Sump Coffee is leading the charge of specialty coffee from their awesome cafe in the Marine Villa neighborhood in St. Louis’s South City section of town. I had one of the best espressos and probably the best cortado of my life when I visited a couple weeks ago (read all about it). Sump Coffee owner, Scott Carey, also hooked me up with a bunch of small samples to share with my readers, of which I am very grateful for! Those two drinks made me a big fan of Sump’s espresso and milk skills, so let’s see how I like their brewed coffee!
I decided on the Las Lajas Alma Negra for my first review of these Sump Coffee samples. This is a natural coffee that comes from the Central Valley region of Costa Rica and I was amazed to learn what a special place Las Lajas is. After reading up on them I feel like they are to Costa Rica what La Palma y El Tucan is to Colombia, bringing innovative practices to this traditional industry. Las Lajas specializes in natural and semi-pulped or “honey” processing of coffees.
You can buy this coffee right now from Sump for $17/10oz bag and it is listed on their website for purchase currently. Don’t wait!
This particular coffee consists of Caturra and Catuai grown around 1450masl by smallholders working Las Lajas’s organic farms. Las Lajas is a micromill that handles coffee from these smallholders and can also separate them into microlots. Las Lajas is one of very few farms dedicated to organic and sustainable practices and their honey and natural processing further eases their impact on the environment by using little water.
Because the fruit of the coffee is so important in honey and natural processing, they are very cognizant of the ideal time to pick the cherries, aiming for a certain Brix measurement, which is the sugar content of the mucilage (the so-called “honey”) surrounding those lovely coffee seed/beans. They aim for a 21-22% Brix when they harvest. 1
This particular coffee uses Las Lajas’s Alma Negra process. Talk about a hardcore name for a coffee! Alma negra translates to “black soul” in English! How great is that? According to the Cafe Imports reference page (which outlines Las Lajas’s other honey processes, too, like “red honey,” “black honey,” etc), the Alma Negra process only turns the coffee cherries a few times per day on the raised drying beds. I can only assume based on this information, as well as the name, that the cherries probably turn black and raisin-y looking as they dry out as a result of this type of handling. You can see how dark the cherries get using Las Lajas’s Perla Negra” process in the photo, so those Alma Negra coffees must look really crazy on the drying beds!
In any case, this coffee rocks. The dry aroma on it reminds me of something between Frankenberry (strawberry) and Booberry (blueberry) cereals with that sweet, berry aroma that are so often found in naturals. That comes through a little bit in the brewed coffee aroma, too, but it is far less obvious.
Don’t go into this coffee thinking it’s going to be just like an Ethiopian natural that is dripping with strawberries and blueberries because it’s not quite that obvious. That being said, there is a lot more of that sweet fruit/berry character in this cup than in some of the central/south American naturals I’ve had. It’s sort of an in-betweener. People who find too much ferment in African naturals may find this coffee more to their liking.
As a 1:15 pourover in my Gino dripper I found this coffee to be relatively clean for a natural with blackberry and plum flavors predominating, along with a decent hint of strawberry. The mouthfeel was simultaneously very juicy, especially as it cooled and opened up, and super silky. I haven’t had another coffee all year that had that type of mouthfeel. As the coffee cooled down it brought up the acidity which was wonderfully sweet lemon. Lots of perfumey florals came out of this cup, too. I didn’t measure the temperature but this coffee really came together for me when it had substantially cooled down, so my recommendation is to not be in a hurry with this coffee and allow it to cool down, open up, and develop. It’s super delicious and has beautiful flavors and complexity when you let it show itself off!
I used the second half of my sample to make an AeroPress, which was good, but not nearly as good as the pourover. This is a unique coffee, especially for a natural… complex, clean, bright, silky, juicy, sweet, fruity. I mean, come on! I enjoyed this enough that I’m not on the hunt for Las Lajas coffees, just like I am for La Palma y El Tucan Colombians!