THE HONDURANS ARE VISITING!

By James Guard
on June 28, 2017

Courage is different things. One thing it is is not accepting ‘well, that’s just the way things are’. The unbearable itch that forms the forward momentum of wanting to take steps to change something that is unacceptable. That always moves me, when people who have every reason to give up, just don’t.

Those who take that turn away from accepting defeat and then take steps toward a different option. The courage to choose that despite what everyone else sees, you see something better. That courage to see something better, to break the inertia of accepting defeat, opens the way for something to change. To be better.

 It was this vision and courage that led a group of coffee farmers to turn and move away from a stagnant commercial coffee market in Honduras, that saw farmers receiving little return for their work. COMSA had a vision, for a community that looked after each other, the earth that produces their coffee, and the children that that are the next generation of coffee famers. Being a Fairtrade co-op meant the price they received for the coffee was stable, and rather than that being an end itself, this stability provided a platform to build infrastructure geared up to producing fantastic coffee.

Central and foundational to COMSA’s (Café Organico Marcala S.A) vision is the use of organic practices that do no harm, and in fact feed the land from which all the coffee is grown, a revolutionary use of organic methods and processing that simultaneously blesses the earth, preserves water, creates masses of bio diversity, and encourages the growth of some darn fine coffee!

We’ve developed a freakishly serendipitous relationship with COMSA, from being found by Suita, offered some samples, loving the coffee, buying some, going on a somewhat impromptu visit to Honduras, and then being blown away by the sheer quality and scale of the coffee growing and processing, and now buying some more for this year, including a couple of stunning micro lots!

Those Micro-lots are from David Chavez, and Miriam Perez, two of the original rebel alliance that took up the gauntlet of intensive organic farming, and focusing on growing sensatioanlly tasty coffee.

Soooo…here’s the really exciting bit! Rodolfo Penalba, the GM and co-founder of COMSA, David Chavez a farmer who's also the president of the COMSA’s board a pioneer and passionate educator, our mate, and organisational legend Suita, and the people who run the COMSA school, are visiting Manchester from the 11th-14th July!

Now, this would be exciting in its own right, but as it happens, (and this is another Serendipty momement…) one of the coffees we chose in our blind cupping was a beautiful washed coffee from Don David Chavez, and we also chose a natural from Miriam Perez, a funky stunner from an awesome woman, who also happens to be Rodolfo’s wife!

Sooooo come join the family, cup their coffees with them and absorb some of that deep coffee farming knowledge!

11th July 7pm

At Rise at the back of Grindsmiths Deansgate:  We are going to have an evening of panel discussion around the issue of sustainability in coffee trade, with COMSA, Fairtrade and couple of respected peeps from the speciality coffee trade. This will be free, but we’ll do an event brite for it, as numbers will be limited! The panel will be Rodolfo, Howard Barwick (Head Buyer Bewleys UK/Grumpy Mule), Holly Bowman (from Northstar Coffee in Leeds)

And we'll have someone from Fair Tade there too.

With provenance and origin story being so important to Speciality Coffee...its a chance to really dig into this idea of fair 'ethical' 'direct' trade of coffee, and what this actually means to the farmers, hearing from the farmers themselves!

 

13th July 6pm-10pm:

We are having a cupping event with difference at the roastery, the main difference being the farmers will be there! We are going to set up all sorts of interactive stuff so we can really dig into the elements that influence how coffee is grown and processed and how this is fundamental to its character and flavour. We’ll also be brewing and pulling shots…well, you will!

The cupping will be structured, and there will be a talk about COMSAs organic vision and how this contributes to flavour. However, we also want to leave lots of time for you to just hang out and socialise, brew their coffee with them and chat to some awesome coffee brains, and ask all those questions you’ve always wanted to ask coffee farmers about!

This event will be ticketed £10 each, and will include a bag of coffee. All the proceeds will go towards Team COMSA’s travel costs. We’ll send out the Event Brite for it very soon.

 

 

 

 

Trip to Honduras March 2017

By James Guard
on April 11, 2017

The story of how we met Suita Manuela Diaz Nolasco (she picks which bits of that name she uses on any given day!) Is on the Web shop page for Honduras Serendipia which also explains why its called that!

