Square Mile Coffee is ten years old in just a few days time and what better way to celebrate than with excellent coffee?
That’s why we’ve come up with our Ten For Ten series; a celebration of both our ten-year milestone and some of the most memorable coffee releases that have helped us get here.
Ten for what?
It’s all pretty simple. On the first day of every month from now until the end of 2018, we’ll be releasing a coffee from our Ten For Ten series. Crucially, all of these coffees have been voted for by you or picked by our team here as stand out coffees from our last ten years of roasting.
Basically, we’re playing our greatest hits! Ten coffees, ten months, ten years.
It’s been a blast to revisit farms or co-ops we’d fallen out of touch with, rekindle old relationships and see how their current crops perform.
Not only that, but each coffee in the series will have a special, one-off label. These are designed to be collected and kept on a special edition, ‘sticker book’ wall poster. Panini, eat your heart out!
Getting your hands on one of these posters is easy – we’ll be shipping one for free alongside every bag Musasa (the first Ten For Ten coffee) that we sell. Note, though, that this offer only stands for the first coffee in the series. We’ll also be supplying our cafes with a poster for every bag of Musasa they buy, so don’t worry if you pick up your coffee from a cafe rather than our website, you’ll still be able to get hold of a poster.
Stick with us for the full series and you’ll be able to complete your poster – we’ll even have a little treat lined up for anyone who’s got a full map come December!
Without further ado, we’ll introduce you to our first coffee: Musasa. We’ll also be keeping this post updated throughout the year as each coffee gets released, so be sure to check back each month.
Month 1 (March) – Musasa
We love this coffee from the Musasa Dukunde Kawa co-op in the highlands of northwestern Rwanda, which we last bought way back in 2012.
This lot is from the oldest of the co-op’s three washing stations, which is located in the Ruli sector of the Rushashi district. At 2,000 meters above sea level, it’s one of the highest stations in Rwanda and was built in 2003 with a loan from the government and support from the USAID PEARL project.
The co-op has 2,148 members, employs around 30 full-time staff and during the season, the place is buzzing with almost 300 part-time hires. The manager is Valens Ntezimana, and he and his team manage an incredible amount of detailed administration for every member and every delivery.
After fermenting the hulled coffee beans in water for 12 hours the crop is graded by floating it through washing channels to weed inferior, low-density beans out of the crop. The coffee is then soaked for another 18-24 hours to stabilise, before drying on raised beds. During the drying phase of 12-16 days, the coffee is systematically turned, checked over and sorted by teams of women who remove any defective beans.
Once dried to exportable standards, the coffee is moved to the co-op’s new dry mill in Kigali, where each lot is cupped by the in-house quality control team. The co-op takes great pride and care in producing their coffees and over the years they’ve placed numerous times in the Rwanda Cup of Excellence, further testament to the team’s consistently high-quality work. Special thanks to Mercanta for supplying us with images from the Musasa Co-op.
Month 2 (April) – Rainha
The second instalment in our Ten For Ten series is the queen of Brazilian coffees herself, the Rainha Estate from just outside Poços de Caldas. We’ve been visiting Rainha since 2014 and it is one of the most organized and beautiful farms we go to each year thanks to its sprawling rolling hills and impressive buildings.
A near-annual finalist in the Brazil Cup of Excellence, Fazenda Rainha is the most award-winning farm in the Sertãozinho groups’ portfolio. Under the general management of agronomist Jose Renato Gonçalves Dias, an agricultural engineer with a specialization in coffee production, the 280 hectares of coffee trees benefit from a combination of geography and climate perfect for the production of high-quality coffee. About 200 hectares of the land is planted with Yellow Bourbon trees, while the rest is a mix of mostly Icatu, Yellow Catuaí, Mundo Novo and Acaiá.
Balancing production and conservation of environment at all times, the cherries are harvested at peak ripeness and processed at their large, well-equipped mill. Surrounding the mill and patios are the homes of Rainha’s employees, who reside on the farm itself (thus eliminating temporary hiring) and are aided by health plans, access to childcare and unlimited hospital care. The farm has even built a branch of the Pedro Roza IT School on its land, and commissioned architect Oscar Niemeyer to design and erect a staff chapel; a gorgeous, softly curved white building perched on a ridge overlooking the expanse of the farm.
The environmental policy of Fazenda Rainha is based on combining and balancing production and conservation of the surrounding natural resources. The coffee harvest only takes place during peak ripeness, meaning the pickers pass through the fields several times returning to the same trees many times over to collect only the ripest fruit.
