Dispatches: Central America

We’ve just returned from our first sourcing trip of 2016 and have some tremendous updates to share with you all. Central America is a wildly exciting place to source quality coffees, made even more special by the remarkable people, places and experiences. This time around, we traversed Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras – three countries close together geographically, but so very different…

Costa Rica

We landed in San José in the evening, weary-eyed from a long day of travel, but eager to begin exploring. While we enjoy spending time in Costa Rica’s lively capitol, it’s the picturesque countryside that captivates us every time we’re here. There’s nothing quite like breathing in fresh mountain air when the plants are flowering; the aromas so fragrant, they waft into the car through the air vent. Once through customs, we loaded into a school van and began the winding ascent from the humid city into the mountains towards our first destination – Rio Jorco.

Rio Jorco is the immaculate farm and dry mill we work with in Costa Rica. Our partners here buy coffee cherry, process it on site with an aqua pulper, conduct the quality control and also mill and export the coffees. Once the quality of a lot has been determined, they pay the producer a quality premium. Since we last checked in, they’ve diversified their processing methods to include more natural and honey processed coffees than ever before!

We visited Finca Las Pavas and a few other farms in the suburb of El Cedral, Rio Jorco, cupped some coffees and chatted about production methods and some of the biggest challenges facing specialty coffee producers today. With the onset of El Niño, severe weather conditions are a big one on everyone’s mind. Hot and dry days with little rain and forceful winds have plagued producers and may impact production volumes for next year’s harvest.

Finca Las Pavas in the suburbs of El Cedral, Rio Jorco

Finca Las Pavas in the suburbs of El Cedral, Rio Jorco

Trees-lacking-water

Lack of rainfall may impact next year’s production volumes

As our time in Costa Rica was coming to a close, we were fortunate enough to celebrate a birthday party with the Navarro family. Such a heartwarming experience
– we were welcomed into their home and treated like family. Although they have some smaller stunning three manzana farms where they produce coffee for us, in total, they have nearly 70 hectares of coffee plants. Jose Luis Navarro consistently delivers exceptional micro lots, and judging by the progress of this harvest, we’ll have some stunning new coffees to share later this year!

quality time with Jose Luis Navarro

Quality time with Jose Luis Navarro & family

Nicaragua

We flew into Managua and drove four hours through desert and tobacco plantations up to Ocotal, the capital of the Nueva Segovia Department of Nicaragua. Aside from the pine forests that blanket the hills above the town, Ocotal is very dry and arid. The soil is sandy and the landscape has a perpetual sun-drenched sheen. Not a place you might expect to find quality coffee, but looks can be deceiving…

The Caravela Nicaragua operation, Beneficio La Estrella, is nestled in Ocotal and is where we set our sights. Here, we spent some time with quality control expert William Ortiz who hails from Oporapa, the same Colombian town as the one-and-only Wilfredo Ule Vargas of Finca Alcatraz. We visited the lab, cupped some fresh coffees and toured the soon-to-be-completed dry mill. Caravela has done a lot of coffee drying R&D over the past few years, cupping coffees from the same producer that have been dried in three different ways: patio dried with full sunlight, dried on plastic in full sunlight and dried on the beds under shade. The three profiles yield very different results. When coffee is dried slower, it is dried more evenly, doesn’t age as quickly and tastes more complex.

My time was up in Nicaragua so I pushed onto Honduras, the land of the mighty (and ever so delicious) baleada!

Honduras

We drove up to the border of Nicaragua and Honduras and got a taste of border crossing in the good old days – excruciatingly slow and painful. Lines, checkpoints, more lines, frisking and searching, etc. 8 hours of travel later, we found ourselves in Peña Blanca, Santa Barbara – a picturesque town that sits above Lake Yojoa, the largest natural land mass in Honduras. The unique micro-climate here contributes to the expressively transparent cup profiles of coffees from this region.