Suita Manuela Diaz Nolasco. Honduras Coffee Brain.Suffice it to say that this young woman has great vision for how speciailty coffee can benefit the lives of coffee farmers all over Honduras. Her family is involved all sorts of aspects of coffee production in different parts of the country, with her uncle Radolfo Penalba (in the main pic for this post) responsible for starting the COMSA co-op that we visited in Marcala, in La Paz, in the South West of the country.

His vision for excellence and organic coffee production is a huge inspiration and is something Suita would like to see taken up by other coffee farmers and co-ops around the country.

 

Our path towards the trip started when Suita visited the roastery, gave us some COMSA coffee to try, which we just loved. We found a way of shipping some over. So far so good! But how did we end up having our minds blow in Honduras? Well now...there's a story...

Whilst Suita was over here studying, her parents and auntie came to vist, so we thought it would be rude if we didnt give a chance for people to meet them, so we organised an impromptu 'meet the farmer' event at Grindsmiths.

 

It was an excellent event, and after some initial nerves, the family warmed up and gave a brilliant insight into the dedicated work and persistence of vision that this family have displayed for 30 years or so.

 

 

It was actually quite an emotional event, with a deep connection felt between passionate coffee people from both ends of the chain. The family said that we should come visit Honduras, so how on earth could we refuse? It was a brilliant chance for a few mancs to land themselves in the middle of a coffee dream world and walk the farms and processing mills where all the flavour comes from.

Santa Barbara

26 hours of flights later, Suita picked us up at the airport and we drove five hours south to Santa Barbara, to stay a night with her auntie and family. We arrived at dusk to be welcomed with a barbecue, beers, and a little tour of the beneficio...the family mill where coffee cherries are washed and dried.

There was such a welcoming atmosphere, and to be put up for the night in the family home in the middle of a beautiful coffee farm was such a privilige. It didnt feel like a tour. It felt strangely like home, because we all care about and make our livings from coffee.

 COMSA, Marcala.

The next day we walked the farm, I inherited a hat, we said our goodbyes and jumped in the 4x4 to drive down to Marcala....

 

We arrived at night and woke up to a stunning vista.

 

 Fortaleza is the organic farm that COMSA run, the base for all their education and where the amazing lodge for visitors is. You wake up at six in the morning...(we're not going to talk about cockerals...just leave it) and its warm and its beautiful and you have 3 days of fully immersive coffee ahead!

 

 

The simple premise of COMSA is based on the idea of Finca Humana...which when translated as Human Farm sounds a bit like a B horror movie, but the idea is, put good stuff in, and you get good stuff out:

 

 

 

 

 

"Work on the plots, begins with the selection of seeds, seed care, nursery, planting, etc .; In this sense, human farming starts with children, is where working with partners COMSA and community focus. The children are the true allies for the future, for that reason should feed your brain with important information, with healthy practices, sports, music, science, art, agriculture, love, respect, self-esteem."

Radolpho Penalba, COMSA general manager.

 

 

 

We met so many awesome and inspiring people! Like this guy! Oscar Omar Alonzo. When he originally took up the gauntlet to move from conventional to organic speciality coffee, it was a very hard time for Oscar. His yield dropped and the new organically grown crops took a few years to become fruitful. He told us that he was in a particularly dark place, but then, he had a vision of bicycle. You must keep going forward, keep everything in balance...then you will be succesful.

 

 

He actually has a tandem that becomes a real life ride on metaphor for working together and keeping everything in balance! And of course, he has named his farm Finca Cual Bicicleta...Like a Bicycle!

 

 

 

He's an amazing man, and loved meeting Kieron who was with us! Mr. Carney, a humble dude who works his ass off training for Baxter Storey, and has placed in the top 10 in the UKBCs for the last two years, who Oscar insisted having his picture taken with. Mutual respect for people who have a passion for beautiful coffee!

 

 

 

 

Cafe Organico Marcala has over a thousand producers, all producing organic coffee and the co-op mill has exceedingly high standards on the quality of the cherry that is accepted into the massive wet mill opreation. Some producers also have micro lots that are either dried on the producers farm, or centrally at the mill.

 

 

The farmers will all produce both good quality cherry that is processed centally and combined into complete lots

 

 

 

 

 

 

And also micro-lots that are either dried on the producers own farm, or centrally.

