Flor de Março Limited Release
- February 2018
- Written by : James McLaughlin
President / Green Coffee Buyer
Every year, we evaluate thousands of samples in our Quality Control lab. Each sample represents a lot of coffee that is sitting in parchment in a warehouse at origin. And each of those samples has unique flavors and differing levels of acidity and sweetness.
One of the most frustrating and exciting parts about working in coffee is that we don’t understand what affects flavor, acidity, or sweetness. There is no guide for farmers to ensure that their coffee has the flavor attributes that a buyer will be excited about. This is all rapidly changing with the work of World Coffee Research, the new Coffee Center at UC-Davis, and several universities and governmental organizations at origin.
Until that work is completed, we continue to be guided in our sourcing work by what we have learned over more than 15 years working at origin. At a very high level, three categories of variables affect flavor: environment, genetics, and the farmer.
Our Flor de Março release is an excellent example of how the environment can dramatically change the flavor of a coffee. Before I explain why, a bit about this coffee’s pedigree.
This coffee was produced in the state of Espirito Santo, Brazil. Espirito Santo is a juggernaut in the world of coffee. It produces millions of bags of Robusta coffee (a high-yield, poor-quality, high-caffeine-content species) sold to commercial roasters all over the world. But there is another side of Espirito Santo’s coffee culture was recently rediscovered: the small family farmers who produce spectacular Arabica coffee in the state’s mountainous regions. Until a few years ago, all their beautiful coffee was bulked together and sold as commercial coffee. Today, there is a burgeoning specialty coffee scene in Espirito Santo that Intelligentsia is supporting through a new project we are calling Flor de Março.
Flor de Março, which translates literally to March Flower, is a bit of an environmental freak. The coffee trees in this region have their main flowering in November. Nine months after the coffee tree flowers, the farmer will have cherries ready to pick. But in the mountains of Espirito Santo, there is a second flowering four months later. While it is common for a coffee tree to have multiple flowerings, it is unusual that they are separated by a four-month period. This gap in time means that the coffee from the March flowering matures under very different climatic conditions than the November flowering. For example, the March coffee does not experience the dry conditions from November to April and it is maturing through the rainy season. For reasons we don’t fully understand yet, these environmental differences have a dramatic impact on the coffee’s flavor. We have cupped coffees from the same farm from multiple flowerings--one from the November flowering and another from the March flowering--and the March flowering is almost always better by five points or more!
The Flor de Março coffees have some of our favorites from Brazil. As we expand our project in Espirito Santo in the years ahead, we will have steadily more coffees from what is probably the most exciting and underappreciated coffee region in Brazil. In the meantime, enjoy this release and celebrate the impact that Mother Nature has on flavor!