Norma Azucena & Ben Paz

Norma Azucena Erazo & Ben Paz

For the next week, we visited cherished producers and cupped some incredibly promising lots alongside our great bud and supply partner, Benjamin Paz. We were fortunate enough to spend time (and share a delicious meal or two) with some of our favorite longstanding Honduran producers: Norma Azucena Erazo (Finca Zulema), Salomé and Virgilio Reyes (Finca Salomé), Ramon Jeovany Baide (Finca Baide) and newer partner, David Muñoz.

Salomé Reyes (Finca Salomé)

Salomé Reyes (Finca Salomé)

David Muñoz

David Muñoz

While we cup countless coffees at origin to determine quality and map out our coffee bar menus, the majority of our time is dedicated to finding out how we can best support our partners. We’re really excited about a collaborative project with Norma aimed at improving her wet mill and drying infrastructure.

Stay tuned for more on that and some phenomenal fresh crop from Central America later this year! Until then, we leave you with some trip highlights…

Saludos!

About the Jams: Willie Nelson

Singer, songwriter & luminary, Willie Nelson, known the world over for his genre-bending country and inimitable style, released an understated, highly experimental record in 1998. The record was called Teatro, aptly named for the vacant movie theater in Oxnard, California where it was recorded with a few famous friends, including the ever-lovely Emmylou Harris and jazz guitarist Brad Mehldau. The 14 track record is genre-defying – a ‘south of the border’ tinged departure from the famed ‘outlaw country’ sub-genre he helped pioneer in the late 60s.

Never one to conform, Willie Nelson has innovated with Teatro. Part nostalgia, part reinvention, the eclectic record strikes a harmonious balance between old and new – Willie’s iconic vocals and lyrical artistry accompanied by soothing Latin guitar and soulful percussive grooves. Some old jams reimagined and some completely new tracks are produced by renowned album producer & collaborator, Daniel Lanois. The resulting work is a cinematic, sonic journey that is a pleasure to take again and again.

The fine folks at Light in the Attic Records have issued Teatro on vinyl (for the first time ever!) and it’s been on heavy rotation since. For a limited time, you can pick up your very own, pressed on gold vinyl with a deluxe, gatefold, ‘tip-on’ uncoated jacket, at 7th and 20th Street.

Put it on, pour yourself a few fingers of whiskey, and prepare to experience Willie as you never have before!

Welcome to the New Digs!

Hi Friends,

If you’re reading this post, you’ve most likely noticed some changes. For the better part of last year and the beginning of this one, we’ve been hard at work dreaming up and developing a new website. Our objective; to deliver a distinct and immersive coffee experience, a reflection of what we offer in our coffee bars, but on the web.

Today, we couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce the fruits of these labors – a multi-faceted and elevated Sightglass web experience. The upgrade was long overdue and we can proudly say that what we’ve arrived upon is a strong representation of us.

To us, the best way to explore any new place is without a road map. We prefer to make our own way, allowing for spontaneity and chance encounters as we go. We invite you to experience our website in your own way, on whatever device (be it desktop, tablet or mobile) you find yourself reading this very email on. Go wild, and if you get lost, the lightning bolt will guide you home!

As our welcome gift to you, we’re offering free shipping on all webstore orders over $25* through the end of February with code “SHIPONUS”

For any questions or comments, we’re always here, eager to hear from you. Please email info@sightglasscoffee.com and we’ll be in touch!

Yours,

Sightglass

*one usage per customer. Offer excludes subscriptions.

Winter Arrivals

Season’s Greetings, Folks!

As you’re gearing up for the festive season, we’ve rounded up a few tasty year-end releases fresh off the roaster! We’ve debuted our first-ever Java coffee, a 100% Bourbon stunner from Kageyo, and a singular Papuan microlot:

Indonesia
Java, Cempaka Mulya Village

It’s been said that Java is one of the most peaceful places on earth. Following an incredible sourcing trip to western Java in August, we’re inclined to agree. The Sunda people of Cempaka Mulya Village treat their coffees with reverence, providing exceptional care at every step of coffee production. One of our trip highlights was listening to traditional Sunda music in the processing warehouse, a practice to aid in the resting of coffee before export. This unique blend of Tim Tim and Typica varieties yields an immensely balanced cup with notes of vanilla, cocoa powder and sweet pipe tobacco in the finish.

