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Trip Report: Costa Rica Part 1

Zack Burnett

Sunset.  Tarrazú, Costa Rica.

Sunset.  Tarrazú, Costa Rica.

Man, I love landing at the Juan Santamaria Airport in Alajuela, Costa Rica.  For so many years of my life landing at this airport signified the beginning of extended surf trips.  A quick car or bus ride over the mountains puts you into some super fun beach breaks, points and the occasional reef.  Some of my best memories are in the surf and on the beaches of Costa Rica.  These days, however, more time is spent in the mountains.  A slight chance for surf.  

Land Cruiser

Land Cruiser

Thankfully there are some really great coffees to be found and the pura vida spirit that draws so many people to the country, along with the surf, is STRONG in the mountain coffee-growing communities.  The Ticos have a beautiful, peaceful and exciting country and as a result are an extremely nationalistic people.  This nationalism seems to directly affect the quality of life and the quality of the coffee in the country.  These producers have so much pride in their land and for what they produce and it's always exciting to taste a truly great Costa Rican coffee.   Be sure to check out our current offering from this trip, Costa Rica Finca Cirri, for a very nice example.   

 

Mountains.  Tarrazú, Costa Rica.

Mountains.  Tarrazú, Costa Rica.

This trip was put together by Royal Coffee New York and STC Coffee.  Royal is one of our importing partners and STC Coffee is an exporter in Costa Rica concentrating on sustainable trading of high-quality coffees.  For the past few years Royal and STC have been hosting a micro-lot auction program with co-ops and growers in multiple regions of Costa Rica.  This year the efforts were concentrated mainly on the Tarrazú region.  This micro-lot auction program is a system of finding the best coffee Costa Rica has to offer and paying a premium for quality.  Each year the program grows to include more producers.  This year, over 50 producers submitted coffee to be cupped and evaluated for inclusion in the program and we cupped a total of 75 coffees.  Royal has built this auction not only to reward quality with a higher price but they have placed an emphasis on continued relationships between roasters and producers in the program.  This program, for us, highlights what is really important in Speciality Coffee today.  A unique, special product backed up by a strong relationship.

Central Valley Costa Rica

Central Valley Costa Rica

We woke early on the first morning of the trip and headed from the Central Valley into the mountains of Tarrazú.  The temperature starts to drop soon after you pass through the town of Asserí and the elevation climbs from around 3,000 feet to over 6,000 in the high altitudes of the Tarrazú region.  The high altitude of the Talamanca mountain range makes for cool to cold nights and warm days, the perfect weather for growing coffee.

AFAORCA drying beds.

AFAORCA drying beds.

Our first stop of the day was the AFAORCA co-operative (La Asociación de Familias Orgánicas de los Cerros Caraigres).  This is one of the first certified organic micro-mills in the country.  They showed us their wet milling operations as well as their raised drying beds and dry mill.  AFAORCA supports organic coffee producers in the areas of Aserrí, Acosta and Desamparados by processing, financing and marketing their coffees.

Finca La Tirra

Finca La Tirra

After visiting the co-op we were able to visit with Jorge Rojas on his farm, Finca La Tirra, in La Legua Asserí.  Jorge organically produces pure arabica varietals, Caturra, Catuai, Typica, at 5,250 feet above sea level on his 10 hectare (about 25 acre) farm.  The farm is gorgeous with the plants spaced comfortably and plenty of diversity and shade.  Jorge even has part of his farm irrigated.  He has just started producing micro-lots and this year will mark the first year of a decent micro-lot production for him.  AFAORCA has a program set-up to guide their producers into producing higher quality coffees that will be more traceable and receive higher prices from buyers.  Jorge is excited about the possibility of knowing exactly where his coffee ends up and for his name and farm name to be known by the consumer.

La Candelilla micro-mill

La Candelilla micro-mill

Our second stop of the day was La Candelilla Estate in the town of La Sabana, Tarrazú.  La Candelilla is one of the first micro-mills in Costa Rica.  The Estate consists of 28 hectares (about 70 acres) of land between 5,000 and 5,200 feet above sea level.  They have a wet mill which uses mechanical fermentation to process washed coffees as well as patios for drying, a dry mill and a parchment storage warehouse.  The mill was opened in 2000 after years of planning when the Sanchez family wanted more traceability and control of their coffee.  La Candelilla grows mainly Caturra, Catuai and some Typica though they have planted Gesha in the recent years.  

