Costa Rica: Day 1

Feb 5, 2013

Hey guys! Want to keep you all up-to-date with goings-on in Costa Rica!

Today was our first official day down here. After a rather surreal breakfast at a Denny’s (I seriously could have been anywhere in the Midwest… except for the fact that we were trying to make coffee at our tables with buono kettles, Hario Slims, and V60’s…), we headed out to our first stop of the day, a semi-private farm called Cicafe in the Central Vally.

Cicafe, an experimental farm...

Cicafe is an experimental farm that’s currently spending a lot of time working on a relatively new problem to Costa Rica… Coffee Leaf Rust. This fungus has really only made an appearance in the last couple of years, due primarily to drier than normal conditions in September and October, brought on by global warming.

It causes the leaves on coffee trees to wither, rot, and eventually takes cherries, and entire branches with it.

Thus the caffeine overload begins...

In the past, the government has encouraged farmers to plant Catimor, a disease resistant hybrid of arabica and robusta. Unfortunately, it turns out that the cup characteristic of Catimor can be very Robusta-like, which is to say, not that good.

Luckily, Cicafe has been working on a new varietal called F1, which has showed some promise. It produces about 30% more than Caturra and Catuai (the primary varietals in Costa Rica), and tastes much better than Catimor.

We had a chance to cup a few F1’s (in addition to about 30 other coffees…), and I found a pretty interesting cup. They were definitely sweet, with a very prominent perfumy characteristic, with distinct allspice notes. The coffee was still pretty young, so it would be interesting to cup in in a few more weeks. A very distinct flavor profile.

Las Lajas

Cicafe also produces some other experiments, including varying shade, varietals, and other factors.

After a quick lunch at a gigantic farm called Doka, we stopped at a really well-run farm and mill called Las Lajas. This is a certified organic farm and mill that focuses almost exclusively on honeyed and full natural coffees.

Francisca Chacon and her son Oscar. Francisca and her husband (also named Oscar) run the mill. Super knowledgeable!

I was extremely impressed with the cleanliness of the mill, the knowledge of the farmers, and their attention to detail.

The mill is actually part of a group of 7 farms all owned by 6 brothers and sisters and their mother. They actually produce 3 different types of honeyed coffees (yellow, red, and black), in addition to 2 kinds of natural coffee, one taking 15 days to dry on the patio, and one taking 30 days.

We actually got to cup through all the coffees, and I was amazed at the quality on the table. Even the 30 day natural was really clean all the way through the cupping. I kept waiting for it to turn fermenty, but it never got there. Perhaps you’ll be seeing this coffee on our shelves in the future???

I will say that I’ve never heard of black honey coffee before, but my first experience with it was definitely positive! Lots of depth and sweetness, licorice and dark chocolate…

After spending a lot of time at Las Lajas, we grabbed dinner at a place called La Trucha, where the house specialty is fresh-caught trout from the lake next door. Pretty sweet. Also pretty sweet when you consider they were closed when we got there, but they opened up for us, called in a cook, and did it all with a smile! Thanks guys!

Gettin' the cherry ready...

So it had already been a long day, but we figured the day had lacked an element of danger, so we decided to investigate the black market side of coffee…

It turns out that Costa Rica’s crop matured pretty early this year, and most of the Central Valley had finished harvest. No worries. We found a renegade, unregulated, uncertified, and unlicensed mill called [censored] run by father and son team [censored] and [censored]. These revolutionaries drove out to Tarrazu, bought some good cherry, and did some night processing for us.

Afterhours cherry processing. In the immortal words of Gabe, the "most punk cherry processing ever...".

Really pretty awesome of them, considering they had to drive about 2.5 hours to pick it up.

At this point, I’m not really sure who owns this coffee. Maybe we’ll grab some and do a Lagunitas-style Censored Ale type package. Could be awesome…

After this trip to this nano-mill (which, by the way, was literally in [name removed]’s backyard), we decided to call it a day. Back to the hotel to regroup, grab some sleep, and get ready for day 2.

Until tomorrow!