Sourcing sound coffee for Watergate Bay
Fincas Mierisch is a Nicaraguan coffee company established in 1908. A family business, the company cultivates and processes several varieties of coffee harvested from nine different farms around the country. One of those farms is Los Altos. And Los Altos coffee is what you will find in the cafetières at Watergate Bay. It’s also one of the coffees in the hotel’s summer espresso blend, which you can taste in the cappuccinos and lattes it serves. The espresso blends change seasonally, using beans from around the world when they’re at the best.
Like all the coffee at Watergate Bay, Los Altos comes to it via Origin – the Cornish coffee roasting company that sources its beans from a collection of passionate and highly skilled growers. Here we catch up with one of them – the excellent Erwin Mierisch
Erwin, what hat do you wear at Fincas Mierisch?
I wear a few hats, but my main focus is on quality control and research. My father and sister, Eleane, are the ones tackling the day-to-day management. I also work closely with the Cup of Excellence, a prestigious international coffee award. Given my exposure through the award to international roasters, I have learned what most markets look for. So I’m the one in who looks around the globe for new homes for our coffees.
What you have learned aside, what makes you good at what you do?
I would say curiosity and a forced patience. Forced, because it sometimes takes four years to see if a coffee works and the flavour potential it has.
Describe the flavour of Los Altos filter coffee
Los Altos has a very clean cup, with a sweet aftertaste. It’s got good stone fruit acidity and a red cherry and plum flavour. The good acidity makes Los Altos perfect to drink as a drip, filter or Chemex roast and even as an espresso roast.
How do you drink yours?
While there is a lot of cupping and tasting, most people are surprised when I tell them I only drink one or two cups a day. My favourite way of enjoying a coffee is with a Chemex – a simple coffeemaker that makes for a nice ritual and a great, clean cup.
There are lots of ways to make good coffee. But what makes a good barista?
I would say cleanliness is the biggest factor, followed by good focus and attention to detail. It is important for baristas to get to know their coffee so they can extract as many flavours as possible each and every time they brew a cup.
What are you looking for as a judge for the Cup of Excellence awards?
The technical answer: we are searching for the best coffee produced in that particular country for that particular year. The best coffees tend to be the ones that are the sweetest and cleanest in the cup. The sweeter coffees are those that have been harvested at their optimal ripening. The clean cup is a result of proper processes during the wet and dry mill. The short answer: a coffee that jumps off the table screaming, that encourages me to try to mimic its flavour either through variety or process.
You’re a former engineer. Your father was a medical doctor. Eleane was a nurse. Is coffee farming an art or a science?
What it takes for coffee to reach 85 per cent of its potential is a science. The last 15 per cent is an art. As for our other careers – from our experience, coffee farming has not, and for the most part still does not, provide an income that one can entirely depend on. So it’s always good to have a backup trade or a diversified agriculture business.
What makes an income from coffee farming insecure?
The toughest things to manage and the things that keep you up at night are production swings due to Mother Nature and price swings due to factors including commodity hedge funds, traders and currency strength. It would be great to find a sustainable pricing mechanism, but there is no clear way to do so.
What does coffee mean to you?
Coffee to me is a never-ending journey to improve our process and our crop – a journey on which I have enjoyed the company of many people who share in that goal. It’s also, of course, all the fabulous tasting cups of coffee I’ve had along the way. Coffee is more than a morning beverage, that’s for sure. It’s the biggest driver of my country’s economy and therefore the livelihood of most of the people around me. It is Nicaragua’s number one export; a very large percentage of our GDP and the largest provider of jobs in the nation. ‘Sustainability’ is more than a buzzword for us – it’s the only way.
Finally, what does ‘artisan coffee’ mean?
In my opinion, it’s a combination of effort and final product. Someone is producing artisan coffee if they are striving for excellence at every step. But because there are so many flavour preferences around the world, the person drinking the coffee is the only one that can make the final judgement.