 

 

 

There is a strong focus on education, and there are some genius methods employed to see organic processes used from seed to harvest to processing and even using the cleaning solution used for the machinary at the mill!

 

This is Don Roberto, general manager of the wet mill, who was very proud and passionate about how they combine live micro-organisms with the water residue from the washing process, let it ferment, then it can be used as a highly effective cleaning agent! We ate a little to prove the point that the solvent is so safe, you can eat it! Safe....but doesn't taste all that amazing!

 

Organic Vision!

The organic production means that the land the COMSA members grow on is incredibly well looked after and nourished...I've never been so enthused about soil! But a session with the agronomist responsible for the production of the fertiliser used at the co-op sorted that right out!

 

The short version is, traditional mass produced fertilizers kill the soil, dead earth requires more chemicals pumped into it to produce anything, but whatever grow will be dull and lifeless, because the soil is dead. No minerals, no flavour. 

 

 

 

 

 

 So COMSA produce an incredibly rich fertiliser that recycles coffee pulp, the water that is kept from the washing station, instead of draining into the land, ground up rocks and micro organisms from the forests around the co-op, and other organic matter. Its put into sealed barrels to ferment, and brews into life giving soil enriching goodness!

 

 

The result of all this, is a co-op where everything is built on well nourished hearts, minds and soil! The natural bio diversity and thriving flauna and fauna mean a wealth of happy insects cross pollinating all over the place, contributing to flavour developement in ways that blew my mind!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The co-op continually re-invests in infrastucture that improves the quality of their processing, like this astonishing bank of raised beds for the controlled drying of tasty tasty microlots....

 

 

 

 

 

 And a beautiful polytunnel of immaculatly processed natural coffee. And believe me..."beautiful polytunnel" is never a phrase I would ever have envisaged using...but it was.

 

 

 

 

At the end of the day, all this only matters to us as a roastery if we find something magical in the cup. And to be fair, it was no surprise whatsoever that the tables of coffees we tried when we were there revealed some absolute stunners!

The quality control at COMSA is rigorous, and we were excited to see what lots were going to be possible for us to buy. We're only little, so its not like we can wave a hand and take the lot...but there was sooo many goodies! The range of flavours and cup profiles on the table was astonishing! Kid in a candy store vibes...I brought back about 30 samples to try with Sean at the roastery...

 

 

 

I like this picture cos it was when Sean, who's been a licensed Q-grader for over 6 years, slurped and reslurped and slurped again...and one particular micro-lot drew a fair number of expletives that are probably not suitable for descriptors to go on labels. It goes down as one of the most complete Central American coffees we've ever tried!

 

 

The four of us had the most inspiring, thought provoking and for me, really quite moving time. There is such a deep connection between the way the community at COMSA look after each other, the earth and their coffee, it's all interdependent, in a holistic way the depth of which blew me away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We've bought three different coffees from COMSA that arrive in few weeks, and we're gonna have a party when they do! You're all invited!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting into Acidity...

By James Guard
on April 30, 2016

Sean set up a really great little workshop at the roastery...I love learning new stuff! Drawing on his CQI Q grader training, he set out tasting samples of Citric, Malic, Lactic and Tartaric acid.

We had 3 different levels of citric acid to taste, from relatively pleasant to lemon suckingly sour! Then there were the four different solutions to slurp, then we mixed some low acidity Brazil in with a few of the different acids, and had to pair them up...reallly hard!

For me it was fascinating to slurp on the different acids, then find taste memories of various coffees and origins come flooding back! For example, the malic acid, tasted of sour green apples, then a sense memory coming through of tasting coffees from El Salvador or Nicaragua. The sharp citric acidity of course brought to mind lemons, and that sort of clean lemon taste Ive found with some great Kenyan coffees. Tartaric was tricky and the dryness of it was hard to pin to a coffee, but the cranberry/rasberry quality finally dug its way through my brain to remind me of Guatemalan!

The really interesting one was the lactic acid, which seemed very flat compared to the others, but Sean mentioned it in reference to a good Brazilian...and then it made sense! There was much more of a texture, a mouthfeel to the lactic acid, which did have sense of coating the roof of the mouth, like a yummy buttery Brazilain, or other coffee with pronounced viscosity...

