2023 marked a special year for Criteria Coffee, after a long hiatus on international travel, we were finally able to return to origin in March to visit our producing partners and make some new friends. To visit origin is a privilege, it’s also a very important part of our sourcing ethos. Traveling allows us to learn, revealing how coffee grows, how it is farmed, and how it is picked and processed. It’s a thoroughly rewarding experience, bringing gravitas to our efforts at the roastery inspiring us to do our best at the roaster. Connecting to origin also enables us to take our taste explorations one step further, solidifying a time and place with a specific taste memory. There are no more powerful coffee tastings than those with the producers who grow, pick, and process the beans. Hearing the stories of the farm’s history, often spanning many generations of family connection, the challenges and successes they’ve experienced, and finally tasting together and getting to associate all those stories with the end product – it’s truly a moving and memorable experience. I get immense satisfaction from contributing my part in this intricate network of connections, at the roaster where I can share my skills, layered upon those of the producer before me and the brewer that follows.
This brings me to the coffee you have in your hands from Lost Origin. The first stop on our Central American trip was Panama. After a quick overnight in LA, we landed at Tocumen International Airport. A few days before leaving, Wilford Lamastus introduced us over WhatsApp to Andy, one part of the Lost Origin team along with Franz and Jonathan. Andy graciously agreed to pick us up from the airport and take us to our hotel. That is one of the things about visiting origin that I never get over, the generous hospitality of people who often I have only shared a few text messages with, offering their time to make you feel welcome, show you around, and obviously host cuppings of their coffees.
Not having heard of Lost Origin, I was curious to meet the team and taste what this new venture had to offer. Andy guided us through the doors of Casa Bruja, a boutique beer brewery in an industrial part of Panama City. Navigating the narrow corridors and stairwells, we entered the barrel-filled aging cellar; not the standard cupping experience, this intriguing reveal led us to some of the most magical cross-pollination that I’ve ever experienced.
Our story can be traced back to 2019. In a constant search for inspiration and new flavors, we heard of Dark Matter Coffee out of Chicago, a brewery using beer ingredients (yeast hops) to process Salvadorian coffee. This shifted the team’s mindset to the possibility of having our very own coffee processing facility. To put our theory on trial, we first reached out to a couple farms and ended up working with Santos Cafe for their 2020-2021 harvest. We shared with them our yeast cultures, enzymes, nutrients, hops, and created a couple processing protocols for them. Simultaneously, we contacted Elida and we asked to analyze some of the juices/musto or by-product from their fermentation; our findings made them reach out to us for a collaboration with Ben Put at Monogram. This type of validation from the industry secured a path to further explore Panamanian coffees and the potential of a controlled environment to exploit its unique qualities. Having a vast brewing background, we understand the importance of being able to measure, control, and clean the environment in which microorganisms interact. Our Lab is focused on exploring the impact and relationship of microorganisms on the coffee fruit. Documenting the flavor profiles and notes created by each trial allows us to understand and further exploit certain characteristics of each varietal.