Papua New Guinea
Lufa District

Hailing from the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, this first-time offering boasts a full and creamy body, with big flavors of caramel, browned butter and candied ginger coupled with soft aromatics of vanilla and jasmine. While any brew method will produce a beautiful cup, we’re digging this coffee brewed in a French Press for a deeply complex and expressive brew!

Rwanda
Kageyo Coop Station, Ngororero

This elegant coffee jumped off the cupping table during our most recent trip to Kageyo in May. The cup quality was remarkable and we couldn’t wait to get the fresh crop stateside and into our roaster. At long last, the highly anticipated year-end release has arrived! Expect a refreshingly sweet, structured and approachable coffee. Flavors of pink lady apple, butterscotch, and whipping cream give way to a delicate earl grey finish.

The winter offerings and many others are now available at our 7th street shop and on our webstore. Drop by 20th street for a selection of beautiful coffees that are exclusively available in store!

Ready to get brewing? Try our brewing guides.

Fall Arrivals

New offerings have landed and we’ve rounded up a few favorites. Happy Brewing!

Honduras
Finca Zulema, Norma Zulema Azucena

When we first crossed paths with Norma Zulema back in 2013, we knew her coffees were special. Norma is an absolute joy to work with and we admire her deep committment to producing exquisite coffees and maintaining an immaculate operation at Finca Zulema. As such, we couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome this newest lot on menu. Expect a balanced cup with big flavors of ripe, red apple, fresh cut watermelon, juicy mango and baking spices in the finish.

Indonesia
Sulawesi, Toarco, Peaberry

This meticulous peaberry separation is back and tastier than ever! This is an exceptionally structured coffee with sugar cane sweetness, a syrupy mouthfeel, and vibrant flavors of concord grape, lemon peel and stone fruit. Peaberries are a delightful abnormality, only developing in 1 out of every 20 coffee flowers. We love them for their unparalleled intensity and complexity of flavor, which shines through in this full-bodied Sulawesi!

Kenya
Gatugi Station AA

A second year offering for us, this exemplary Kenyan boasts a big cup with aromas of blackberry and brown sugar, a molasses-like texture, and a red currant acidity. This lot comes to us from the Gatugi Factory in Central Kenya, where SL28 and SL34 coffee varieties reign supreme. Developed for the Kenyan government by Scott Labs in the 1930’s, these varieties are prized for their drought resistance, productivity, and unrivaled clarity of taste. We couldn’t agree more.

Nicaragua
Finca La Esperanza Honey, Luis Alberto

If you’ve glanced at our retail shelves lately, you’ll notice a few new honey-processed coffees. In rinsing these coffees, a bit of the mucilage is left intact, giving the parchment an amber “honey” color and imparting a deep sweetness. We’ve enjoyed working with Luis Alberto in past years and are excited to offer this newest lot of Finca La Esperanza honey-washed. It’s light body and crisp, lemon-like acidity pair well with flavors of brown sugar and baking spices, giving way to a long caramel finish.

These special coffees are now available at 7th street and on our webstore.

In a brewing slump? Check out our handy brewing guides.

 

 

Dispatches: South Pacific

The South Pacific is a truly wondrous part of the world. Traveling throughout it for any reason is a treat, and that pleasure was ours on our most recent sourcing trip traversing Java, East Timor, Bali and Papua New Guinea.

Our first stop was Java, an island in Indonesia situated between Sumatra to the west and Bali to the east. People were incredibly hospitable, meals were on par with some of the best restaurants in San Francisco, and our afternoons were spent cupping coffee barefoot at the Cisondari Mill.

