“What Do You Taste?” Ed. 2

Despite graduating from East Carolina University four short months ago, Reid and myself recently found ourselves in the classroom setting once again, only this time, not as Pirates of ECU, but as students of Stockton Graham & Co.’s Coffee College. With so much to learn about in the world of coffee, we started class with the very basics, beginning with where exactly the beans are grown. Although coffee can be grown just about anywhere with a tropical climate, we learned that there are three main regions that provide the world with a majority of the coffee that we drink. For the next three weeks, I am going to attempt to learn all there is to know about each of these three regions and explain to the best of my (new and rising) knowledge, the specific affects that these regions have on the beans that they produce.

This week’s region is Latin America, and without a doubt it is the largest coffee distribution region in the world. Latin American coffee is grown from southern Mexico, all the way through Central and South America to Peru. It is also very common in the plateaus of Brazil, as well as some Caribbean Islands. In this region there are more than a dozen major countries that contribute to the coffee distribution industry including Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and more. The tropical climate and mountainous landscape of Latin America is ideal for growing all types of coffee plants. Ranging from standard-grade Robusta coffee beans to high quality gourmet Arabica coffee beans, this part of the world produces it all.

With the amount of counties in this region that produce coffee, there are some differences and similarities when it comes to growing and harvesting coffee. Central American countries grow their coffee in soil with high amounts of volcanic sediment in it, while traditional South American counties are grown in more of a rainforest environment. Though there are two main growing environments that are very different, the coffee beans are related in the fact that they are all typically grown at a high altitude. With the exception of Brazil, many parts of Central and South American grow coffee beans in the mountains, at highs of 5,000 feet or higher, which give the beans high amounts of acidity and citrus to their flavoring.

Another common characteristic that Latin American coffee beans share is the process that the beans undergo after they are harvested. This process is called wet processing, and it is the process of removing the cherry from the bean, soaking the stripped bean in a ceramic pool for fermenting purposes, and then leaving to dry before removing the thin membrane remaining around the bean. Wet processing also contributes to the amount of acidity and citrus that these beans commonly contain.

Brazil, on the other hand, is a bit unique from the rest of the region when it comes to growing coffee. They tend to grow their coffee at a much lower elevation due to the shorter mountains in the Brazilian landscape. Brazil also typically uses dry processing, which mean they dry the cherries without stripping or soaking the beans. Once the cherry is in a raisin form, the beans from inside the cherry are then collected. The drying processes, as well as the lack of elevation, produce a low acidic and citrus content in Brazilian beans.
Here at Stockton Graham & Co., we distribute coffee beans from five different Latin American counties, and with those beans, we produce dozens of different coffees, ranging from single origins, to organics, decafs, swiss water processed, and blends. The classic coffee of Latin-America is typically, a bright, lively acidic and a straightforward cup. They provide what for a North American is a “typical” good coffee experience, one that has now come to be a favorite of many all around the world.

Matt Hogan
Stockton Graham & Co.

Updates from Origin

Stockton Graham & Co. has summarized some of the situations faced by our friends and buyers in the growing regions that we purchase coffee from.  We have tried to ensure the statistics are from the respective coffee export organizations in each country.


Colombia has been in the news a lot lately regarding their harvest. Estimates for the 2010-2011  cycle are being reported as the smallest crop harvested in nearly 30 years with producers blaming two years of severe weather and too much or too little rain at the wrong times.

For instance, in one of the largest coffee producing provinces, severe weather from too much rain and then cloudy conditions have caused the trees to not flower and pollinate properly making the humid, wet conditions ideal for the broca to proliferate in large numbers, thus damaging the growing coffee cherries.

Broca is a small flying insect that lays eggs on the coffee cherry and whose larva destroys or damages the seed (coffee bean) within the cherry. Normally, in this province broca damage is limited to 1% to 2% of the total harvest and levels this year are estimated to run 8% on average.

Coffees in Colombia typically have one large flowering that allows for better pollination and for cherries to mature more consistently at the same time, but with heavy rain, pollination is occurring in smaller, more irregular intervals.  These made it harder for the flowers to pollinate and caused the cherries to grow and ripen at different times.

The smaller harvest has caused prices for Colombian coffees to be much higher than in previous years. For instance, coffee exports from Colombian for the month of October 2009 are off 37% from 2008 levels.  The reduced supplies and unknown impact of the next year’s harvest have led to higher prices for Colombian coffees.


The Kenya coffee harvest is being impacted from one of the worst droughts in recent memory, leading to a lack of available Kenya coffees for export.  The main harvest production is estimated to be down 30% from prior year levels.  Harvesting of the main crop should last several more weeks.

Kenya typically produces a second smaller crop known as a “fly crop” and is picked several months after the main crop.  They have been blessed with some short rains that have helped on flowering and will hopefully help with a slightly higher fly crop harvest estimate.  Farmers are waiting to see if the drought conditions weakened the trees so much as to not allow them to support a good fly crop.

Hopefully, we can get an update in a few weeks as to cherry setting and better fly crop harvest estimates.

Central Americans

The new crop for Central American coffees is being harvested now and into early next year.  Our importers have been reporting higher prices for these coffees and heavy buying of coffees from Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador to help make up for the shorted Colombian supplies.

Jeff Vojta
Stockton Graham & Co.