The cherries are hand-picked over a drop cloth placed on the ground in order to avoid contact with the soil. After being harvested, the coffee cherries are either washed, pulped or processed as naturals. Washed and pulped coffees are spread thinly on courtyard patios for drying, done slowly and in full sun until the beans reach 11% humidity. After drying, the coffee is conditioned in wooden granaries to stabilize, homogenize and rest before export.
One of our best Brazilian coffees of all time, we’re very proud to share this coffee with you once again!
Month 3 (May) – Quebradon
For our May Ten for Ten coffee, we’re going back to one of the earliest Colombian coffees we ever purchased, the Quebradon. The coffee is a blend of beans from a group of twenty producers in the municipality of Palestina in Huila. The area where the producers are located used to be one very large farm, Hacienda El Quebradon, established in 1860 by wealthy landowner Lorenzo Cuellar.
When he passed away his 16 siblings inherited the land, and they, in turn, started selling off parcels to settlers who were arriving in the region looking to start their own farms. Back then the area was more known for rubber than coffee, but over time the mix of crops changed, and today Palestina is known to produce some of the best coffee in Huila. Helped by high altitudes and shade from plantain and cedar trees they benefit from two harvest cycles per year, and our lot is from their main harvest which runs October to December.
While the producers in the Quebradon group are so small it’s hard for them to market their individual coffees, it is still possible to trace some lots back to individual farms. This lot is from a lady called Graciela Rodriguez Ospina, who grows Tabi, a variety obtained by crossing Typica, Bourbon and Hibrido de Timor, on her two-hectare farm, San Francisco.
Her mother, brother and sister also have their own farms nearby, and together they help each other with management, harvesting and processing. From her farm, she has beautiful views over a nature reserve, which helps support the natural diversity on her own farm as well.
She uses plantain trees for shade to make sure her coffees are protected from the strong sun and follows the traditional methods for fully washing and fermenting the coffee in tanks. The drying takes place on patios that are covered with net curtains for shade and can take as long as 25 days pending weather conditions.
Month 4 (June) – Reko
The Kochere region of Yirgacheffe is home to several of our favourite coffees, but Reko managed to earn a special place in our hearts with its sheer deliciousness and as such is our June Ten For Ten coffee.
Reko is a washing station at the foot of the Reko mountain that towers over the Kochere area. Climbing the mountain is no easy feat, and it’s named for the difficulty it poses any aspiring mountaineers – Reko means challenge in the Afaan Oromo language. The founder of the Reko washing station, Masreshu Sima, considers it his personal challenge to grow and produce the best possible Yirgacheffe coffee, and named his project accordingly.
Since it was founded in 2013, the factory has grown to a membership base of around 850 farmers. They collect ripe cherries from their individual farms multiple times per week during the October to January harvest season and deliver to Reko for processing. There the coffee is pulped using cool water from the nearby river and an old Agard pulper and sent to fermentation tanks where the parchment rests for 26-48 hours, depending on how cold or hot the weather is.
Any remaining mucilage is scrubbed off as the coffee is sent through washing channels on it’s way to the drying beds, which are mesh covered tables on the hillside where the coffee drains of water and dries in the sun. The drying takes 10-12 days and is carefully controlled so the coffee doesn’t get too hot under the midday sun, or wet from dew during the cold nights.
While the coffee is drying, teams of sorters pass along the beds several times over, moving the coffee around, picking out defective or damaged beans and turning the crop to ensure even drying.
All this meticulous care in handling the coffee results in repeatable success for Reko, which has become an example for neighbouring stations. A lot of effort goes into training staff and farmers and implementing stringent protocols at all levels to ensure the best possible outcome. The cherry selection is also very strict, and the station tracks lot deliveries at several points to ensure they can address any issues or pinpoint strategies that are particularly successful. The managers at Reko control every step of the process to ensure that the challenge Mr Sima set himself is met, making Reko one of the best coffees from Yirgacheffe we know of.
Month 5 (July) – Kagumoini PB
We couldn’t make a selection of ten of our most memorable coffees of all time without including the Kagumoini PB! This washing station in Nyeri has some 1,000-1,500 members, each with smallholdings of only a couple of hundred trees each. But with the advantage of deep, rich volcanic soils, healthy average annual rainfall and shelter from protective shade plants, those trees produce very high quality.
The washing station is part of the Mugaga Farmers Society, who also cover another four factories with an international reputation for high-quality beans. The Ministry of Agriculture and various agrochemical companies regularly put on training days and field visits, and all members have access to credit facilities for farm improvements as well as help with tuition and medical needs.
We have visited this station on several occasions and have always been impressed by the diligence that the administration and managers apply to the logistics and operation of the facility.
