Coffee Questions: What is Terrior by Caleb Savage

Every so often, we get a question at the bar related to coffee or our thoughts on coffee that we feel should be discussed on a larger platform. We started a series of posts called Coffee Questions where we try to answer those questions and leave as a resource to anyone looking to learn more about the industry, brewing, or anything else! Click here to check out other posts in this series!

For our October Palate Training, we tried some Dick Taylor Chocolates from Madagascar, Belize, and Brazil and discussed the role different environmental effects have on the outcome of coffee, chocolate, and most other plant products! Factors like what variety of plant is being used, where the coffee is grown, sunlight and water received, and other decisions being made by farmers can all make a significant impact on the quality of the your morning cup of coffee. We can wrap all of those ideas into a single idea: terroir.

Terroir. /terˈwär./ Tear-wah. Yes, we’re bringing French to the blog. Pardon.

Overhead Coffee Mug Wood.jpg

Are Red Delicious Apples even Moderately Delicious?

I don’t think so. I’m more of a Granny Smith fan. Gala is okay, but save the Red Delicious for applesauce. I don’t want it. What’s with the apple rant? Gala, Granny Smith, and Red Delicious are all varieties of apples. We can categorize them under that broad category of “apple” and you recognize them as they are, but no one would say that a Granny Smith apple tasted the same as a Red Delicious apple. Like apples, coffea arabica, the species of plant we use to make coffee has dozens of varieties grown around the world.

How does variety affect coffee?

Thanks to World Coffee Research, we can learn more about the different Arabica varieties, their susceptibility to various diseases, and other information farmers making decisions about profitability would be concerned with.

The variety of coffee plant grown can have a significant factor in the outcome and profitability of coffee, but it’s not the only factor.

Elevated Sweetness

In general, the higher elevation a coffee is grown, the better we will be able to achieve more sweetness & better developed flavors in the cup. Why?

Because temperatures are lower at higher elevations, coffee cherries mature more slowly which allows for more and more complex sugars to develop in the fruit. These sugars get stored in the seed that ends up becoming what we know as roasted coffee beans and when brewed, result in sweetness in your espresso or coffee!


For coffees grown at lower elevations, farming decisions like shade and controlling access to water can mimic the benefits of higher elevation.

Care Creates Quality

At the end of the day, terroir is the set of environmental factors that affect the quality of our end cup of coffee, and more importantly, the sustainability of our industry, and the profitability of coffee producers.

For most coffee farmers and producers, developing coffees to their fullest potential is about increasing profitability and providing for their families and employees. This dedication to quality leads to higher premiums for their coffees and recognition from the coffee community. Therefore, a producer armed with the right tools, knowledge, and experience can temper potentially negative environmental concerns to cultivate excellent coffee.

We love getting to share great coffees with you every day. These coffees come from roasters, importers, producers, and farmworkers working hard to ensure that only the best is harvested, sorted, roasted, and brewed for you. If you’re curious about learning more about the coffees we serve, just ask a barista next time you’re in the shop!

Hacienda La Esmeralda by Steve Willingham

Hacienda La Esmeralda is made up of four farms in Boquete, Panama owned by the Petersons, a world famous family of coffee producers. This fame comes from the phenomenal quality of their geisha coffees with clear floral and fruit notes that make for an outstanding cup.

Photo Courtesy of Hacienda La Esmeralda

Photo Courtesy of Hacienda La Esmeralda

A Brief History of Esmeralda

In 1967, Rudolph A. Peterson decided to retire and purchase a couple of farms from a fellow named Hans Elliot in Boquete, Panama. Back then, it was mostly cattle and eventually dairy. Coffee was there too; in fact, it had been growing there since 1890. It just wasn't a focus.

In the mid-1980's, the Peterson family decided to diversify by focusing on the coffee plantation. In 1988, they took a big step by expanding their farms to include Palmira. In 1997, they expanded again by purchasing Jaramillo, where they first planted the geisha variety in an attempt to battle a fungus, Mycena citricolor, also known as Ojo de Gallo or Rooster's Eye. When the variety showed resistance, they spread the plant to the highest elevations where they noticed the extreme flavors and sweetness. They began meticulously separating the lots of coffee in an attempt to find the absolute best coffee.

Then, in 2004, they shocked the coffee world. A coffee at the Best of Panama sold for a record $21 per pound! And that's the green coffee price! By the time it's exported, imported, and roasted, you're looking at $80+ per pound. This was the beginning of a craze that hasn't stopped yet. By 2007, it was selling for around $130 per pound, and back in July of this year, a natural processed geisha lot from Cañas Verdes brought in $601 per pound, setting yet another record. 

What's next?

The Petersons are constantly testing, learning, growing, and improving. The demand doesn't seem to be waning and neither does their passion. Right now, they're testing over 400 accessions (sub varieties) of coffee on their El Velo farm. Their constant dedication means we only have better and better coffee ahead of us.

