DISCOVERY

Costa Rica

For this month’s subscription, we are more than happy to see the return of Costa Rican coffees to the roastery. Costa Rica is a special country for us for several reasons, not least because it was the first origin country we were able to visit, and create long-lasting relationships in. It’s also a particularly special coffee country, full of friendly and welcoming, but also driven and innovative coffee growers. Their perseverance in the face of adversity led to the micro-mill revolution, and to the advent of honey processing. Both of this month’s coffees are from pioneers of the Costa Rican industry; the Zuñiga brothers at Herbazú were some of the first to bring new varietals to the country, and the Chacon family have brought quality natural processing to the fore.

To understand these coffees, it is important to understand the unique context in which they are produced; what makes these Costa Rican coffees so special?

COSTA RICA

A Spine of Coffee Production

We buy coffees from a long spine of Costa Rica, running through the country’s capital San Jose. This spine is famous for high quality coffee production the world over, resulting in high prices for farmers. One of the reasons for this is plentiful high altitude, the Talamanca Sierra runs through the region, with peaks of above 3000 masl. This spine is split into 3 regions, the West Valley and Central Valley to the north of San Jose, and Tarrazu to the south. In all of these areas, but especially in Tarrazu, agriculture and coffee growing is a main employer, vital to the economy. In fact, the population of Tarrazu is multiplied by three during harvest season, when workers flock to the region for the high wages paid to skilled pickers. The entire spine is mainly of volcanic origin, helping to provide fertile soils conducive to the production of consistently high scoring coffees, which we keep going back for. 2018 marks the fourth year we have visited our Costa Rican export partners at Exclusive Coffees, and the producers they have connected us with just keep on delivering excellent and transparent coffee experiences

THE MARKET

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. In the late 90’s, the New York Commodity Exchange price for coffee was very low, triggering 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 also has a slightly more developed economy 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.

COSTA RICA

Transparency, traceability and quality

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. For instance, after a 2008 earthquake threw much of the country into an extreme water shortage, the government enacted tight controls on water usage, effectively rendering traditional washed processing impossible in much of the country. The new smaller mills are much more efficient and use modern 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.

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. These micro-lots are often innovative in their varietal or process, creating distinctive and varied taste profiles even within the same farm. Two of the producers at the forefront of this change are present in this month’s subscription pack.

WASHED SL28

Herbazu

We first visited the Herbazu mill in March 2015, during the same trip where we filmed our ‘Brightness’ movie. The name Herbazu comes from the family name of the brothers who own the farm, Los Hermanos Barrantes Zuñiga. During our first trip we were very impressed by the brothers’ dedication, and incredibly high levels of quality control and sorting. However, what also intrigued us was their experimentation with alternative varietals. We tasted a small lot of SL28 that had been produced at the farm, that to us, was the cleanest representation of the varietal that we had ever tasted grown outside Kenya. We have often found that SL28 lots don’t deliver on their promise of clean Kenya-like acidity and syrupy sweetness, but this ticked all of those boxes. That lot went on to win the 2015 Costa Rica Cup of Excellence, but due to the popularity and rarity of these lots, it took us several years to bring some Herbazu SL28 back to Denmark.

Due to the notoriety of these SL28 lots, the Zuñiga brothers are slowly converting more of their approximately 45 hectares of land to grow SL28. The varietal requires specific conditions, so small trials are undertaken constantly to find the ideal spot on each miniature farm to plant. While still 80% Villa Sarchi, a very typical high quality Costa Rican varietal, SL28 now takes up 10% of the total area, with the remaining 10% made up of experimental plots of varietals such as Ethiopian heirloom, a Rwandan bourbon strain, Geisha and Typica. This year marks the fourth time we have managed to secure Herbazu’s crisp and juicy SL28, this time in both a washed and natural variant. The washed lot is tasting typically fresh and bright, with the trademark blackcurrant notes backed up by a deep brown sugar sweetness and a rich hazelnut finish.

NATURAL CATURRA

Las Lajas

Las Lajas has been a family project since 1840, being passed down through the generations until Oscar Chacon inherited 5 hectares of land when his father passed away. At only 18, Oscar initially kept the status quo, selling cherry to a local mill like many in Costa Rica at the time. After being married to Francisca in 1997, Oscar’s family was growing, and for a time cherry selling provided income and stability, but the coffee price crisis of the late 90’s and early 2000’s put a stop to this. They initially converted their entire production to organic, allowing them to demand a much higher price at the local mill, but the coffee market price continued to decline.