Signpost located in the center of the Cisondari MillOur experience at the Cisondari Mill was unrivaled and their operations, pristine. A signpost located in the center of the mill guided us to different places, each bearing a unique name. The long curved drying patio is called ‘blessed’, while the small shelter for the husky pups family is endearingly deemed ‘home’. Mill workers live on site in a large complex down the hill from the immense hub of operations. Trucks drive around throughout the mountains daily, picking up cherry and bringing it back to the mill for overnight processing and fermentation. In the morning, the parchment is rinsed and laid out to dry in one of the covered patios. In the storage warehouse, multiple large sacks of parchment are resting. The workers at Cisondari play traditional Sunda music throughout the warehouse, a practice to aid in the resting of the coffee.

From Java, we traveled to East Timor, the second youngest country on the planet. East Timor, or Timor-Leste in the country’s national language of Portuguese, received its independence from Indonesia in 2002 and has grown significantly since. We landed in Dili, a sleepy beach town home to the country’s newest shopping mall, a couple Burger Kings, a handful of lively dive bars, and the newly established Outspan Agro Timor, one of the country’s best exporters of fine specialty coffees.

The coffee here is wild as the trees have grown untamed since the 1950s, when the Portuguese colonial government began to plant coffees for export. To provide supple shade for the coffee, Madre Cacao and Kukui trees were also planted, which have since grown to become massive canopy trees. The Madre Cacao tree is also a nitrogen-fixing tree, precious for it’s ability to take nitrogen from the air and feed it back into the soil aiding in healthy soil production and ultimately, to flourishing coffee trees throughout the year.Cherry selection in East TimorThe coffees in East Timor are already beginning to display special traits that will only become more prominent and nuanced with time and small production improvements. We look forward to sourcing beautiful coffees from this country very soon. From here we headed back to Indonesia to visit Bali, and finally to Papua New Guinea. Stay tuned for that update.

Introducing: Espresso Con Panna

Fall is here. Winter is coming. And with it, cooler temps (weather permitting) and so very many occasions to consume delicious, warming beverages all season long. We’re the first to agree that there’s nothing quite like an unadulterated, perfectly balanced shot of espresso. However true, this has done little to dissuade us from partaking frequently—and sometimes daily—in our latest offering.

Every morning at both coffee bars, our stand mixers get powered on to whip up something truly delightful and best served fresh. Bourbon Madagascar pure vanilla bean and heavy whipping cream comprise what is sure to get you excited for some chill in the air, or—at the very least—out of the house and to the coffee bar stat. This classic Italian treat—panna served atop espresso (or atop any other espresso bev. of choice)—is now available at both coffee bars.

Next time you’re here, why not try a dollop? It’s new on the menu and it’s downright delicious. Enjoy!

 

Dispatches: Colombia

Cultivating strong and mutually beneficial relationships with the producers we work with is an integral element of our craft. On our most recent trip to Colombia, we had the unparalleled opportunity to check in with one such producer—Wilfredo Ule Vargas at Finca Alcatraz. Unrivaled not only for the quality of coffees he provides us with year after year, Wilfredo is also our first direct farm relationship, the first coffee producer to instill his trust and offer his friendship in our earliest days of sourcing green coffee. The past five years working alongside him have flown and we’ve witnessed our partnership grow and flourish.

Picturesque views of Finca AlcatrazOn our most recent trip, we had the opportunity to check in on the maturation of his recently planted Bourbon trees, now dense with cherry. Bourbon, arguably one of the finest varieties of coffee in existence, dates back to the early 1700’s on Réunion Island (then Île Bourbon) off the coast of Madagascar. The seeds traveled there from their origin of Yemen, and have since served as the genetic foundation for many varieties prevalent today. Upon our visit, Wilfredo had just finished drying a small quantity of the first semester of harvest, a few cups of which we roasted, tasted and savored. This coffee will be an absolute gem when it lands stateside, one that we cannot wait to get into our roaster and subsequently, to you.

From Huila, we traveled to Quindio, Colombia to visit some other coffee producers who have been working tirelessly to increase their level of quality, with remarkable success over the last few harvests. Many of these farms are threatened by leaf rust, a fungus that thrives under a specific set of climatic and environmental conditions and has the capacity to destroy entire farms. To counteract this international epidemic on a local, regional and national scale, many Colombian farmers are now planting disease-resistant coffee varieties. In Colombia, the most common disease-resistant variety is called Castillo, which has been bred to possess great cup character, productivity, ease of cultivation, and disease resistance.

