Travel

Field Report: Costa Rica

Tarrazú view

Tarrazú view

Coffee travel tends to get over romanticized. Green coffee buyers are not heroic adventurers scouring jungles and scaling mountains in hopes of discovering hidden coffee gold. Green coffee sourcing is a collaborative process with multiple players working together. So, there were of course no rainbows or unicorns when I arrived in San José, Costa Rica, just Lalo holding a sign with my hotel’s logo. I dusted the rust off my Spanish chatting with Lalo while we waited for a few more American roasters to arrive. Thus began my first coffee buying trip - waiting around at the airport.

Royal Coffee New York, a green coffee importer, organized the trip in conjunction with Sustainable Trading Company (STC), an exporter in Costa Rica. The goal of this annual trip is to visit farms, cup microlots, and connect buyers with coffee. Over four days, we cupped close to 100 coffees and they were just plain fantastic. My fellow roasters and I all found and purchased tasty lots.

Group shot at STC headquarters

Group shot at STC headquarters

But, it was much more than a simple coffee buying trip. We shared meals and beers with producers and put faces and handshakes with names and places. We tend to talk to our immediate neighbors in the coffee supply chain (we do business with them on a daily basis after all), but when we engage in conversation with people further up or down the supply chain, we see coffee with an expanded perspective. The real value of travel to origin is the shrinking and humanizing effect it has on the supply chain.

ASOPROAAA mill manager Carlos Monge offering up some limon dulce

ASOPROAAA mill manager Carlos Monge offering up some limon dulce

Jorge Monge owner of Finca La Fila in his element

Jorge Monge owner of Finca La Fila in his element

We cupped coffee each morning at the STC headquarters in San Jose. The coffees, from four distinct regions (Tarrazú, West Valley, Central Valley, and Brunca), represented the full spectrum of processing methods, from washed to natural, and various types of honey processes in between. Processing at the micromill level is the central story of the modern Costa Rican coffee industry. This trend has been dubbed the “Micromill Revolution,” and it’s led to innovations in processing, higher value for farmers, and best of all, interesting new flavor profiles.

Cupping at STC

Cupping at STC

Coffee drying on raised parabolic drying beds at ASOPROAAA

Coffee drying on raised parabolic drying beds at ASOPROAAA

We visited a variety of mills and farms over three days. The tiny micromill Beneficio Genesis, perched high on a ridge near the town of Naranjo, stood out to me. The coffees from Oscar Mendez’s Genesis mill distinguished themselves on the cupping table and it was a real treat to visit and put a face and a place with the taste. ASOPROAAA, a micromill servicing a co-op in the famed Tarrazú region, was another personal highlight. The mill is nestled in the mountains of Tarrazú and the view from the drying patios is unreal - seemingly endless rugged mountains. ASOPROAAA is well known for their microlots as well as their larger blended co-op lot (our summer seasonal blend will feature the larger ASOPROAAA lot).

Oscar Mendez's grandson balancing next to Beneficio Genesis drying patio

Oscar Mendez's grandson balancing next to Beneficio Genesis drying patio

Honey process coffee drying on raised beds at Beneficio Genesis

Honey process coffee drying on raised beds at Beneficio Genesis

Finally, after all the cupping and touring, we chose the coffees we wanted to buy. Narrowing down to a final selection from so many great coffees was difficult, but I ultimately landed on two great coffees. They should arrive at the port of New York in June and they will hit our offering sheet soon after that! Keep an eye out for more info about the coffees as it gets closer to release time.

Friendly pup at ASOPROAAA

Friendly pup at ASOPROAAA

 

 

 

 

Where does coffee come from? - Really understanding region of origin

Coffee is a tropical plant.

And Tropical plants can only grow in tropical rain forest environments.

Wouldn’t a map be more adept at showing you where tropical rainforest environments exist than a quirky blog voice?  Yes.  Yes it would.

The highlighted portion represents the "coffee belt"

The highlighted portion represents the "coffee belt"

That highlighted area is where tropical rain forest climates reign.  The type of climate where your hair frizzes and you are forced to admit that your natural/organic deodorant really doesn’t work.

This area is called the “coffee belt.”  Or the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.  Depends if you ask a coffee enthusiast or a geographer.  

COMSA Co-Op in Marcala, Honduras

COMSA Co-Op in Marcala, Honduras

We know, not always the image that comes to mind.  It is more intuitive to dream up images of brunch and cable knit sweaters when thinking of coffee.  We do it too, you’ve seen our Instagram (you have right? @1villagecoffee).

Follow us @1villagecoffee

Follow us @1villagecoffee

But if you can find a way to think about where that coffee came from (a.k.a. the region of origin) your personal coffee journey can become more of an actual world-wide journey.

From a practical stand point-that knowledge is going to help you pick the single origin coffee that you can dig.  Like knowing you love Pinots from Oregon or that you are just not going to be into the German beer craft beer store clerks always recommend to you.  

From an existential stand point-that knowledge is going to help you appreciate that it honestly takes an entire community (a village…if you will) to bring you that coffee.  Imagery of workers hand picking coffee cherries will inspire awe because, yes, each coffee bean was once inside of a cherry picked from a bush.  

Courtesy of Fair Trade USA.  Woman picking coffee cherries in Sumatra.

Courtesy of Fair Trade USA.  Woman picking coffee cherries in Sumatra.

It is so OK if you are not thinking about it...but if you want to, we want to help.

There are three major coffee regions: Latin American, Africa, and Indonesia.  

Below are some words generally associated with each region, provided by our coffee roaster.  Personal fav: “coffee tasting coffee.”  Roaster Steve keeps it real, guys.

Within those coffee regions, there are countries (i.e. Ethiopia and Rwanda).  

Within those countries, there are subregions (i.e. the Yirgacheffe subregion in Ethiopia).

Within these subregions there are farms and co-ops.  (i.e. the Kochere Farm in the Yirgacheffe subregion).

Not done yet…just pausing to breathe.

And within those farms and co-ops are varying cultural traditions for how to get that green bean out of that cherry and prepare it for roasting (we will do a post on how coffee goes from a tropical plant to a green bean ready for roast…and when the future is now we will link to it here).

Freshly picked coffee cherries in Honduras

Freshly picked coffee cherries in Honduras

Every one of these facts helps tell you what experience you are about to have with that coffee.

Which is why every one of these facts tends to be on a bag of specialty coffee (single origin bags that is, blends are a blend of single origins) .  A mainstream coffee may let you know the coffee is from Ethiopia, but a specialty company will hit you with all the dets.

Check out our Ethiopia YirgZ label.  Yirgacheffe is a southern sub-region in Ethiopia known for its floral and citrus flavors that result from being grown at high altitudes.  Z refers to zero defect, as in the farm that sorted this coffee sorted it 3 times to ensure no pesky little defect beans snuck their way into your cup.  

Oh-did we totally just whet your palate for some YirgZ?  Click here to be hooked up.

It’s a lot to think about.

So did this help you think about it?  Did this help you in that moment when you are staring at a coffee section in Whole Foods pondering if you should go for the Ethiopia YirgZ or the Colombia Alejandro Joven?  Tell us if it did (comment below!), and please please tell us if you got to experience a marvelous cup of coffee as a result.