Costa Rica Coffee Regions
Our group for this trip consisted of fifteen people from seven different countries, over half of whom were on their first coffee origin trip. Whilst Costa Rica is not the biggest producer of coffee, it is renowned for the quality of its coffee, and its professionalism, organisation, innovation and its scientific research. We saw so many examples of this during our trip that sometimes it was difficult to keep up with them.
At Icafe, the semi-governmental organisation responsible for regulating the Costa Rica coffee industry, we were shown shading experimentation using netting to give 30%, 50% and 70% of shading. Early results show that 30% of shade gives better yield, but the high amount of sun stresses the trees, whereas 70% shade leads to lower fungal infection but also lower yield. We were also interested to observe their profiling programme which ensures that imported coffee from Nicaragua for home consumption is not sold as Costa Rican coffee. They are also experimenting with hybrids of Arabica and Liberica for better yield and disease resistance. This experimentation with different varietals and hybrids is also a large part of the experimental farm of Hacienda Alsacia, Starbuck’s only owned farm, which is located right next to their very impressive visitors centre high in the Central Valley.
A common theme throughout the trip was the focus and development of anaerobic processing. Several farms that we visited were producing small quantities of anaerobic, as well as yellow and red honeys and naturals, and we enjoyed some really interesting cupping sessions, such as at Finca Vulcan Azul, located at 1700 metres in the West Valley, owned and managed by the Castro Jimenez family who grow forty different varietals, including pink and yellow Bourbon, and employ five different processes including anaerobic fermentation.
At Finca Chumeca father Martin and son George Urena have developed their own process, called 777, involving a combination of anaerobic and aerobic fermentation. They grow mainly red and yellow Catuai and Caturra. They farm only 12 hectares, and their motto is that growing coffee is 50% love and 50% passion!
A different experimentation is happening at Facenda Tobosi in Tarrazu, only eight years old but producing some fantastic coffees – They were Cup of Excellence winners in 2019 – and they are now looking for the coffee which will become ‘the next Geisha’. Their experimental process is to ferment anaerobically, then dry naturally followed by five hours washing in a tank. It is so new that they don’t even have a name for it yet!
Other innovations we saw included a ferris wheel type drying machine at Coopedota in Santa Maria da Dota, unique to that area, and an alternative brewer to the chemex, made out of clay, called a Vandola. Invented by a local barista in San Jose, its main benefits are that it will withstand heat and the coffee can be poured without removing the filter paper. We also tasted some fabulous cascara, sweet and fruity like stewed rhubarb, presented to us by Mariana from Helsar de Zarcero in West Valley.
A topic of conversation throughout the trip was the welfare of coffee pickers and their families as whilst we were in Costa Rica a programme aired on Channel 4 in the UK discussing the issue of child labour in the coffee industry. At La Hilda in the Central Valley Mariano Vargas told us about the facilities which they provide for their pickers, including accommodation, education, healthcare, kitchens and a church. Most of their pickers come from Nicaragua and Panama, and are covered in full by Costa Rica’s social welfare programme as soon as they enter the country. Mariano’s definition of sustainability is to ensure that as many pickers as possible come back to La Hilda next year.
Other places we visited included Vista al Valle, run by Fidel Oldemar and his family, producing wonderful coffee, honeys and naturals from Catimor, Catuai, Bourbon and Geisha – the latter being a varietal which we saw being grown on nearly every farm that we visited. They have won Cup of Excellence several times. One of the undoubted highlights of the trip was being driven round the farm by Fidel on his tractor!
Tractor at Vista al Valle
We were very impressed with our visit to Los Tesoros Dry Mill in Cartago, managed by Gabriela Moranda, daughter of the founder. They handle 70% of Costa Rica’s production, preparing the coffee for export by cleaning, hulling, sorting and bagging, and also act as the warehouse for over 120 Cup of Excellence lots. They have a separate system for micro lots, which was another theme throughout our week as Costa Rica has 174 micro mills, a really important part of the coffee sector, ensuring that quality is maintained and improved. We finished this very interesting visit by sampling craft beer at the next door micro-brewery owned by Gabriela’s husband.
Our week finished on a high by visiting two great coffee shops in San Jose and spending the morning at the offices of Speciality Coffee Association of Costa Rica where we heard presentations from Noelia Villalobos, the Executive Director there, and Max Gurdian of Volcafe, before cupping 40 coffees, some of whose producers had come down to join us. Coffee Heaven! Some of the cups were magnificent, including a honey processed Geisha from Fidel mentioned above, a definite winner. All 40 were an example of Cost Rican coffee at its best.
Cup of Excellence warehouse
Cupping at SCACR
Everybody on the trip had a wonderful coffee trip, learned so much and improved their knowledge of and passion for coffee inestimably. Those who were on their first trip to origin were amazed by the whole experience.
As well as everyone we visited, all of whom welcomed us so hospitably and generously, special thanks go to Noelia, Maria and their colleagues at Speciality Coffee Association of Costa Rica for helping us put together such a wonderful Coffee Origin Trip.