The latest Bean Hunter travels take us to Costa Rica, home of some of the best coffee in the world, including our own Don Quijote coffee. It’s a real treat to visit the mills where our coffee is produced, and it’s an ever bigger treat to shake hands with the passionate people producing it. On our first day in the West Valley, we visited mills, stopped to play with children at elementary schools we support and met some new friends as passionate about coffee as us. All in all, Costa Rica Day One was a success. Here’s the recap.
Stop One: Lomas al Rio Coffee Mill
Costa Rica is a beautiful country. It feels cliché to mention how wonderful the coffees from Costa Rica are, but it’s worth repeating, and it’s no surprise when seeing the pool of passionate and talented producers, along with people like Grace Mena, who have helped develop several quality movements within Costa Rica since 1996, the year she bought the Lomas al Rio coffee mill near the town of Palmares in West Valley. The Lomas al Rio coffee mill is home to The Roasterie’s Don Quijote coffee.
Don Quijote is the name Grace gave to the coffee, signifying a culturally significant Costa Rican character who represents adventurous spirit and strong will.
We spent a good deal of time touring the entire coffee milling process, along with visiting two of the kindergarten schools in which The Roasterie has continually supported over the years. It was a great experience getting to meet the teachers and children.
Stop Two – La Perla – Naranjo Region, Costa Rica
Our second visit was to La Perla, a very small coffee plantation and micro mill near the town of Lourdes in the Naranjo region. Carlos Barrantes, the producer and owner of La Perla, maintained the cleanest and most well organized operation I’ve ever seen. His patio and machinery are only two years old, but looked as if they were built yesterday. His raised African-style beds and warehouse were top notch. There is no better sign of quality than recognizing cleanliness and organization, and he nailed this on all fronts.
Management aside, the environmental conditions prove to provide well yielding varietals ranging from Geisha, Villa Sarchi, and a newly arrived SL-28. Most of his production will be honey-processed, similar to the semi-washed style of processing, which leaves some pulp of the cherry coating the outside of the coffee parchment during the drying time.
“Honey processed” is a bit misleading to most people, assuming that either a flavor of honey is a part of the flavor description, or perhaps using honey as a part of the process, both of which are not the case.
Grace Mina explained how the “honey” process terminology came about in Costa Rica, starting with a coffee buyer from Japan in 2003. During a visit, there was a request to prepare the traditional fully washed Costa Rican coffees with the “pulp natural” process, asked by both Illy coffee from Italy and Guataro in Japan. Both of these companies were using large volumes of pulp-natural Brazils in several of their blends. They wanted to diversify their purchasing options, so they sought out the potential of Costa Rican coffees by increasing the body and flavor while also reducing the acidity of the traditionally fully washed Costa Rican coffee profile. It was explained through translation that “semi-washed” felt sticky, like the consistency of honey. And so the term was born, because it felt, not tasted, like honey.
Grace continued to explain the three levels of honey processed coffees; Yellow, Red, and Black. The major difference is flavor, which are developed by adjusting the drying times and techniques. Yellow Honey has the fastest drying time of about 8 days, where the coffee receives ample amounts of sunshine, giving the coffee a light yellow color by the time it has reached it’s proper finished moisture level. Red Honey takes longer to dry, usually developed during cloud cover, often taking about 12 days to finish drying. Black Honey takes the longest, often a little over a week, and is covered by a black plastic tarp while turned on raised African-style beds. Black honey is the most complex, rich in body, flavorful, laborious, and expensive.
Stop Three – Genesis Coffee State
Our third visit took us to Oscar Mendez Acuña’s Genesis Coffee State located a few miles away from La Perla. Oscar runs a micro-mill and also tends to his operation with care. His production is rather small, producing on average of only 100 bags of green coffee per year. We had the opportunity to also meet with Ceasar Ureña Quiros of the Don Pepe micro mill from the Tarrazu region who accompanied our visit to Genesis.
The Roasterie group was well fed on traditional Costa Rican cuisine and fully saturated with coffee cherries throughout our first day. I can only wait to see who wins the picking contest tomorrow!