Wrekmeister Harmonies aren’t the first band with connections to the specialty coffee scene, but their Coptic Light company is certainly one of the more ambitious side hustles we’ve seen in a while. A collaboration between Wrekmeister’s core duo (J.R. Robinson and Esther Shaw) and illustrator/Samaritan Press founder David V. D’Andrea, the Pacific Northwest-based roaster isn’t a vanity project or something the experimental outfit simply slaps their name on. It’s a natural extension of Shaw’s experience at such third-wave superstars as Intelligentsia and Dark Matter. Not to mention the pair’s own creative chemistry, which has resulted in several dark but dynamic records, alluding to everything from moody extreme music to prickly post-classical pieces.
In the following exclusive, Wrekmeister Harmonies shares a photo essay surrounding their trip to a mountainous region of China that just might be Asia’s next major producer of award-winning beans….
Our approach towards Coptic Light is not so different from how we approach Wrekmeister Harmonies. We want to create beautiful, delicious, and unique coffees and also devote a portion of our sourcing from new origins, which are experimenting and pushing boundaries. This is why we named our company after Morton Feldman’s piece; it embodies this approach.
Coptic Light was created from our love for consuming delicious coffees and for exploring new coffee origins and taste profiles from around the world. We see great value in building relationships and paying the appropriate costs for high-quality, unique coffees. Luckily, we know plenty of people in the coffee industry who share our philosophy and who are working in countries all over the world. We have many opportunities to see coffee grown at the ground level firsthand.
With our busy tour and work schedules, we have limited time to travel to coffee farms, so we are very thoughtful about where we visit. In January 2017, we decided to focus our first farm visit as Coptic Light in Pu’er, Yunnan, China. We had previously explored the region for specialty coffee production and had already developed relationships with the Banka and Fuyan cooperatives.
Historically famous as a tea producing region, Pu’er’s climate and elevation make for ideal coffee-growing conditions as well. Coffee has been grown commercially in the region for 25 years now, but production is approached in a way which doesn’t necessarily put taste at its forefront. It is only until more recently that producers are venturing into the specialty coffee market. However, the growing and processing practices which may come naturally to historically coffee-producing areas require a steep learning curve for producers in the Pu’er area. Additionally, specialty coffee is not conducive to the high yield coffees which make venturing into the specialty market a high-risk situation.
This is why we wanted to visit the Banka and Fuyan cooperatives. Not only are they working hard to improve their coffee quality by utilizing the traditional methods presented to them via investment in better infrastructure and creation of improved quality control systems. But they are pushing the boundaries and taking risks by experimenting with new cultivars as well as unfamiliar processing methods to the region. Throughout our trip, we felt honored to be able to witness and participate in what we felt to be a significant trend in coffee production….
The cooperatives are located outside a small town in the Pu’er region called Menglian, which is about 10 kilometers from the border of Burma and China and about a seven-hour drive from the city center of Pu’er. Pictured here are the newly built residence quarters and coffee quality control lab on the grounds of the cooperative, which is where we stayed during our visit.
We had meals with the cooperative workers twice a day. There were always at least three to four dishes on the table shared family style—always plenty of vegetables, usually one sour and spicy cold salad dish, and the meat of choice in the area was pork. All the components of the meal were always sourced directly from the cooperative’s own farms.
The cooperatives have diligently trained their workers to practice selective coffee cherry picking. A red ripe cherry will produce a delicious cup of coffee while those which are under or over ripe may create unappealing flavors. Being able to efficiently pick ripe cherries is a skill which often goes under-appreciated. It is especially difficult when pickers have other agricultural products, such as sugar cane, which have simultaneous harvest seasons. Additionally pictured is another method of separating ripe from under-ripe coffee seeds by pushing them through washing channels.
As mentioned before, the Banka and Fuyan cooperative really stand amongst others in the Pu’er region because of their willingness to experiment. Pictured here is a farm growing a new cultivar to the region called Typica. The other photo is of a new method in the region called natural process, which is where the coffee cherry is dried whole preferably on raised beds.
Our host Hu XiXiang (pictured here instructing cooperative workers) is the general manager and founder of the cooperatives and has been growing coffee now for 20+ years. In 1996, he was brought on as a consultant for a company which was part of the initial movement towards growing coffee in the region. In 2003, he began organizing local villages into cooperatives—renting out land, providing seedlings, fertilizers, and education and setting up locally accessible wet mills. Such a generous host with so much knowledge of agriculture and a huge love for nature.
Wrekmeister Harmonies’ latest album, ‘The Alone Rush’, is due out April 13th through their longtime label Thrill Jockey. Check out a few official leaks from the record below, along with spring tour dates and a video of someone unboxing its vinyl pressing.
The Alone Rush
(Thrill Jockey, April 13th)
1. A 300 Year Old Slit Throat
2. Descent Into Blindness
3. Behold! The Final Scream
4. Covered In Blood From Invisible Wounds
5. Forgive Yourself And Let Go
6. The Alone Rush
Wrekmeister Harmonies tour dates:
4/12 Montreal, QC – La Vitrola
4/13 Greenfield, MA – The Root Cellar
4/14 Brooklyn, NY – Baby’s All Right (early show)
4/21 Leipzig, DE – Doom Over Leipzig festival
4/22 Tillburg, NL – Roadburn Festival
4/26 Paris, FR – Espace B
4/28 Winterthur, CH – Gaswerk!
4/29 Geneva, CH – Cave 12
5/1 Brno, CZ – Kabinet MuzBrno
5/2 Košice, SK – Taba?ka Kulturfabrik
5/3 Rijeka, HR – OKC Palach Rijeka
5/4 Padova, IT – Nadir
5/5 Verona, IT – Colorifico Kroen
5/7 Ljubljana, SL – Kino Šiška
5/8 Bolzano, IT – Sudwerk
5/9 Karlsruhe, DE – Kohi
5/10 Prague, CZ – Famu
5/11 Poznan, PL – LAS
5/12 Warsaw, PL – Hydrozagadka
5/13 Sopot, PL – Teatr na Pla?y
5/14 Oslo, NO – BLA
5/15 Berlin, DE – Urban Spree
5/16 Den Haag, NL – Paard
5/17 Ghent, BE – Trefpunt
5/18 Utrecht, NL – Ekko
5/19 Athens, GR – The Temple
5/21 Bruxelles, BE – Atelier 21