In Depth

Finca Santa Teresa: Coffee on the crest of a wave

Founder Andre Wierzbicki and painter Jeremy Houghton on the unique collaboration that has them sailing away with Sir Ben Ainslie

170621-portfolio-finca_santa_teresa.jpg

Taking coffee to the Caribbean may seem like a case of transporting coals to Newcastle, but for Sir Ben Ainslie and his Land Rover BAR team, it couldn't be more welcome.

Although the Olympic sailing hero failed in his bid to bring the America's Cup back to Britain, it wasn't due to lack of energy – especially when the team were supplied with coffee from Finca Santa Teresa, a boutique coffee farm and mill located high in the cloud forest of Panama.

"Apparently, the team lined up for it every morning," Andre Wierzbicki, the Australian owner of the farm tells The Week. "There were times when the shore team and the engineers had to work especially hard and working overnight, so we kept them going with coffee while they were trying to fix the boat."

The coffee Wierzbicki is referring to is the Panama geisha, the world's most expensive coffee bean renowned for a delicate, floral taste that is lacking in the bitterness usually associated with the drink. It originated in Ethiopia, but has found its terroir in the Central American country.

"It's like wine," says Wierzbicki. "Wine has varieties like chardonnay or pinot noir and there are different varietals of coffee plants. Geisha is one of those. It was planted in Panama in the 90s originally to see if it would be resistant to certain diseases. It was really serendipity that for some reason, that environment produced the most extraordinary coffee - to the point now that when there's an international coffee competition, I would say eight or nine competitors would choose a geisha because of the quality. It's like a first bordeaux - it's a superior product."

Finca Santa Teresa's geisha coffee is also to be found on the menu of Britain's most famous and innovative restaurant, Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck in Bray. "They did a pop-up in Melbourne, which has a vibrant coffee scene, and saw what could be done in coffee," Wierzbicki tells us. "Then the restaurant manager went to Panama and came to our farm and we were delighted that he chose our coffee to be on their menu. He's just actually ordered some more coffees from me for the menu going forward. Coming from people for whom flavour and taste is everything, it's a great endorsement."

It was supplying coffee to the hospitality business that saw Finca Santa Teresa team up with Land Rover Bar – and begin collaboration with British artist Jeremy Houghton, the sailing team's artist in residence. Over a coffee or two, the two men decided to team up to celebrate the America's Cup in a unique fashion.

The result is an exclusive set of 110 limited-edition handpainted coffee boxes which, when placed together, forms a giant watercolour of the Bermuda Sound, where the America's Cup takes place. Each box contains 1lb of Finca Santa Teresa's geisha coffee – of which only 833lbs has been produced. Proceeds from the sale goes to the 1851 Trust, the official charity of Land Rover Bar which aims to teach young people about sailing and the environment and help them understand the career choices that can come from a Stem education – science, technology, engineering and maths.

"When the boxes are altogether, the painting is three and a half metres long," says Houghton, who was also the artist-in-residence for London 2012, as well as for Prince Charles and the Queen at Highgrove and Windsor. "It's the biggest watercolour I've ever done. It was quite monumental.

"We batted a few ideas around about what imagery we could use and obviously the boat was the first idea - but then a lot of the boxes would have nothing on them and we wanted each box to be special. We thought about what makes the actual sailing and that's the sea, so painting the Bermuda Sound was the obvious answer."

The result is a stunning collection of blues, ochres and siennas, with the artist's signature blank spaces adding to the sense of action. "To express movement you have to eliminate detail, so it's almost a process of elimination. To take that concept further I try to reduce the palette to try and focus on the raw essentials, so there's this minimal palette of blues and browns which gives this feeling of photography, of transparencies, which add to that timeless quality.

"The great thing about watercolour and working with the paper is that it dries in its own fashion, you can't force it to dry, so you have the magical alchemy of how it creates itself."

Houghton will be taking his magic next to another British event – Wimbledon, where he'll be capturing all the action of the men and women's singles finals. "They specifically asked that because I do movement, I sit on the edge of the court and capture the intensity of the tennis match," he says. "It's going to be really exciting."

There could also be further collaborations with Finca Santa Teresa, perhaps drawing on a taste-testing session the two men carried out prior to the Bermuda Sound boxes.

"We thought about doing something with rum, because rum and sailing have this great tradition," says Houghton. "So while we were working on how we could do this collaboration, there was a little detour to do some rum tastings to mix rum and geisha. We had this hilarious afternoon in Oxford…"

"And then poured ourselves back into a car," adds Wierzbicki, laughing. "We had some very interesting combinations. There was one in particular - we may revisit the idea. Stay tuned."

Recommended

UK summer food and drink festivals
Bakers on a stall at the Abergavenny Food Festival
On the menu

UK summer food and drink festivals

50 whiskies for World Whisky Day
Investing in whisky
In Review

50 whiskies for World Whisky Day

Roti King Battersea: a masterful Malaysian eatery
The menu at Roti King in Battersea is ‘glorious’
In Review

Roti King Battersea: a masterful Malaysian eatery

Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: events, festivals and street parties
Jubilee Street Party
In Focus

Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: events, festivals and street parties

Popular articles

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths
Vladimir Putin has previously deployed ‘extreme measures’ to crush opposition
Why we’re talking about . . .

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths

Depp v. Heard: what the latest battle has revealed
Amber Heard
In Depth

Depp v. Heard: what the latest battle has revealed

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?
Vladimir Putin
Why we’re talking about . . .

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?

The Week Footer Banner