09. October 2019

Iconic Altos

  • This month we celebrate our relationship with Mauricio Vindas in Tarrazu, Costa Rica.

  • We met Mauricio on our very first origin trip in 2014.

  • Costa Rica provides lots of small experimental lots due to small micro-mills on each farm.

  • We have been involved in experimentation with processing and varietals at Mauricio’s farm Altos del Abejonal.

  • The first coffee is a traditional honey process, a clean representation of the terroir of Altos.

  • The second coffee is an experimental Anaerobic process which we purchased for the first time last year, a wild and juicy interpretation of the Altos profile.

We’re excited that the trust built between Mauricio and ourselves over the last 4 years has led to this point, where we are able to showcase a wide view of his work to so many of those who truly appreciate it. We feel that the clean honey and wild anaerobic lots we are sharing this month are a great example of the effect that careful and novel fermentations can have on the cup profile of Mauricio’s coffee.

Stay Bright and Curious - John Gibson

 

Our original direct connection

This month we are continuing our focus on relationships in coffee sourcing. This month, the spotlight is on our original direct connection, from our first trip to origin in March 2014. This coffee is very special to the team here at La Cabra, we always await its arrival with baited breath, eager to taste the fruits of this year’s harvest. The hard work and dedication shown by Mauricio Vindas at every stage of coffee production is obvious in the cup, and has rendered his farm name almost iconic within La Cabra - Altos.

Mauricio

We first met Mauricio by chance. In March 2014 we were in Tarrazu, travelling around farms as guests of Exclusive Coffees, an exporter based in the region. After the last farm visit, our driver had to make a quick errand to see a friend, whose child had broken his hip and couldn’t leave home. The driver dropped off a gift for the boy, while we made some conversation with his father. He was also a coffee farmer, he told us stories of his passion for coffee production and of how his son wanted to become a barista. The next day we asked the staff at Exclusive about Mauricio, and were able to cup his coffees. Some of the cleanest naturals we had ever tasted shone on the table, along with clean and crisp honey-processed coffees. We visited Altos again the next day, and bought our first couple of bags. The coffee was so well received back in Denmark that we returned to Costa Rica the next year to visit Mauricio and buy more coffee. And so the relationship has continued, visiting and cupping with Mauricio, watching his son continue to be inspired by his father’s work, tasting as the quality rises, and increasing the volume we purchase.

The Micro-Mill Revolution

Over the last 20 or so years, the coffee market in Costa Rica has been in a state of upheaval, in a process dubbed the Micro-Mill Revolution. Over the past year or so the very low C-market price for coffee has come under the spotlight. The C-price is the base commodity price for green coffee, decided on the New York Commodities Exchange based on speculation, supply and demand. It has now been below $1 per pound for some time, below the cost of production for many producers, causing them to rethink their business models or even their involvement in the coffee industry. This is a very tough time for coffee producers, and although we (and many other specialty roasters) pay far above the market price for all of our coffees, and don’t rely on the market price when agreeing what to pay a producer, even as a whole we are a very small part of the industry. A market price this low creates a completely unsustainable industry, and finding a way through this crisis is a present and serious concern for everyone in coffee.

The last time the price was this low was in the late 90’s, which triggered the changing market in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica the cost of production is somewhat higher than in most surrounding countries, the tree stock is mainly of high quality but low yielding varietals, which need lots of external inputs to grow well. Costa Rica is also a slightly more developed country than some others in Central America, so the coffee pickers and farm workers here also demand a higher wage. All of this meant that the coffee producers of Costa Rica needed to dramatically lower their cost of production, which some did, or find a way to break free of the grip of the commodity market price. By processing and milling coffees themselves, the farmers were able to keep much more of the value of their green coffee than by delivering cherry to huge mega-mills, which were blending coffees together, taking a cut, and selling at the very low commodity price. Many farmers began banding together and exporting coffees themselves, dealing directly with coffee roasters to maximise the value they could receive for their work. Excitingly for us, this also gives much more traceability of exactly where lots come from, and how they are grown and processed. The farmers are able to have total control over important stages of the coffee production process, including fermentation and drying, allowing for more experimentation, producing small boutique lots which are kept separated for the waiting specialty coffee sector. The micro-mill revolution was also in part spurred on by environmental pressures, water and electricity are scarce commodities in the coffee growing lands of Costa Rica. The new smaller mills were much more efficient and used new methods such as honey processing, which creates less of a drain on the precious natural resources of these beautiful and remote regions. Some of the older and larger mills used to power down at dinner time to allow the surrounding villages enough electricity to prepare food, such was the scarcity of resources in the 90’s.