We were able to purchase the Santiago lot from La Candelilla this year.  It was one of the best cupping lots in the micro-lot auction, 88.5 points!  We tasted juicy notes of melon and hibiscus.  Look for it to hit the shelves and our web store by September.

Coope Tarrazú production log

Coope Tarrazú production log

Just down the road from La Candelilla is the largest mill in Costa Rica, Coope Tarrazú.  This is by far the largest mill I have ever visited.  The scale of production at this mill is insane compared to the small scale of La Candelilla.  On the day we visited, March 7th, the production for the year was at 158,395 fanegas.  A fanega is the unit of measurement used to measure and buy coffee at the wet-mill level in Costa Rica.  It is a volumetric measurement and it usually weighs right around 100 pounds.  So just under 16 million pounds of cherry had passed through the mill by March 7th of this years harvest.  Something interesting about Coope Tarrazú is that it is managed by Ricardo Hernández, the same man who manages La Candelilla.  Ricardo is passionate about managing quality regardless of the scale.  We toured the enormous facility that includes wet and dry mills, mechanical dryers and storage silos and had a chance to cup some of their offerings.  We do not typically buy large scale cooperative coffees but the offerings from Coope Tarrazú were solid, larger scale production coffees in the 83 point range with some of the samples standing out from that.   

Coope Tarrazú

Coope Tarrazú

Day one ended with a short, dark, foggy drive back through the mountains and down into the Central Valley where we were met with plenty of Imperial and typical Tico grub.

Check back soon for part 2.

Words and photos by Zack Burnett   

  

Trip Report: El Salvador Part 2

Zack Burnett

Patios.  Beneficio El Borbollon, Santa Ana El Salvador

Patios.  Beneficio El Borbollon, Santa Ana El Salvador

Words and photos by Zack Burnett

The day after cupping with Cafe Pacas and visiting some of their farms and their dry mill I was able to attend a workshop on the importance of picking ripe coffee given by Juan Alfredo Pacas to coffee growers from all around El Salvador.  The workshop involved an informative presentation and a hands-on separation of green, underripe and overripe cherries from perfectly ripe ones.  We were also able to cup coffee produced from all green cherries, underripe, overripe and perfectly ripe cherries.  The differences in the cups were drastic and highlighted for everyone the importance in ripeness of coffee.  The flavors ranged from sour, bitter and astringent in the green cherries to fermented/rotten tasting in the over ripe.  The properly ripe coffee was sweet, clear and dynamic.  This information wasn't new to anyone but cupping separations like this really drove home the importance of proper picking.  

Cherry Separation.

Cherry Separation.

One of the most exciting aspects of the workshop was the exchange of ideas between the growers at the event.  These producers who compete in getting their coffee to the best buyers every year were completely open in sharing details on how to produce better coffee and higher yields.  The information ranged from organic fertilizer recipes and coffee rust management techniques to holistic agriculture processes such as the importance of planting during the proper lunar cycle.  These folks were freely giving out their "secret" methods to help their neighbors produce better coffee.  There was a lot of talk about the betterment of El Salvador, as a whole, in the global coffee market.  This prospect of a collaborative effort at increasing quality and production ended the meeting and caused everyone to leave hopeful and excited.    

Workshop.

Workshop.

After a great visit with the Pacas, I left to meet Roberto and Rodrigo Dumont.  The Dumonts are a forth and fifth generation coffee family who's mission is to: "produce and export the highest quality coffee, while maintaining a sustainable relationship with the ecosystem, our community, partners and clients."  They grow pure arabica varietals on three farms in El Salvador and have won numerous Cup of Excellence awards for their coffees.

Road to Malacara B.

Road to Malacara B.

We left San Salvador for the El Borbollon mill just outside Santa Ana first thing in the morning.  El Borbollon is recognized as a top mill for quality in El Salvador and they process the Doumont's coffees.  Borbollon is a nice facility with the capabilities to process and keep separate small lots of high-quality coffee.  They have well-maintained wet processing facilities as well as clean drying patios, a cool and well-ventelated parchment storage warehouse and sophisticated dry milling technology along with hand-sorting lines.  There is a cupping lab on-site where we cupped separated lots from two of the Dumont's farms, Finca Malacara B and Las Mercedes.

