I had a too-quick trip to Puerto Rico for a few days for a conference last week and the best thing happened… I opened Instagram and had a message from Christopher Lopez, who I recognized as a coffee guy I follow, but who I didn’t know had recently started roasting coffee AND lives in Puerto Rico! He made the big drive to the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar where I was “stuck” and hand-delivered a bag of his coffee to me! It was the coolest thing and he is a super nice guy. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to hang out with him more!
Christopher has only been selling coffee for a few months under the company name of Rustic Coffee Roasters. He said his grandfather used to grow coffee on a small plot of land but we didn’t get a chance to talk about that much. It was a quick visit. He gave me a bag of his medium roast coffee, which comes from the area of Las Marias, Puerto Rico. Unknown to a lot of people, Puerto Rico grows more coffee than Hawaii even, although most of it is not what most would consider “specialty coffee.” That may be changing. That being said, Puerto Rico has some of the same challenges as Brazil when it comes to coffee. The elevation is relatively low, and for a long time it was commonplace to remove shade trees from coffee plantations so coffee would grow more easily and have higher yields. Low altitude and lots of sun means an easy life for the coffee, which doesn’t yield as interesting of a cup as coffee grown in more challenging environments.
Other than that it comes from around Las Marias, Christopher’s website says this coffee is Bourbon and Caturra varietals, is washed, and grows around 1,800 feet (550masl). You can order this coffee directly from Rustic Coffee Roasters for $12/12-ounce bag with a variety of whole bean or ground options.
I prepared this coffee both using my notNeutral pourover and AeroPress. They were mostly similar although I did pick up a few hints of fruit in the AeroPress that I didn’t notice in the pourover. This coffee rode in my carry-on backpack all the way back to Kansas City with me, so I got to smell fresh coffee most of the way home! Interestingly, this coffee has a big fish odor after grinding, but that isn’t totally uncommon and rest assured, none of that fishiness comes out in the aroma or flavor of the brewed coffee, so no worries. As far as I’ve been able to figure out with my research, fishy smells can come from coffee either from old beans that are becoming rancid (this coffee was roasted on 6/19, so that’s not the case) as well as when too much heat is applied in the roaster too quickly. Apparently, in this latter case, caffeine can be broken down into other amines (a type of organic chemical found in lots of foods) that can have a tuna or fish-like odor. So, this may be a sign of hitting the beans with too short of a roast or too high of a drum temperature when they drop, but I am not much of a roaster, so who knows? What I do know is that none of that gets into the coffee!
Other than the Yaucono (a big local PR brand) coffee served at the hotel (which, really, was surprisingly good and is the best hotel coffee I’ve ever had) I had, this is the only other Puerto Rican coffee I’ve drunk, so my frame of reference is small. I would liken this Las Marias to a Brazilian only with less nuttiness. It has low acidity and, to Christopher’s credit, this is unmistakably coffee! There is a solid coffee bitterness up front and then sugary sweetness takes over the second half of the sip. There is some carbon in the flavor and overall it has a drying sensation on the palate for me. People who don’t like acidity in coffee should give this a shot for sure.
In the AeroPress I got slight hints of fruit as the coffee cooled but not enough to really even identify what I was perceiving. I’d be interested in trying this same coffee with Christopher’s dark roast because sometimes when the bean itself doesn’t have a ton of its own inherent character it’s a good opportunity to take the roast a bit darker and enhance the sugar development and roast characteristics. Overall, I found nothing wrong with this coffee. It’s not super exciting, but I suspect that has to do with the climate and the beans rather than Christopher’s roasting. One can only do so much with what is already happening inside the beans! Some PR coffee growers seem to be interested in replanting shade and aiming for the specialty market, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in Puerto Rico coffee over the next ten years. I also look forward to trying more of Christopher’s coffee!