Receiving harvests from 1,500 farmers means the station manages around 750,000kg of cherry in an average year. Separated lots of pulped and washed parchment continually move around the station, and get raked and turned on drying beds in a constant stream of new deliveries. All of the parchment, once dry, gets hand sorted again before delivery to the dry mill.
For this job the processing team sit in the shelter of a covered patio and work through piles of parchment with meticulous attention. It can take 3-4 days to sort through a delivery of 300 bags for the mill. In big harvest years, the movement of the coffee through the mill can be a challenge to organise, and space can be at a premium. However, with the profits from producing such high-quality coffee, the team are slowly investing in more machinery, more drying beds, larger warehouses and more staff during peak periods, ensuring the future for the Kagumoini station looks bright!
Month 6 (August) – Kayon Mountain
When deciding which coffees to feature in this series we very soon came up with a long list of our personal favourites. But we also opened up the floor for suggestions from our customers, and you highlighted Kayon Mountain, more than any other coffee, as having been especially memorable and delicious. Also fresh in our minds as one of our best Ethiopians, we’re super excited to be bringing it back and celebrating it as August’s Ten For Ten coffee.
Most Ethiopian coffee comes from co-operative owned washing stations that receive cherry picked by hundreds, even thousands of nearby small farmers. Kayon Mountain, however, is different, as it is a privately owned farm belonging to Ato Esmael and his family. Located in the Oromia region, Guji zone, about 500 kilometres from Addis Ababa, the family created their farm and coffee business in 2012 with the goal of growing high-quality coffee with an added focus on social and environmental practices.
The farm is about 240 hectares in size and is planted with regional landraces that are geared towards producing well in the soil and under the shade of the native forest. The clay and loam soil is enriched by animal dung as its main fertilizer. Harvest takes place between October and February, and Ato employs people from local villages to pick the cherry. He processes most of the coffee as washed – like this lot – but also produces a small amount of high-quality natural process beans.
All the parchment and cherry is dried on raised beds as its the custom in Africa, allowing the coffee to dry in the sun with air circulating freely around the coffee. Depending on the weather conditions this can take from 12 to 20 days, and during this time the coffees are continuously sorted and picked clean of any defective or damaged looking beans.
The care and skill in how Ato handles his coffee shines through in the cup and the flavour profile has that added intensity that often sets coffees from Guji apart from other Ethiopian coffees. Historically, coffees from the Guji zone would have been exported under the ‘Sidamo’ label, but believing that their location had something a little extra special about it, the local washing stations successfully lobbied the Ethiopian government for the permission to export under their own geographical distinction.
Month 7 (September) – Bosques
September’s installation brings you a coffee from a farm that we have a special relationship with, and we’re excited to welcome back every year. Sadly, this year we also receive this coffee with heavy hearts, as the owner, Francis Dalton, passed away this January, a few weeks before our annual visit. Marta Dalton, his granddaughter and the exporter of her grandfather’s coffee to the UK, sent us these words:
This season marks a passing of generations. We honour Francis Dalton, proprietor of Bosques de San Francisco. As well as his love for agriculture, Francis possessed a great big heart whose love went to helping the people in his immediate community. From taking in an elderly homeless man from outside his office to building local schools, or adopting an orphan he found being exploited in a rural town. We remember Francis not only for his tasty coffee but his outstanding humanity. This season marks a transition from the 4th generation to the 5th generation. In a time when many coffee growers are exiting coffee, we are excited to see the transition.
My grandfather was an exemplary human being, It’s a shame more people don’t share his integrity, kindness and humanity. His loss has left us with a heavy heart.
Marta’s story of living in and bringing her family’s coffee to London is a story that has come full circle over many generations. Her great-great-grandfather Manuel Matheu was one of the first coffee farmers in Antigua, starting up production on the estate 148 years ago. After a trip to London to sell his coffee, he was commissioned by the President to show small farmers in the area how to grow coffee on their land as well. This passion for coffee has been passed down for six generations. Francis Dalton with his siblings took over running the farm from their mother Elisa, who ran it until she was 94 years old. Francis ran the farm with his brother Bobby and sisters Marjorie and Jean. Bosques de San Francisco was his personal plot on the larger family farm and we’ve been buying it for the last five years, making it popular among both our own staff and our customers.
Our favourite thing about it is that it’s consistently good every year, even it if has a slightly different personality and profile each harvest. It always keeps us on our toes and excited for what the new crop will bring. This year we raise a cup to Francis Dalton and the legacy he leaves behind, and send our love to his family.
Be sure to check back on the 1st of October for the full details on our next Ten For Ten release!
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