Central America Sourcing Trip 2013: Costa Rica

We’re in Costa Rica now at Exclusive Coffees and I’m taking a break to share an update with you all.  In the background some of our fellow travelers and new friends from Japan are cupping through a table of samples.  Loud slurping noises zip away as they aspirate coffee across their palates and acquaint themselves with the samples.  Legendary producer and pioneer of micro milling Antonio Barrantes is sitting across from me.  Downstairs a row of women are taking a break from hand sorting coffee in the dry mill and are sitting outside chatting over a cup of coffee.  This week we’ve cupped over 100 samples and visited roughly 20 micro mills and farms as well, shaking hands with our producer partners and understanding their hard work.  It’s rewarding and inspiring to meet their children, visit their homes, and share meals with them.

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In order of amounts of mucilage left on prior to drying, from less to more:
fully washed, yellow honey, gold honey, red honey, black honey.
Here we also see an example of a natural with the cherry intact and an example of lower vs. higher density seeds

We arrived Monday morning and got straight down to business on the cupping table.  By noon we had already tasted roughly thirty coffees from almost as many farms and we took a break to talk about the ‘micro mill revolution’ happing in Costa, coffee ‘rust’ plaguing many countries now, and some of the nuances of ‘honey’ processing (particularly Costa’s variations).

The micro mill revolution is a movement of more producers toward controlling and understanding all aspects of their coffee from plant to cherry to dry seed.  They can decide for themselves how to wash, clean, and dry the coffee to create a taste and profile of their choosing.

The mill represents a significant investment of time and money, so not all producers are able to take this giant step.  The results, however, can be stunning, and the network of producers here processing their own coffee has led to a strong community of artisans and an amazing range of taste.

As you can see in the picture above, honey processed coffee–or coffee with some mucilage left on prior to drying–can take on a variety of colors according to the percentage of mucilage.  Coffees with more mucilage appear darker because of the higher sugar content drying on the parchment.  In the cup, black honey coffees will typically have bigger body and sweetness and less intense acidity than washed or gold honey processed coffees.  These terms and practices have only very recently come into use as a result of closer roaster/producer relationships.  We’ve seen lots of other developments at the farm level with drying, varietal planting, and so on also as a result of collaboration between roasters, producers, and some of the other critical roles in the supply chain like the folks at Exclusive.

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Cupping at Francisco Mena and Juan Ramone’s Exclusive Coffees lab

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Juan Ramone of Exclusive talks with Jack Kelly (Ladro CEO) and the core group of a producer association we’re hoping to work with in Costa Rica’s Central Valley.

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Coffee kid! At Sin Limites micro mill in the West Valley.

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Beautiful African style raised, covered beds in West Valley at the famous Helsar de Zarcero.

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Soccer field at the edge of the world. Tarrazu, Costa Rica

In 2012 I was able to to attend the Costa Rica Cup of Excellence, where I tasted some of the country’s most beautiful coffees and was able to meet some of the outstanding people involved in the coffee community there.  The CoE really did a standup job of keeping us extremely busy, ensuring we would have our minds blown and stay out of trouble.  This year Jack and I are back to Costa as part of our 2013 Central America coffee sourcing trip.  We’re extremely excited about the relationships we’ve been able to forge this week and believe they have the potential to last long term.  We believe in the importance of sharing their hard work with our customers and staff, so stay tuned in the coming months as we feature some of these producers’ coffees for you all in our cafes and online.

Salud from Costa Rica!

-Jared Linzmeier

Director of Coffee

PS: This is our first leg then we’re on to El Salvador, Nicaragua, and finally Honduras.  Please follow along here on our blog as well.  Also tweet questions to Jared @ladroroasting

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