Complete Control

Now, the micro-mill revolution has fully taken hold in Costa Rica. Small farmers wet mill coffees on their farms, and share knowledge on fermentation and drying methods, new varietals and fertilisers. Dry mills are built to keep separation, and maintain traceability of micro-lots from tree to roaster. This leads back to our relationship with Mauricio. He ferments and dries all of his own coffee, allowing him complete control over this important stage of the coffee process. For years he has produced some of the best Costa Rican coffees we have ever tasted, and has recently begun to produce a wider range of processes and varietals. This experimentation leads to a much wider range of coffees coming from Altos, allowing to showcase more of Mauricio’s work.

The Catuai Varietal

Both coffees in your pack this month are grown at Altos, from Mauricio’s stock of the Catuai varietal. Altos del Abejonal sits at 1800 metres above sea level in the Tarrazu region, only 70 kilometres south of the Costa Rican capital San Jose. The Talamanca Sierra runs through the region, with peaks of above 3000 masl. The farm is also close to the regional capital of San Marcos, which sits at 1350 masl and is home to 9000 people, providing the hub to an area famous for its high quality coffee production. The volcanic soil and afternoon cloud cover in the region provides the perfect conditions for Mauricio to produce excellent coffees at Altos. Both coffees are from Mauricio’s stock of the Catuai varietal, but the difference is in the fermentation.

1st coffee - Costa Rica

Altos Honey Process

Lemon, Black Tea and Hazelnut

Costa Rica (250g / 8.8oz)

The first coffee this month is the white honey processed lot that we have purchased for the last 4 years. Honey processing is popular in Costa Rica as an alternative to washed processing, providing a cleaner cup with more acidic notes than a natural coffee, but with a much lower water usage than traditional washed processing. At Altos, the ripe cherries are first run through Mauricio’s Penagos Eco-Pulper, which even further reduces water and electricity usage at his micro-mill. The amount of mucilage left on the cherry will control the amount of influence the fruit has on the coffee as it dries. More mucilage means a flavour profile closer to a natural coffee, ripe, sweet and heavy, less mucilage means closer to a washed coffee, higher acidity, more tea-like coffees. The colour of the honey normally describes the amount of mucilage left on the seed, white, yellow, red, black, in order of increasing mucilage. Mauricio accomplishes his white honey process by setting the jaws of the pulper to their tightest setting, removing almost all of the mucilage from the seeds before they are laid out on drying beds to dry slowly for around 14 days. This coffee shows a clean and transparent side of the Altos terroir, sugary sweet with a high acidity reminiscent of lemon, and some clean roasted hazelnut notes.

2nd coffee - Costa Rica

Altos Anaerobic Fermentation

Violet, Cherry and Blueberry

(250g / 8.8oz)

The second coffee is a new process, part of an experiment we started with Mauricio last year. This year we have been able to purchase a much larger lot, and are excited to be able to share it with subscribers this month. Inspired by processes we have seen from some of our progressive producer partners, we attempted an anaerobic pre-fermentation. The coffee is first pulped mechanically, removing most of the fruit, as with the white honey process. The parchment coffee and almost gel-like mucilage are then packed tightly into a small fermentation tank, and sealed with almost no oxygen present. As the fermentation starts to occur, carbon dioxide is produced, creating a completely anaerobic environment, and raising the pressure within the tank. This affects coffee flavour in two ways. An anaerobic environment favours a very different set of fermenting bacteria and yeast, leading to a dominant lacto-fermentation. The pressure also forces coffee juices into the seed itself, adding more fermentable sugars to continue the process. The coffee is then dried with the mucilage still attached, as with a honey processed coffee. All of this adds layers of complexity to the final cup, and a very clean and juicy character, a very distinctive and wild expression of the Altos terroir.

Subscribe to get this months coffees

Altos Honey Process (250g / 8.8oz) and
Altos Anaerobic Fermentation (250g / 8.8oz)

Available from the 14th of October to the 7th of November

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Iconic Altos

We are proud to have been able to advise on and be part of some of Mauricio’s recent experimentation, and that we have been able to purchase such a wide range of coffees with a wide range of taste profiles from his farm. These small experimental lots also allow us to pay a higher price that reflects Mauricio’s greater outlay and expert work. We are also excited to be able to use outlets like our subscription service to showcase a wide view of his work to so many of those who truly appreciate it.

Stay bright and curious - John Gibson

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La Cabra is a modern coffee roastery based out of Aarhus and Copenhagen, Denmark. Every month we ship out two unique coffee experiences and provide insight into how these coffees were grown and processed by talented producers.

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