Las Brisas Nicaragua

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In 2012, I quickly became enamored with Chicago-based Passion House Coffee Roasters. Considering the caliber of the coffees that I sampled from them, it was impossible to avoid.

Now it’s 2013, and I’m really looking forward to the coffees that Passion House is going to be roasting in the future. They had some truly incredible coffees last year, and a lot of people took notice.

I started reviewing nearly every one of their offerings, then I included them in the Great Coffee Exchange of 2012, then other bloggers and coffee enthusiasts (like Jamie and Randy) fell in love with them and even included them in their Top Coffees of the Year lists, and even Roast Magazine dedicated a nice spread to them in one of their issues.

Now, even our good friends at MistoBox have taken notice of this tremendous roasting operation and included them in the March Box!

Passion House—you’ve come a long way, baby.

Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we are sipping a cup of Las Brisas Nicaragua, from Passion House Coffee Roasters in Chicago, Illinois. Feel free to pull up a chair.

Hugh and Kay Force, retired some time back to the highlands above Matagalpa, Nicaragua, where they bought a small, rundown coffee farm. Over the last several years they have greatly improved the farm, where they now also harvest bananas, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, limes, and tangerines from the trees that provide shade for the coffee.

The coffee is picked daily during December and January, the peak of the harvest. The ripe coffee berries are run through a bicycle powered machine to remove the fruit. The coffee beans are left to soak and ferment over night.

The next day the beans are washed and spread out on screens so that any rejects can be spotted and discarded. The beans are then bagged and hauled over a jeep road to Matagalpa where they are consigned to a benificio that will take on the final drying and grading of the beans and the “cupping” of the coffee.

In addition, they also have a small herd of Jersey milk cows. The cows contribute manure and bedding to the compost pile which fertilizes the coffee, and in return they get to eat the discarded coffee fruit. From the milk that they get from the cows, Kay makes about 20 pounds of fresh cheese, called cuajada, every morning. The cheese and whey and some milk are sold to the surrounding community.

Most of us would consider Hugh and Kay’s living conditions to be Spartan, but by rural Nicaraguan standards they are very comfortable. From my perspective, they are running a well disguised community development project.

In Nicaragua jobs are hard to come by, let alone from considerate employers like Hugh and Kay. They supply full time employment to a half-dozen residents of the surrounding community and seasonal employment to about 15 coffee pickers. The cheese and milk they sell contribute a source of high quality food in an area where borderline nutrition is the norm. In addition, Hugh and Kay set an admirable example of careful husbandry in a fragile landscape. They also help neighboring subsistence farmers by supplying transport, storage, and financing for the bean harvest.

the basics:

origin: Matagalpa, Nicaragua
farm: Finca Las Brisas
elevation: 1140-2000 meters above sea level
cultivar: Catuai Rojo, Java, Caturra
process: fully washed, patio dried
certification: standard

the coffee:

The aroma of this coffee is light, delicate, and fragrant. Las Brisas is named appropriately, because the aroma is a lot like a gentle meadow breeze, lightly brushing against the nose and filling my nasal passage with the scents of a Midwest prairie. It is very tea-like—chamomile, specifically; notes of rose hips, orange blossoms, and lilac, with faint traces of raw cocoa nibs, cane sugar, and honey.

This is a full-bodied coffee that features a light and airy mouthfeel, like marshmallow, and a dry fruit/savory/floral sweetness. In the cup, I’m picking up the rose petals, cane sugar, and honey that were in the aroma, but there are a lot of other flavors happening too: sweet golden wheat, nougat, cherry pipe tobacco, a light dusting of powdered cocoa, and plenty of dried fruits like dates, raisin, orange peel, currants, prunes, and mixed berries.

As the cup cools off, the dried fruit seems to get a little juicier, more lively. The light airiness of the marshmallow melts to a smooth, buttery mouthfeel; muted raisin sweetness that greeted my palate in the beginning of the cup shifts to something more like a currant, before finally becoming juicy cranberry; the nougat and raw cocoa nibs taste much more like creme brulee; the cane sugar and honey transitions to a creamy caramel; a smack of cashew finishes off each sip. Meanwhile, a sharp grapefruit acidity erupts in the middle of each slurp, flooding over the palate and washing it clean, leaving nothing behind save a sparkling clean finish.

Full body; airy marshmallow mouthfeel, transitioning to buttery mouthfeel; sharp grapefruit acidity; clean finish.

the bottom line:

The Las Brisas Nicaragua, from Passion House Coffee Roasters, is an exceptional cup of coffee. It’s delicate and refined with a lot of complex, unique flavors, and it is very, very delicious. What is most satisfying about this coffee, though, is that, even though it is delicate and has a lot of complex flavors, they are very easy to pinpoint and identify.

The other thing that makes this coffee so special is its story. The Pulley Collective—the folks who brought this coffee to the States—took a serious hit when they lost 23 bags of this coffee to Sandy and an even bigger hit when they decided to pay the farmers for the bags regardless. It’s a real shame, but I have to applaud The Pulley Collective for being proper; after all, it wasn’t the farmers’ fault that their product was lost. They deserved to be compensated for the year of hard work that they put into this coffee.

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