Perhaps the biggest difference in harvesting a variety like Bourbon vs. Castillo is discernible in the ripening process. While Bourbons ripen to a deep red in color, Castillos are best when left on the tree for slightly longer, eventually ripening to a deep purple. This seemingly minute factor can determine the difference between a good and a great coffee. A longer ripening time for Castillo can result in more robust sugar development within the cherry, and thus, a greater coffee. Each step along the coffee supply chain requires meticulous care, dedication and hard work. We truly never cease learning and growing alongside our wonderful producers.

At Sightglass, we take the utmost care in delivering you a cup of coffee that is always exceptional. It’s our daily work. Ultimately, we are at the end of the chain that starts the moment a cherry is picked off the tree. Trips like these aid in making that chain seem shorter and our connections with our producers ever-stronger. It is in nurturing this bond and strengthening our understanding and connection with our farmers, their unique challenges, and their coffees that ultimately allow us to practice and share what we love each and every day.

 

Dispatches: Tanzania, Uganda & Rwanda

East Africa is one of those places we can never wait to visit, and always feel quite sad to leave. Like the coffees themselves, this part of the world is incredibly unique, with innumerable opportunities for exciting growth. We have recently returned from a sourcing trip through Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda and have much to share!

On this trip, we spent the majority of our time visiting with some of our favorite Rwandan producers and washing stations. To our amazement, Rwanda has experienced a harvest two to three times larger than last year’s! From some preliminary cuppings, we’re anticipating that the Rwanda Kageyo—hitting coffee bars this holiday season—will be a real standout. We have purchased exceptional coffees from Kageyo in the Ngorororero District of western Rwanda in the past and continue to be blown away by the remarkable quality and characteristics of their coffees.

Rwanda1

In addition to a week in Rwanda, we explored some major coffee-producing regions in Uganda and Tanzania. These countries have been harvesting and exporting coffee for decades, and have optimal climates and topographies for producing specialty coffee. While it still may be some time before we see world-class single producer micro-lots out of these regions, many producers are well on the path as perceptions begin to shift towards prioritizing quality over quantity. Imagine yourself a farmer with coffee trees. For decades you and your family have harvested coffee cherry and have subsequently taken it to a buying station in your town. You receive a payment for each delivery, determined by the weight of the coffee cherry and subject to the ever-changing coffee commodity market price. Without a tangible incentive or premium provided for quality coffee, you will most likely continue to prioritize volume.

Young Coffee TreesWhat we have seen time and time again in various countries throughout the world—and what we see taking shape now in East Africa—is a paradigm shift towards the de-commoditization of coffee on the small scale. Farmers are beginning to deliver coffee to new specialty exporters who pay premiums for high quality coffees. Many specialty exporters are introducing farmer training initiatives and providing tools, fertilizers, and other farming support. Here, we are witnessing the beginnings of a more sustainable supply chain, one that we believe will continue to grow and evolve over time. Exciting things ahead!

Market Happenings: New Location & Schedule!

Summer is just a week away and with it, the return of so many seasonal favorites at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market— nectarines, figs, blackberries, summer squash and sweet corn to name a few! In August, we celebrate our second anniversary as a Saturday vendor at the truly dynamic community and farmer focused marketplace that we’ve come to regard as a third home. With this milestone, we also introduce some exciting new market changes and growth. We have relocated our coffee stand to the front plaza of the historic Ferry Building and have added Tuesdays to our schedule! Tuesdays and Saturdays, you can peruse all the fresh, seasonal bounty of our fellow vendors and simultaneously enjoy a carefully prepared coffee, espresso or a bag of beans to brew at home.

Mark your calendars, friends. Our new market schedule:

Tuesdays 730am – 2pm
Saturdays 8am – 2pm

As always, thank you for your continued support and we hope to see you sometime soon!