Review: AgroEco Coffee

by on January 14, 2012

Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #49.

The Community Agroecology Network (CAN) seeks to to link farming communities in Latin America to consumers in the United States. Researchers from five universities partner with faculty and organizations in Latin America to forge long-term community-based relationships. Researchers, organizations and farmer members address questions related to sustainable farming systems. Student interns work with farming communities and cooperatives. Often the work revolves around coffee farms themselves — such as mapping farms and surveying shade trees, orchids, or other fauna. Interns may also work on social projects, other aspects of sustainable agriculture in the community, or training members on computers, etc.

Among CAN’s projects is the AgroEco Coffee Initiative, in conjunction with the Union of Farming Cooperatives Augusto César Sandino (UCA San Ramón) in San Ramón, Matagalpa, Nicaragua, an organization of 21 coffee cooperatives and over 1,000 members.  Research projects include tree biodiversity conservation, establishing a local herbarium, and food security issues. Part of CAN’s efforts include trade innovations, and in this case they work with Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting to bring AgroEco Coffee to market.

The coffee is available in both light and dark roasts, and can be purchased one-time, or by recurring subscription. CAN sent a bag of light roast for us to try.

This is a bag of coffee that does not have tasting notes, but instead has a “sustainability facts” label similar to the Nutrition Facts labels found on food products in the U.S.  What a great idea! It gives data on the coffee-growing community and its environmental, social, and economic conditions. You can see the environmental section on the label at right: there are 541 shade trees of 14 species per hectare. For comparison, Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certification requires at least 10 shade species in the production area (beyond that, how much canopy cover/shade is provided by a given density of trees depends on the height, species, and structure of the trees).

The AgroEco light roast was heading toward a medium, with some beans showing oil. I’d say this was closer to a full city roast. The varietal was not mentioned, but UCA San Ramon grows caturra, bourbon, and maragojipe (and some of these beans did look quite large).

Everyone found this coffee to be a well-balanced, not-lively-but-sturdy, good breakfast coffee. Chocolate and subtle cherry came up more than once in people’s descriptions. Brown sugar and fig were also mentioned. It got the most favorable ratings as a drip. In a French press it seemed a little sharp, but mellowed as it cooled. Nicaragua is a favorite origin of mine for dependable, quietly mid-tone, chocolate-based coffees. The AgroEco is a classic example of this cup profile.

For the first time, we are able to incorporate an evaluation of a review coffee as an espresso drink, as we’ve been supplied with a consumer-level espresso machine by Hamilton Beach (for consistency in our reviews, we won’t be incorporating espresso drinks into our ratings, but will provide our thoughts on them for completeness).  A light roast Nica is probably not the greatest choice for an espresso shot, but while the body and crema were a little thin, a nice sweetness was evident and it was quite tasty and enjoyable. However, it didn’t quite hold up to the addition of milk and/or foam in a latte and cappuccino, although the chocolate tones were nice in with the sweetness from the milk. The medium roast of this coffee might be a better choice for espresso drinks.

It’s harvest season in Central America right now; this bag was no doubt from last crop season. I was in the San Ramon area last March at the end of harvest, and many coffee trees were very afflicted with fungal diseases due to the wet weather in the preceding months. This coffee had no flaws, and I can only imagine that with better growing conditions it could really shine. Certainly I expect that a newer sample would be perkier and demonstrate a little more complexity that this sample. It came in at a solid 3.25 motmots, and obviously supports a program that has done an excellent job at establishing a broad program of assistance that benefits farmers, students, and consumers.

You can order coffee AgroEco coffee on a single bag or subscription basis, make a donation, or support the Nicaraguan Youth Scholarship fund here.

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Posted in Coffee reviews,Latin America

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