December 15, 2015

Sasa Returns

To serve coffee to the farmers who grew his Sudan Rume

By Habib Maarbani

In March 2011 a seedling was planted 1,900 metres above sea level on a mountain on the west range of Los Farallones de Cali, Colombia.

It was the first of 18,000 seedlings to be planted on what would come to be known as Finca Las Nubes, “the farm in the clouds”. Finca Las Nubes is one of the farms associated with Café Inmaculada, founded by the Holguin Ramos family (Julian Vicente Holguin, Santiago Holguin and Andrew Holguin) and Camilo Marizalde.

These seedlings were from a lineage of coffee trees known as Sudan Rume originating in Sudan, having found their way to Colombia through the work of Cenicafé, a Colombian Government organisation dedicated to the research and development of coffee growing in Colombia. Like all coffee trees, the Sudan Rume younglings would require attention and care for the first few years of their lives in order to harness the full potential of their varietal and unique microclimate.

In July 2014, on a cupping table alongside other exotic varietals like Laurina and Geisha from Finca Las Nubes, these Sudan Rume beans had the opportunity to lure in a coffee hunter from Australia searching for unique and interesting coffees for his specialty green bean sourcing company Project Origin. Sasa Sestic recalls his experience of tasting Sudan Rume for the first time like he was meeting an amazing woman out of a crowd: “She was the one. Really sweet, elegant and clean, with an amazing silky body. She’s the one you want to marry.”

Excited by this coffee, Sasa discussed it with Camilo, who mentioned an experiment he’d done with processing natural coffees in sealed stainless containers, highlighting distinct flavour notes and intensifying aromatics. But there is a risk that the beans could potentially develop funky notes or lack cleanliness in the cup. With that conversation another seed was planted; the seed of an idea.

Taking samples back to Canberra, Sasa continued to cup and enjoy the Sudan Rume for her overall qualities, clarity and elegance, but felt there was still potential for her to shine even more. At one of the regular wine nights held by Ona Coffee, Sasa’s wholesale roasted coffee brand, Tim Kirk of Clonakilla Winery in Canberra attended, and serendipitously they got talking about the processing of grapes in stainless containers and how wine producers manage the development of positive attributes whilst managing negative ones in this process. “It’s called carbonic maceration,” Tim said. “We pressurise the containers with CO2 and make sure fermentation takes place in an environment with stable temperature, so we don’t attract bacteria that are responsible for the development of things like acetic (vinegar-like) acidity.” And a light bulb lit up in Sasa’s head.

Sasa asked Camilo to replicate this process with his Sudan Rume beans after depulping and test the results. He enlisted the help of the great team at Banexport, of whom Camilo is also a representative. Banexport is a company created by Jairo Ruiz to do more than just arrange the exportation of Colombian coffee. It has programmes that help farmers improve quality with the help of agronomists like Elkin Guzman, and it develops the skills of its cupping team so they can accurately assess and improve coffees they buy and sell. One of their cuppers, Wbeimar Lasso, also recently won the Colombian Cup Tasting Championship.

Several experimental processes were done with varying fermentation and drying conditions and times. Cherries were pulped in the wet mill with minimal water, then placed in stainless containers, pressurised with CO2 to remove oxygen, then placed indoors to keep the coffee below 22 degrees Celsius and maintain humidity at around 45%. Once fermentation was complete, the coffee was rinsed, sorted again and then dried on African raised beds in an environment with fans for controlling temperature and removing moisture from the bean surface. The drying process is slow to ensure the parchment on each cherry remains intact, thus protecting the incredible qualities developed in the beans.

This coffee delivered as part of an exceptional barista presentation saw Sasa Sestic win the 2015 ASCA National Barista Championship for the first time in his seven years of competing. Though elated by the win, Sasa had no real time to celebrate. Even at the after party of the national competition Sasa had begun working on improving his presentation for the World Barista Championship (WBC), just four weeks away.

But this article isn’t about barista competitions, it isn’t about the eighty-hour weeks of training and refinement in the lead up to the WBC, and it isn’t about Sasa winning the 2015 WBC. This article is about the cycle of producing exceptional coffees and bringing them to the world, and it’s about ensuring all the hands involved in that chain are recognised.

True to the vision of Project Origin – to develop coffee communities in producing and consuming countries by sourcing specialty coffees and connecting everyone in the chain – after winning WBC Sasa began planning a trip to Colombia, to continue work with the Banexport and Café Inmaculada teams and also to deliver his WBC performance for the last time ever, to those working at Finca Las Nubes, those responsible for nurturing and developing the Sudan Rume trees that gave him his WBC winning coffee.
The drive up to Finca Las Nubes is an adventure. The city of Cali sprawls itself out at the foot of the mountains, demonstrating its status as the second biggest city in Colombia. Winding roads that hug the mountain on one side and fall away dramatically on the other twist their way skywards. And occasional homes dotted along the roadside double as bars and restaurants, where locals congregate to enjoy the view.

Our 4WDs halt on the red-dirt road and equipment is unpacked and set up, ready for Sasa’s performance. A two-group machine, Anfim grinder, tables and water tanks have all been lugged up here for this.

Perched at 1,900 MASL, overlooking Cali with an incredible panoramic view of mountains draped in ever shifting cloud, the Café Inmaculada team gathered. But, of course, microclimates are fickle things, and within minutes it began to pour with rain and the wind picked up. But it didn’t matter. We had the small shelter, the equipment set up, and each other, a group of passionate coffee people huddled under one roof for the same purpose, to share specialty coffee.

At the sensory judging table sat Julian Holguin (son of Julian Vicente Holguin), Jamil Hallasso (Julian Vicente’s nephew), Jesus Salazar aka “Chucho” (the man in charge of Las Nubes), and Manuel Bravo, who has been working with the family for many years and was responsible for the initial planting of the whole project of Café Inmaculada, including planting the first Sudan Rume trees on Las Nubes in 2011.

Sasa called “time”, and with that simple word began to deliver the same performance to the workers and owners of Finca Las Nubes as he did to the WBC judges just three months earlier.

The cycle of specialty coffee, of nurturing, growing, sharing and improving that curious little bean, continued that day. And through the tireless work of Sasa and his ever-expanding network of passionate and dedicated coffee professionals the world over, that cycle will continue for a very long time.

About the author
Habib Maarbani is the business development manager for ONA Coffee and Project Origin. With over a decade of experience in the coffee industry, he now spends his days working with Sasa Sestic sourcing green beans and helping coffee communities flourish both in Australia, in the cafés the ONA team services, and in producing countries, with the farmers that supply Project Origin green.


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