This is some dirty green. My friend Rachel — a filmmaker and lover of coffee I have known since the Victrola days when she used to come in and study while I worked — brought this back from her last trip to Haiti. Rachel's documentary on the U.N. intervention in Cité Soleil, a slum Port-au-Prince, is in the post-production phase. Insane woman that she is, one gigantic project not being enough, she's been toying with the idea of a big coffee project, too.
I can't say exactly the form this project is taking, since we don't really know yet ourselves. But at the very least, we'd be following the coffee all the way from the trees to the cup, enlisting some help from a third party for importing and roasting in between. But before we can even get started on all that... we had to see what we had on our hands.
Rachel brought me this completely unsorted, natural-process coffee when we met for lunch last week. Needless to say, it needed a little cleaning up. I like sorting coffee... so this was the fun part. You can see here what I took out with just one cursory run-through of a 300 gram sample.
I saw a lot of "full blacks" in this sample, which worried me. Usually a defect of this kind will ruin an entire cup. If I was seeing them in abundance, there was a chance this coffee might never be clean enough to be nice. There was some severe insect damage here and there, but overall not that much considering this sample had never once been sorted. Rachel asked her friends in Haiti to get her some coffee... they went to a warehouse where dry cherries were being stored, the hulled them on the spot with a mortar and pestle and sifted out what you see here. That's it.
So after a bit of labor, I was left with this...
Keep in mind this is natural coffee. The goal isn't 100% uniformity in color. Those orangey looking beans are just beans with the silverskin still on, turned red from being dried next to the fruit. The important thing is I threw out all the leftover hulls and full blacks and full sours and the like.
Still, I wasn't sure how this would taste. I roasted up two samples, one to a "cupping roast" and the other to about a Full City Plus. I took it over to Rachel's place off Central Park West and we had a little cupping session (after she showed me the first ten minutes of her film, which she said was full of flaws but it looked great to me... guess I'll stick to evaluating coffee). To make things even harder on this coffee, I brought the only other fresh-roasted natural-process coffee I had around, which just happened to be the SMS Korate Sidamo which just won first place over all in the Ethiopia Limited competition and which I scored a 94 in Addis.
So how did it do? I won't lie and say it performed better than the Korate. But it was surprisingly good. Good overall sweetness. No problems with fermentation or vegetal tastes or phenol. It was a touch woody, but only a touch. And there were nice chocolate and fruit aromatics. It's good coffee! It's clearly mostly ripe cherries, properly dried. This was a huge relief. It's one thing to take on a huge, complicated multi-year project. It's another thing to do it when you are starting at scratch with no quality.
Incidentally, I noticed from a little poking around that the main response to the drive for quality in Haiti has been to introduce wet processing mills in a country where 90% of the coffee is sundried natural. There is a definite equation out there that says: sundried = inferior. I saw this in Ethiopia too. Another thing that I have seen is that with proper care, sundried = dynamite. The washing-station projects are awesome. My friends and benefactors at USAID did an amazing thing with the creation and marketing of "Haitian Bleu"... check out some great reports here and here. But all I am saying is that this is clearly not the only way to go. Haiti has a unique tradition. It needs improving, but no sense in throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Who knows what will come of the project? Rachel needs to finish her film first. In the meantime, we've got six more pounds of green if anyone else wants to try this.