters, and is of the bourbon, typica, and caturra varieties.

Care to know more? Every bag of coffee has a coded label. You can go online to Track Your Coffee, enter the code, and trace your beans to their source. Our bags, for instance, were comprised mostly of beans from the community of El Malinal (86%) along with 14% from Xalisco, processed at the IPCONAY mill. There’s even a link to a map. No secrets here — and you know how much I like transparency and making it easy for consumers to know more about their coffee.

Terruño Nayarit coffee is available exclusively via San Cristobal Coffee Importers, which has done a tremendous amount of work helping small holders in this area of Mexico. I had the pleasure of seeing founder Jim Kosalos speak at the recent SCAA conference on his work, and found him and it remarkable. You can learn more: in this article: Mexico’s Nayarit Coffee Producers’ Quest To Quality Continues — Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, Aug 2003.

We tried both a light and a dark roast, supplied by GNRC’s owner Jack Davis. The aroma of both — redolent of blueberries — gave it away as a natural (dry) processed coffee. The light roast also hinted at dried summer grass; a hint of oregano was detected by one taster. The flavor was much more gentle than the dry smell would suggest. It was smooth, and prepared as a drip and in a French press the fruit flavor developed as the cup cooled, but it never was as aggressively berry-forward as natural process Ethiopians can be, for example. We like it best made in a Chemex. It really shined: clean, with a little more piquant acidity (“lemon rind at the edge of conjecture” one taster rather poetically intoned). The light roast scored consistently at 3.5 motmots. The dark roast was a tad too dark for many in the tasting panel — dark roast aficionados rated it highly at 3.75, while light roast lovers pegged it a full motmot lower. Everyone should be able to pick a favorite.

Great Northern Roasting’s Birds, Bee & Trees will be an ongoing campaign, with other or more offerings in the future. While they gear up, please honor the many pollinators — birds, bees, bats, flies, mammals, and more — by learning more about why they are important, how to garden for pollinators, and what to plant in your area. Biodiversity preservation starts at home.

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Revised on January 20, 2011

Posted in Coffee reviews,Latin America

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