Hanging out with Renee, El Borbollon patio manager.

Hanging out with Renee, El Borbollon patio manager.

Hand sorting green coffee.  El Borbollon.

Hand sorting green coffee.  El Borbollon.

Roberto and Rodrigo had some outstanding coffees on the table that morning.  The coffees, as a whole, were so elegant and sweet, really clean and unique and almost dessert like.  I could taste in the cups the skill that went into producing such clear and crisp yet resounding coffees.  We were able to purchase a small lot from Finca Malacara B.  The coffee is made up of red, orange and yellow bourbon and we found it to be chocolaty with a panela-like sweetness and fruited notes of peach, plum and white grape.  Look for it to hit the shelves late this summer.

El Borbollon cupping lab.

El Borbollon cupping lab.

After cupping, we went into Santa Ana for lunch.  Sopa Gallina and Micheladas at Restaurante Rincon Tipico del Sopón (if you find yourself in Santa Ana you don't want to miss this place) fueled us up for the ride to Finca Malacara B.  

Malacara B

Malacara B

Malacara B is a lushly forested farm on the side of the Santa Ana volcano.  The property was once part of a larger farm called Medellin.  Samuel Alvarez Lalinde maintained the farm most recently, until 1995 when he passed it down to his children and it was divided into Malacara A, B and C.  

The Dumont's grow red, yellow, orange and pink Bourbon on their farm, Malacara B, that is located around 5,000 feet above sea level.  The farm is very organized, well-maintianed and farmed using sustainable practices.  We spent a good part of the afternoon walking the land, checking on the shrubs, admiring the views and sampling coffee cherries before heading off to the opposite side of the farm where the farm house and varietal garden is located.

Finca Malacara B.

Finca Malacara B.

There are over 50 varietals of coffee growing in the Dumont's coffee garden.  The garden is an interesting project that allows the Dumont's to see which varietals may be well suited to their land.  They process enough of this coffee every year to roast and cup sample batches.  Some of the varietals from the garden have produced very positive results and are now being planted on their farm.  It's so exciting as a roaster and consumer of great coffees to see this type of experimentation at origin.  

Polysperma varietal.  8-12 seeds per cherry. 

Polysperma varietal.  8-12 seeds per cherry. 

The Dumont's are focused on quality and are intent on continuously progressing.  Their approach is helping to push speciality coffee  forward and we are happy to partner with them in bringing you some really beautiful coffee.

Alejandro Flores, agronomist and Inocente "Chente" Lemus, Malacara B farm manager.

Alejandro Flores, agronomist and Inocente "Chente" Lemus, Malacara B farm manager.

The next morning I boarded a bus to Guatemala City.  The trip out of El Salvador was smooth and it provided a chance to reflect on the time spent there.  Some great coffees were scored and so much warmth, generosity and passion was shared with me during the visit.  We really hope to bring some of this spirit to you through our Salvadoran offerings this year.  Drink it in!

Finca Malacara B.

Finca Malacara B.

Check back soon for more reports from our Central American sourcing trips.

 

  

 

 

  


  



        

          

Trip Report: El Salvador Part 1

Zack Burnett

Words and photos by Zack Burnett

It's been a few months since our trip to El Salvador.  Our coffees are landing in the states and you are seeing and will continue to see them released over the next couple of months.  This was our first year working in El Salvador and we were able to find a number of exciting lots from a few different producers.  We are thrilled to share with you what we have found.  

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El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America and the only one without a Caribbean coast.  There is a small coastal plain and two parallel mountain ranges bisecting the country creating a central plateau.  The central highlands make up 85 percent of the land area of El Salvador.  The proximity to the Pacific coast, volcanic soils and various mountain regions of the country make for great diversity in a prime coffee growing region.  The small size of the country allowed me to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.  

Upon arrival to the Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero airport, I was met by Luis Rodríguez of Stricta Altura.  Luis and Stricta Altura represent six small farms owned by his mother-in-law Gloria, who is in the fourth generation of a five generation coffee family. 

