Russilandia — anoxic pre-fermentation castillo from colombia
Finca Russilandia is owned by Heyler Guerra, the newest member of the LaREB collective. Herbert Peñaloza, Director of Sales for LaREB, who was visiting us at tōrnqvist about 2 months ago and helped folding towels and closing the shop together with a beer in the hand and beautiful talks on diversity in coffee, was introduced to Heyler by the owner of a dry mill in Bogotá. They’d had a producer the previous day who had a lot rejected by a big exporter, due to too much ferment character. This sounded like a perfect match for LaREB, specialists in slightly ‘outside the box’ lots. Herbert got Heyler’s details, cupped the lot and bought it pretty much instantly. A very complex and ferment-forward profile, but obviously very well sorted and clean, Herbert fell in love with the deep tropical fruit notes in the cup, and admired Heyler’s exacting approach to production on his farm.
Heyler has owned Finca Russilandia for a number of years, having purchased it from the original owner, a descendant of Italian immigrants with the surname Russi, hence the name of the farm. The farm is located at 1550 masl in the Southern Tolima region, not far from the border with Cundinamarca, and only a 5 hour drive from Bogotá. This lower altitude means a greater risk of pests and good conditions for the fungus that causes leaf rust, so Heyller grows a lot of the resistant varietal Castillo, a newer robusta hybrid than Variedad Colombia, released by the Colombian coffee research institute CENICAFE in 2005. Castillo was part of a Colombian government sponsored plant renewal package starting in 2008, aiming to beat the huge leaf rust outbreak that was happening at the time, so it is widely seen in coffee growing lands across the country. Often the quality of the cup suffers slightly when compared to traditional Colombian varietals like Caturra, so Heyler was forced to invest slightly more time in mastering fermentation, in order to enhance the finer qualities in the cup. He was initially given advice by an Australian-based coffee buyer, so his style of fermentation is rather geared towards the Australasian market, with heavy ferment character and a degree of umami brought on by long drying times and pre-fermentations. However, this style of fermentation was not for everyone, so his lots were often rejected by exporters. His meeting with LaREB convinced him that they were the right partners, and a good cause for him to be a part of as a more experienced and established producer of specialty coffees.
This lot of Castillo is processed using a very controlled natural method, with an anoxic pre-fermentation. The cherries are floated very thoroughly, leaving only the densest cherries in the highest quality lots. The cherries are then sealed in plastic tanks and fermented without oxygen. The lack of access to oxygen slows down the fermentation, especially the production of acetic acid, meaning that the pH isn’t lowered so quickly. This also breaks down the mucilage before the coffee is transferred to raised beds to dry still in-cherry. All of this means that much of the sugar is already broken down in a controlled environment, without introducing acetic taints, before the coffee is dried in a much less controlled environment exposed to the elements. Heyler and the team at LaREB also have a theory that keeping the cherry attached means that enzymes present in the cherry stop the seed from germinating, keeping the seed alive and leading to a cleaner cup. This is the same theory and practice that we would normally refer to as Carbonic Maceration, but Heyler and LaREB call the process ‘anoxic natural’.
This lot, the first Russilandia has exported to Europe through LaREB, was harvested in October 2019, fermented in sealed tanks for 72 hours, before drying slowly on raised beds for 14 days. The character unveiled is deep and rich, with notes of fresh honey melon and pineapple, while being kept fresh by an unusual plum wine acidity. You can see more of Heyler’s work and follow the progress of his crop on his instagram @fincarussilandia.