Anyhoo...just a few refections on a really interesting exercise, and one I am sure we shall be running more of!

James

 

It's been a heck of a year...

By James Guard
on February 01, 2016

It was a while since the last blog post. 2015 kind of took off on a trajectory we couldn't predict, we sourced, roasted and packed a lot of coffee.

 

As well as growing as a roastery we also learnt a lot. We've both been around coffee a while so know a few things, we also don't know a lot. Every week should be a journey of learning and development. Development is an interesting thing to us roasters. To us it would be finding the newest, most complex or unique coffees.

 

One thing that has consistently come up in the past year has been the need for stability and consistency. Countless businesses we work with want great coffee, that's a given when working with speciality roasters. More and more we see people needing  super reliable delicious espresso.

 

It almost seems counter intuitive to us but constant boundary pushing and flavour development isn't always the most important. Sometimes it is being able to deliver an awesome product week in week out.

 

Of course we will always push boundaries and try to stretch our abilities as roasters, it's why we do what we do. But we will also always be dedicated to delivering the specific flavour profiles you love, week in week out

A city style and the upward trend

By Sean Fowler
on October 07, 2015

Back in June I wrote a small blog post about the growth of Manchester, obviously focusing on coffee. 4 months on and it has become even more pronounced in my mind of a real shift in the quality and care going into sourcing better coffee by many places that would a year ago have served the cheapest possible beans. 

Business at Heart and Graft is much the same. We are still sourcing coffees that we love, roasting them well and delivering them to our lovely customer base. Business is growing alongside the cities growth and life is good. 

My thoughts have gone onto Manchester's style of coffee. The general trend is upward; moving upward to serve better coffee, more care in training baristas and generally an attitude to coffee that is more considered. 

Will Manchester be swept up along in the general trend of speciality coffee across the UK or will it forge it's own path in the coffee world?

I have no idea, although if history is anything to go by Manchester is used to forging it's own path.

  

High Road Espresso

By Sean Fowler
on July 22, 2015

When we launched in February we had an already established blend in Barnraiser that worked it's magic and had done for as long as James had been roasting it. The heavy chocolate led flavours we get out of this blend needed a partner in crime, something brighter and lighter to offer our customers and prospective customers.

We came up with what we initially called Heart & Graft Espresso. A blend that had caramel sweet notes with a good deal of brighter citric acidity. This worked for us for a while but there seemed to be a nagging feeling that we needed to change and evolve again fairly quickly.

James and I soon came to the realisation that we both wanted to do the same thing. We wanted to use what we called "Heart & Graft Espresso" as a testing ground and playground to get experimental with coffee.

And thus High Road Espresso has been born. This coffee is all about harnessing everything that is beautiful in coffee. Our brief is fairly broad taste wise. It must be sweet, clean in the finish and be bright in it's acidity. Other than that anything goes! From month to month the flavour profile will change slightly around this broader profile, showcasing the depth and breadth of flavours the coffee world has to offer.

Typically it will be whatever single origin we cup at HQ and like the best. Or maybe it will be a particular blend that we like. Who knows, all we know is that it will always be taking advantage of using the best ingredients the seasons have to offer. We hope you enjoy the ride!! 

Manchester

By Sean Fowler
on June 01, 2015

I'm sat writing this early in the morning. I can see a slice of the city through the window of my kitchen/living room. There are lots and lots of cranes hovering over new and half constructed building sites. The city is growing every day.

With it is the need for, not just more but better coffee. It's changed since I started coming to Manchester about 7 or 8 years ago. A handful of places back then doing what we love doing really well, getting amazing coffee to more people.

Now more and more people want to learn, have a need to know more about the beans they brew and why they taste great compared to the other stuff they used to buy.

It's exciting to be into a project 6 months and see a noticeable shift in the way people approach the product you work so hard on.

Good work Manchester, we'll be looking forward to seeing what's in store for the next few years

From where we start...

