Blog Archives: Alec Risch

Explorer Series #02: Silk of the Gayo Mountains

In Blog, Explorer Series, Fair Trade // on June 14th, 2016 // by // No comment

Introducing the second coffee in our 2016 Explorer Series, from the north of Sumatra: Silk of the Gayo Mountains. Like our first offering in the series, this one provides a variation on a familiar theme. Our Sumatra Gayo Mountain coffee that we carry year-round is known for its full body, relatively low acidity, and deep earthy and sometimes herby flavors. Lovers of the Gayo Mountain coffee will be pleasantly surprised to find those attributes present in the Silk of the Gayo Mountains, with an additional sweetness uncommon in most Sumatran coffees.

Silk of the Gayo Mountains is the result of an ongoing collaboration between Cooperative Coffees membership and farmers of the Permata Gayo Cooperative. This project is one of the ways we are working to increase dialogue between roasters and farmers. In the coffee growing world farmers rarely drink the coffee they grow. A lack of coffee culture creates a wide gap in understanding how farming and coffee cherry processing affects how a cup of coffee tastes. Fortunately, importers, roasters, and industry groups have been working hard over the past several years to bridge that gap. Increased communication about roasters’ and coffee consumers’ preferences closes the production loop, and provides clarity for farmers about how their role at the beginning of the supply chain seriously impacts the final product.


The importer/farmer collaboration began in 2014 as a cupping workshop series. Farmers who participated in the workshop took ownership of the project almost immediately. A small number of them began experimenting at the farm level to improve quality on the cupping table. Six farmers from the community of Temas Mumanang, driven by new insight, and the sensory experience of tasting many coffees, both good and bad, developed a new and improved cup profile without straying from their traditional processing techniques. The key was understanding how cherry density affects cup profile, and developing a method to sort bad from good cherries. A simple method of floating cherries in a large container of water allows farmers to remove underdeveloped cherries from the supply chain early in the process.

“Silk of the Gayo Mountains” is how these farmers named their experimental coffee, and I think they hit the nail on the head. As I’ve mentioned, this is a very “Sumatran” coffee with full, silky body and earthy, herbal undertones. But, it has an added sweetness that really shines in the finish and lingering aftertaste. We hope you enjoy it.

EDIT: This limited-edition coffee is no longer available.

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Explorer Series #01: Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Kochere

In Blog, Explorer Series, Fair Trade // on April 9th, 2016 // by // No comment



Here is the first coffee in our 2016 Explorer Series: Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Kochere.  If you are a long-time Heine Brothers’ supporter you’ve probably noticed that we buy a lot of Ethiopian coffee.  We’ve been known to carry two or three different Ethiopian coffees simultaneously.  The reason for this is simple; Ethiopia produces many excellent coffees.  Each one is delicious and distinct from the others.  This offering from the Kochere district of Yirgacheffe is a fun and interesting standout from coffee’s homeland.

For those of you who like geography, Yirgacheffe is located east of Abaya Lake in the Bale Mountains of southern Ethiopia.  This particular lot comes from a 1,600 member producer cooperative called Hama.  In 2015 Hama farmers produced about 7 containers, or approximately 230,000 lbs. of green coffee.  Of those, one container was natural processed.  Of that container, we got our hands on two bags.


Natural, or dry-processed, coffees are common in the marketplace, but it takes extra care and attention to produce a truly special lot of natural coffee.  Without getting deep into the weeds of coffee cherry processing, let’s just say that washed coffees require a great deal more resources (i.e. water) than naturals, but to do it right, naturals require much more manual labor.

A natural coffee begins with only ripe cherries that are painstakingly sorted to remove unripes, over-ripes, and debris.  It’s traditional in Ethiopia to dry cherries on raised drying beds that are basically long tables with mesh tabletops.  After two or three weeks in the sun, the cherries are now coffee raisins.  During the extended sunbathing, the cherries infuse huge ripe fruit flavor and lots of body to the seeds within.  Once the green seeds are removed from the dried fruit it’s sorted a final time, bagged, and shipped.

We select our natural processed coffees for specific flavor notes: fruit up front and chocolate finish.  This Yirgacheffe is no exception.  You may be familiar with the washed Yirgacheffe we carried in summers past.  Its lighter body and distinct lemon and bergamot flavors make that coffee an excellent choice for iced pourovers on the hottest afternoons in July and August.  This dry processed version from Kochere adds an interesting twist to that classic Yirgacheffe profile.  You’ll recognize the lemony black tea immediately, but this time with a spritz of raspberry.

We love this coffee on any pourover method of your choice, Chemex or Kalita being ideal.  But, a French press will serve you well with this coffee, too.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

EDIT: This limited-edition coffee is no longer available.