Together, Oscar and Francisca made the decision to process their own coffee, taking control of their own product. They were one of the driving forces behind a wider movement in Costa Rica, known as the micro-mill revolution, where many producers built their own small mills and began to process small traceable lots of coffee. At a time when the speciality coffee movement was in its infancy, this completely revolutionised the Costa Rican coffee market, creating somewhat of a mecca for these early speciality buyers. From this point, Oscar and Francisca’s attention to detail and entrepreneurial spirit led to an upwards trajectory for the project, creating new processes, separating and cultivating new varietals. They were in fact one of the first producers to process natural coffees in Costa Rica after a 2008 earthquake led to power outages and a patchy water supply.

This gave rise to their now well known ‘Perla Negra’ process, one seen in barista competitions around the world. Initially named for the small ‘black pearls’ created when coffee cherries shrivel and dry on patios, this is an exacting and careful example of natural processing, by one of the pioneers of the method. First, the cherries are floated to remove low density and defective seeds. Francisca feels that when coffee is dried in direct sun on a patio, it dries too fast and loses its brightness and liveliness, so Perla Negra lots are dried under plastic drying tunnels. In the humid Costa Rican harvest season, this creates an almost sauna effect, so the tunnels are removed at intervals to allow the moisture to evaporate. After 5 days of this cycling, the coffee is moved to raised drying beds inside an open ventilated greenhouse, lengthening the overall drying time and leading to an even moisture content; allowing more intense and distinct flavours in the cup. This leads to a particularly clean cup profile, but with the layers of complexity and richness that we value in naturals. Here, we’re finding a deep and creamy milk chocolate base, with soft stewed red fruit and a round plum acidity.

DISCOVERY

Memorable flavour experiences

Costa Rica is a special country for us for several reasons, not least because it was the first origin country we were able to visit, and create long-lasting relationships in. It’s also a particularly special coffee country, full of friendly and welcoming, but also driven and innovative coffee growers. Their perseverance in the face of adversity led to the micro-mill revolution, and to the advent of honey processing. Both of this month’s coffees are from pioneers of the Costa Rican industry; the Zuñiga brothers at Herbazú were some of the first to bring new varietals to the country, and the Chacon family have brought quality natural processing to the fore. We hope you enjoy both of their interpretations of the potential of Costa Rica.

Opening Hours

La Cabra - Graven

Graven 20

8000 Aarhus C

Denmark

Opening Hours:

Mon - Sat: 08:00 - 18:00

Sun: 09:00 - 17:00

La Cabra - Bakery

Borggade 4F

8000 Aarhus C

Denmark

Opening Hours:

Mon - Sat: 07:00 - 18:00

Sun: 07:00 - 17:00

La Cabra - New York

152 2nd Ave

New York

United States

Opening Hours:

Mon - Fri: 08:00 - 18:00

Sat - Sun: 09:00 - 18:00

La Cabra - Bangkok

813 Charoen Krung Rd, Talat Noi, Samphanthawong

Bangkok 10100

Thailand

Opening Hours:

Mon: Closed

Tue - Fri: 08:00 - 17:00

Sat - Sun: 09:00 - 18:00

Graven 20

8000 Aarhus C

Denmark

Opening Hours:

Mon - Sat: 08:00 - 18:00

Sun: 09:00 - 17:00

Borggade 4F

8000 Aarhus C

Denmark

Opening Hours:

Mon - Sat: 07:00 - 18:00

Sun: 07:00 - 17:00

152 2nd Ave

New York

United States

Opening Hours:

Mon - Fri: 08:00 - 18:00

Sat - Sun: 09:00 - 18:00

813 Charoen Krung Rd, Talat Noi, Samphanthawong

Bangkok 10100

Thailand

Opening Hours:

Mon: Closed

Tue - Fri: 08:00 - 17:00

Sat - Sun: 09:00 - 18:00

Contact

Webshop

Marguerite Vibys Pl. 1

2000 Frederiksberg

Denmark

Have a question?

Please write us in the chat.

Roastery

Marguerite Vibys Pl. 1

2000 Frederiksberg

Denmark

Marguerite Vibys Pl. 1

2000 Frederiksberg

Denmark

Have a question?

Please write us in the chat.

Marguerite Vibys Pl. 1

2000 Frederiksberg

Denmark

EN
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