By James Guard
on May 21, 2015

I started roasting coffee in my garage about three years ago and worked as a barista at Coffee Fix at the same time. Working with Gareth and Claira was such an important learning time for me…the coffee alumini of Manchester people who have benefitted from working there is pretty darn impressive. Meanwhile they keep on truckin making kiddies milkshakes and awesome beans on toast as well as exceptional coffee, cos that’s how they roll!
I worked hard on my espresso blend, Barnraiser finding a caramel and chocolate style espresso cos I wanted to provide something that would be a rich satisfying spro, but also make a yummy moreish milk drink. It’s the coffee I was carrying when I was trawling around West Didsbury trying to get someone to try coffee. I walked past Greens and saw that Simon Rimmer fella off the TV sitting quietly doing some work whilst the restaurant was shut, er so I disturbed him by knocking on the window and saying (well, mimed the words) “Im a coffee roaster” !! He kinda took pity on me and came to the door, opened it ever so slightly whilst staying safely behind it, and gave me a chance to talk to him about what I wanted to do. I’ve been supplying there ever since and they’re ace.
Then there was the time this bloke called Luke who ran a coffee van outside the Trafford Centre got hold of me wanting to try some coffee. Luke had about 15 different bags of coffee from roasters all over the place, including a few from America. He also had developed a dosing technique that included holding the portafilter at the perfect angle for the wind to blow the grinds into it…knew I like him from that point! Another fella called Pete started working with him occasionally and a couple of years Grindsmiths was born and I still get to work with them, and its awesome to see them go from strength to strength.
About this time last year I started looking for somewhere to move out to. I did love roasting in my coffee loveshack at the end of the garden but needed more space and wanted to be able to have people visit in a more fit for purpose sort of environment. I ended up looking round an old lightbulb factory in Greengate on the Salford/Manchester border that some artists had taken over and were turing into studio spaces. I loved the feel inside the building and felt like the sort of space you could use your imagination and build stuff, so I spent the summer working with a few people begging borrowing and bartering for time and materials, and spending all the money I had and some I didn’t on the most awesome coffee roaster I could buy. As a coffee roaster, it’ll be the basis of the business for years to come, so it was worth betting the farm on and being creative with everything else!
The name Heart and Graft just sort of came to me when I was trying to think of a way of creating an umbrella name for me as a roaster working with Jay Matthews from Uno Espresso as a service partner. It was just two words that sum up my experience of working in coffee and also the soul of this extraordinary city.
I talked James Walker who has developed the Coffee Circle design over the last few years…and before I knew what was happening, It was alive and running as a brand idea! It was all on a hunch! Then I met Sean Fowler, a proper coffee pro he was the youngest Q grader in the country until he trained his own replacement at roast giants Lincoln and York. Sean was moving to Manchester and wanted to keep working in coffee and build his own thing. We had a few chats and came to realise we pretty much shared the same vision. So as it turns out, Heart and Graft is his as well. The guy has a big heart, daft sense of humour a phenomenal palate and loads of experience and nouse for his age! He has a different roast style to me as well, looking for those bright sweet flavours which is brilliant cos I lean more to the more deep chocolate style. This is being best demonstrated in our espresso. We maintain Barnraiser as the more traditional deep chocolate notes thru milk style, and our as yet unnamed “Heart and Graft Espresso” is lighter, more fruit sweet driven.
I still love the daft theatrical names and the Baz Luhrmann black and gold designs of Coffee Circle, and so it will all stay as a side project...just another one of the things we do out of Heart and Graft. If you find it confusing, believe me so do I sometimes! Sorry and bear with us and itll all make sense at somepoint. Whether Heart and Graft or Coffee Cirlce, its all me n Sean looking for fabulous flavours and sharing the coffee love!

Another Manchester coffee friend and Cup North founder Hannah Davies suggested a latte art throw down a couple of weeks ago, so we cooked up a big paella, had a load of beers and did a sort of Fight Club does Latte Art style event. Very informal, which is how we want all future events to be. Approachable, fun, inclusive open to baristas, enthuisasts and the coffee curious. It’s a community thing!
So we’ll see what we end up building. It’ll involve yummy coffee, looking after customers and Manchester!

First Post

By Sean Fowler
on April 23, 2015

We're here!

In what has been a whirlwind start to the year we have now got the website up and running for you all to enjoy. There will be all the latest blog updates from us, news of upcoming events and the web shop for all our newest arrivals and old favourites.

So stay tuned and check in regularly! If you find yourself in Manchester give us a heads up and come along to hang out at the roastery.

Peace!

James & Sean

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