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Introducing the Heine Brothers’ Explorer Series!

In Blog, News // on March 30th, 2016 // by // No comment


Heine Brothers’ Coffee is excited to introduce a selection of very special, small lot coffees for your  enjoyment.  We’re calling this group of coffees “Heine Brothers’ Explorer Series”, and we’ll be rolling them out throughout 2016.  Coffees selected for Explorer Series are a little bit different than our perennial offerings, representing different types of coffee cultivars, alternative coffee cherry processing methods, or unique flavor profiles.

Each of these coffees is still 100% organic and fair-trade certified, and purchased through our importing co-op, Cooperative Coffees. Cooperative Coffees’ relationship-based model of equitable trade often affords us some very exciting opportunities.  In this case, we are able to support farmer organizations who are working hard to distinguish themselves in an increasingly tight marketplace.  Many farmer driven initiatives focus on improving education and best farm management practices, creating more effective traceability systems to track individual farmers’ coffees, and developing product “tiers” that reflect both green coffee quality and specific flavor profiles that importers and roasters seek.  By contributing  technical and financial assistance for such projects we get improved access to some remarkable coffees.

We want to share with you exactly what excites us about each of these Explorer Series offerings, so we’re creating some new packaging and web content to help tell those stories.  We are working with local designer and printmaker Karen Weeks of Moxie Letterpress on some very exciting new packaging.  Each bag features details on country of origin, co-op and farmer info, coffee varietal, altitude, and of course tasting notes.  Karen has also thoughtfully included her interpretations of traditional textile patterns from specific coffee growing countries on each package.  You will also find a web address to the Explorer Series blog where you can read all about each coffee as it’s released.

We’re really looking forward to sharing these exceptional limited release coffees with you.  It should be a fun and interesting year of exploration for us and you.  Please enjoy.

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Featured Coffee: Nicaragua La FEM

In Blog, Fair Trade, News // on March 24th, 2015 // by // No comment


This month we feature coffee from La FEM (Fundación Entre Mujeres, or Foundation Between Women), from Nicaragua.  Based in Estelí, a state just east of Managua, the Foundation Between Women is a collective of tradeswomen, educators, and farmers whose one purpose is to empower and support women in what remains a largely male dominated culture.

In their own words, the women of La FEM believe in the right of women everywhere to be free from sexual and domestic violence.  They promote reproductive rights and women’s health, protection of natural resources, and economic autonomy for all women.  The scope of La FEM is wide, and includes women’s health initiatives, literacy projects, political organization, and economic development projects.  Most members of La FEM support themselves and their families by growing coffee.  They are also subsistence farmers, and have recently been developing trade schools for girls.

In about 2010, our Cooperative Coffees partner Just Coffee Coop from Madison, WI connected with La FEM, and were immediately struck by the strength and resourcefulness of the women, most of whom are single mothers.  One of La FEM’s biggest struggles since their foundation in 1995 was building a reliable pipeline to the global coffee market.  Just Coffee shared this story with Heine Brothers’ and other Coop Coffees members, and without hesitation we laid the foundation for a partnership with these farmers.

The ensuing years have been a struggle for the farmers and our relationship.  As with all other coffee farmers in Central and South America, the women of La FEM have been hit hard by la roya.  In 2013 the coffee leaf fungus reduced yields in Estelí by 50% to 60%.  The crisis nearly broke the coop.  With the 2014 harvest things appear to be turning around, both for quality and total production.  We’re very pleased to offer one of the tastiest coffees we’ve  purchased from La FEM since 2011.  It is very smooth, with a medium body and little acidity.  Overall, a nice clean coffee, that is nutty, a bit spicy, with a soft cocoa  and cherry aftertaste.  This makes a great breakfast coffee, or one that you could sip on all day.

For more on the organization called La FEM, check out the excellent video produced by our partners at Just Coffee Coop and Higher Grounds Trading Co.


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Ethiopia Sidama Natural

In Blog, News // on January 21st, 2015 // by // No comment


This month we are featuring our natural processed coffee from the Sidama region of Ethiopia. This isn’t one of our newest offerings. It’s certainly not unique to Heine Brothers’.  It’s not even a “seasonal”; we are usually able to stock this coffee year round.  But these facts and the general ubiquity of the name Sidama (aka Sidamo) among specialty coffee roasters make this coffee no less remarkable.


In fact, among Heine Brothers’ offerings, Ethiopia Sidama is always atop my list of favorites.  It speaks volumes to the expertise and ingenuity of the farmers (nearly 80,000 of them) organized under the Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SCFCU) that they are so well known in the coffee world, and produce such a unique and interesting cup profile season after season.