Photo Courtesy of Hacienda La Esmeralda

Photo Courtesy of Hacienda La Esmeralda

This weekend, we'll be featuring a blend of coffees from Cañas Verdes, Jaramillo, and El Velo roasted by our friends at Heart Roasters for $8 per cup. We hope you'll taste orange, vanilla, honey, and jasmine. And we hope you'll be as impressed as we are.

To read about the last time we featured a geisha coffee, check out this old blog post. And to get a cup of this, come by today or tomorrow!

Kenya Kamwangi and Coffee Varieties by Michael Power

This week at Clarity Coffee we will be featuring multiple coffees roasted out of two different locations! 

First, from Heart Coffee in Portland Oregon we have the Guatemalan, El Guatalon and the Ethiopian, Nano Challa. Both of these excellent coffees are fully washed in their processing. 

Secondly, from Tweed Coffee in Dallas Texas the El Durrembe from El Salvador and the Kamwangi AA from Kenya. 

We will put the spotlight on the Kamwangi for a second and talk about this interesting coffee. Let's back up just a bit and do a quick overview of how coffee is grown, starting with a a thirty thousand foot view.

Coffee beans are grown in cherries produced by coffee trees. Like all fruit, there are different varieties and even species of plants used to grow fruit and coffee is no exception. Coffee species can generally be broken down into Arabica and Robusta. Robusta is an entirely different plant species that is not commonly used in specialty coffee. When talking about specialty coffee, we almost exclusively assume all coffees will be grown from the plant species Arabica. Diving further into Arabica, there are a vast number of different varieties of cherries (bluntly categorized into natural mutations or man made.) A majority of these varieties are regionally specific for certain agricultural needs and where they might thrive (altitude, plant disease, access to water, etc.) In Kenya, respectively, the varieties SL-28 and SL-34 are most common, both of which make up the Kamwangi. What is uncommon (but is quickly becoming more common) is the third variety that makes up this coffee, Ruiru 11. This is what the focus will be on, so If I have peaked your curiosity, stay with me while I get even nerdier.

Ruiru is the scientific culmination of SL-28, other Arabica varieties, and a Robusta variety. What Robusta lacks is what we call "cup quality". Basically it just does not taste that good. However, Robusta is a much easier coffee plant to grow. Bringing this all back together and why this is a good thing for Kenya, SL-28, prized for it's incredible "cup quality", is met with a coffee species that is highly defect and disease resistant! Over the last few years, Kenyan coffee has seen harsh agricultural seasons because of their susceptibility to plant disease and leaf rust. These improved agricultural practices allow Kenya not only to grow a more disease resistant coffee but a lot more of it.

For more information on this coffee (or any coffee) stop by the shop, sit at the bar, and ask any one of our baristas questions! While we love making coffee, we also love talking coffee! As always, these coffees will all be available on the retail shelf! 

Finca Santuario - Red Bourbon and Geisha by Steve Willingham

We're stoked about two special coffees we're going to have on bar this Saturday. In past years, I've been a big fan of the coffees I've had from Camilo Marizalde's Finca Santuario in Cauca, Colombia. This year, Intelligentsia Coffee has two varieties from that farm, Red Bourbon and Geisha, and we are super excited to bring them to Oklahoma City.

Finca Santuario. Photo courtesy of Intelligentsia Coffee.

Finca Santuario. Photo courtesy of Intelligentsia Coffee.

Just to be clear, when we talk about varieties, we're talking about the sub-species of the plant coffea arabica. The variety a farm chooses to plant has an impact on the taste, yield, and disease tolerance their trees will have. Red Bourbon is a favorite in the coffee world because it is a robust plant, with a really high yield, and it can produce a delicious, balanced coffee with great body and sweetness.  

Geisha, however, is much harder to grow, so you won't see it around as often. Geisha is sort of a high risk-high reward variety. It gained popularity back in 2004 when a Geisha yielded a high price at the Best of Panama auction due to just absolutely crazy flavors, intense floral aroma, and tropical fruit acidity. Since then, demand has increased greatly. Farms have tried to meet the demand, but it doesn't always work out. Starting a new plantation of trees can be costly and takes years to produce enough fruit for harvesting, and since Geisha needs a very particular climate, there's no guarantee the plants will thrive in the conditions of the farm. While it comes at great cost and risk to the farmer to grow, the green coffee has been known to sell at upwards of $100 per pound in certain auctions because the flavors are spectacular.

Geisha at Finca Santuario. Photo courtesy of Intelligentsia Coffee.

Geisha at Finca Santuario. Photo courtesy of Intelligentsia Coffee.

Finca Santuario first planted Geisha trees eight years ago and have watched closely as they've improved the cup quality. Tomorrow, we're going to see exactly what difference that makes. Try a cup of Red Bourbon for $4 and Geisha for $8. The Red Bourbon is also available in 12 ounce bags for $20.75.

In the Red Bourbon, look for papaya, cherry, and toffee; in the Geisha, look for lots of floral notes, peach, plum, and maple syrup.