Luis and I drove an hour or so through the friday rush hour traffic on the outskirts of San Salvador passing busses, trucks and loads of motorcycles, to the Consejo Salvadoreño del Café (the Salvadoran Coffee Advisory) in Santa Tecla.  

The Consejo is basically an institution to support coffee producers in El Salvador.  Their mission is to guide El Salvador into being a competitive country in the global coffee industry while ensuring the sustainability of the national coffee sector.  They provide technical support to producers, processors and exporters as well as guidance on the sale and exportation of coffee.  Luis is connected with the Consejo and uses their quality control lab for sample roasting and cupping.  We cupped a number of coffees from various farms that Luis represents and I was excited to see some very nice offerings.        

After cupping, we headed to the small town of Apaneca arriving just after dark.  We met with Luis' mother-in-law, Gloria, who was extremely hospitable in allowing us to stay in their family home and have a dinner of pupusas de loroco, sliced green mango and Pilsener beer.  The nights are beautiful and cool in Apaneca, dropping into the 50's and like many small towns in Central America all the town's dogs seem to be nocturnal, barking all night.  

The morning revealed crisp air and blue skies and shortly after dawn we headed to visit the farms where the harvest was underway and pickers worked the trees.  

Sustainable agriculture is practiced on all of Gloria's farms.  Their practices include shade growing, composting, bio-diversity and also an old method of coffee management that is rare in other producing countries but used fairly commonly in El Salvador called agobiado.  Agobiado is an alternative to pruning and is used to increase the production of a single coffee plant.  Basically the limbs of the coffee shrub are bent at strategic areas and pinned down.  This will cause new growth on coffee branches and it allows for a more efficient use of soil amendments on coffee farms that use this practice.  More growth per tree allows for less fertilizer for the entire plantation.  And it seems to be working great.  The shrubs were loaded with cherries, all looked very happy and healthy and the coffees we cupped the previous day were proof that their methods are sound.  

There are many varietals of coffee being grown on the farms that Luis manages.  Caturra, Catuai, Typica, Pacas, Maragogype, Pacamara, Bourbon and also a few varietals that are not found anywhere other than on Gloria's farms.  

Heirloom varieties of pure arabica coffee are grown throughout El Salvador.  The Bourbon varietal being most commonly found of these cultivars.  When grown on quality focused farms the Bourbon varietal is known for its rich, sweetness and subtle complexities.  Skilled pickers harvest the coffee in El Salvador at the absolute peak of ripeness.  Picking ripe is an extremely important step and one that is emphasized at every origin but the emphasis put on proper sorting and ripeness in El Salvador was impressive to say the least.  Cherries are processed not just ripe, but perfectly ripe.  The supreme sweetness found in an exemplary Salvadoran coffee can be tied directly to this important detail.    

We were able to purchase a small lot, Finca San Jose, from Luis this year.  The coffee scored high with notes of cocoa, vanilla, almond butter and tamarind with some floral tones.  Look for it to hit the shelves by late summer.

After my time with Luis, I returned to San Salvador to meet with Maria Pacas of Café Pacas.

You have hopefully had the chance to try our first Salvadoran lot of the year.  Finca El Retiro.  This sweet and elegant coffee is brought to us by Café Pacas.  Pacas is a familiar name to many in the coffee industry.  They are well known in El Salvador and throughout the world as being progressive producers of high-quality, sought-after coffee.  The Pacas family has been producing coffee in El Salvador for 3 generations and owns and manages 11 farms mostly on and around the Santa Ana volcano.  

Their farms are inspiring examples of sustainable agriculture.  Shade growing, hands-on crop management, composting and bio-diversity are all keys to their success in managing healthy, productive farms.     

They pick ripe coffee, have very low tolerance in their sorting practices, process meticulously, experiment tirelessly and maintain overwhelmingly detailed records of data.  All of this care and attention to detail results in beautiful coffee and continued innovation.  We are excited to work with Café Pacas for the first time this year and absolutely can't wait to see this relationship grow in the future.  Find their Finca El Retiro here and look out for Finca San Joaquin, another Café Pacas coffee, to hit the shelves later this summer. 

El Salvador Part 2 coming soon!