This natural, or dry processed, coffee is handled with the fruit on for the drying stage of processing.  The whole cherries dry in the sun for weeks until the desiccated skin resembles fruit leather.  Processing with the fruit on can be tricky, but when done carefully creates one of my favorite flavor profiles for coffee: big bodied, strong notes of candied fruit, wine, dark chocolate and other wonderful things, with a soft citrus acidity that makes the whole cup sparkle.


The farmers of Sidama Union have been processing this way for countless generations, and have it down to a science.  The coffees they produce are known for distinct blueberry, watermelon, or strawberry up front, followed by a soft wave of semi-sweet dark chocolate in the finish and aftertaste.  My favorite way to enjoy this coffee is in a Chemex, but its incredible complexity means it will be delicious by any brew method.  I make it nearly every day.

The rest of the HB Roastery crew is tired of this grinning idiot waltzing around the roastery exclaiming, “This coffee is sooo good!  So good.”  But, you know what?  I don’t care.  It’s my fave.  I tell them so, and now I’m telling you.  Hope you enjoy.



Available in-store and online.


  • Founded in 2001
  • Compromised of 80,000 members



  • 1700-1950 meters above sea level


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Let’s take a moment to appreciate espresso.

In Blog, Coffee 101 // on May 21st, 2014 // by // 3 Comments

Espresso is concentrated coffee brewed by forcing hot water through a compressed “puck” of finely ground beans.  The espresso shot is creamy, smooth, and packed with flavor.  Any coffee can be brewed as espresso.  The possibilities for flavor experiences are as limitless as your stock pile of coffees and your imagination.


Heine Brothers’ puts our own twist on classic Italian espresso blends; smoky, chocolaty, and full-bodied, but with 100% specialty grade Organic & Fair Trade arabicas.  No robustas here.  Our goal is a blend of beans that yields a full-bodied, velvety shot that can be enjoyed in your favorite specialty drink, or all on its own.


Our standard blend incorporates a dark roasted Peru for its smoky, toasty quality, a medium roasted Bolivia for its sweetness and cocoa flavor, and a medium roasted Sumatra for body and peppery bite to keep it lively.  A shot pulled from this blend is smoky and semi-sweet, capped by a thick caramel colored crema.  The aftertaste is rich and warm, and will linger long after you’ve slurped the last drop from the bottom of your mug.



Blending and testing coffees for the Heine Brothers’ Espresso blend is always a fun, eye opening, heart racing, jitters inducing part of the job.  We love it.  And, we hope you love the fruits of our labor.


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Farmers in Northern Peru Get in on Crowd-funding

In Blog, Fair Trade // on May 5th, 2014 // by // No comment


If you’ve followed Heine Brothers’ Coffee for any length of time you know how highly we value the Fair Trade system that we use to purchase coffee.  Along with our friends and partners in Cooperative Coffees, we’re always looking for ways to strengthen the Fair Trade model, and make a real, positive impact on the lives of our producer partners.  A perennial concern of coffee farmers is their ability to secure financing to reinvest in their farms, and pay for the harvesting, processing, and shipping of their crop.

Anywhere in the world, banks are hard-pressed to lend to small business owners.  When those business owners are farmers living high in the mountains off a dirt road, with no electricity or running water, and their only collateral is 5 – 10 bags of unroasted coffee, purse-strings get pretty tight.

Enter NGOs and not-for-profit lenders like Grow Ahead.  Grow Ahead began in 2012 as a partnership between Heine Brothers’ importing partner Cooperative Coffees and Progreso, a lending agency who serves an “under banked” demographic of Hispanics in the US.  The Grow Ahead lending approach is unique in the way it connects farmers in developing countries with the end users of their crops.  Coffee drinkers become the lenders by contributing to Grow Ahead for a specific producer group during a specific harvest cycle.

Similar to any other crowd-funding campaign, there is a specified time period in which Grow Ahead collects funds for the producer group.  Funds are disbursed prior to the harvest season.  Coffee is picked, processed, purchased, and shipped according to the usual schedule.  When the coffee lands in the US warehouse the producer group repays the Grow Ahead loan.  The Grow Ahead lender (aka coffee drinker) is then given the choice to: leave their money in the Grow Ahead system to pre-finance the next container of coffee, donate the funds back to the farmers to be used for special projects, or get the money back.

We’re really excited about this partnership between Grow Ahead and CENFORCAFE, one of our producer partners in northern Peru, because it’s the first opportunity we’ve had to share this consumer-producer lending model with you.  We hope the first container of washed AA from CENFROCAFE that lands in September or October will be fully financed by coffee lovers who want a stronger connection to coffee farmers.  We’re looking forward to taking this step in progressive coffee trade with Grow Ahead, Coop Coffees, CENFROCAFE, and you.


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