Today was our last day in San Jose. At least until the end of the week, when we'll head back to the lab to cup more coffees and make our selections for purchase. For the most part, we'll be purchasing from the same producers as last year, and trying to build on those relationships. For us, it's important to maintain those relationships and grow with them.
The day started with two tables of coffee for evaluation. Each of those tables had 14 coffees presented, with two bowl for each coffee. That's 56 total bowls of coffee. In the grand scheme of coffee buying, very little. Next week when we're in Guatemala, we'll have 100+ coffee days - stay tuned for next weeks blogging. We'll have more to taste on Friday, but today was a nice sneak peak at how our relationships are doing with harvest this year!
Allan from Don Joel was at the cupping this morning, so his coffees made an appearance on both tables. He had a few absolutely stunning offerings. This year is the first real crop he's had from his two and a half year old plantations of SL28 and Villasarchi. These coffees had very unique profiles. The SL28 held true to it's Kenya-like structure, with rich, dark fruits, backed with nice sweetness and big body, to finish with a savoury, near peppery quality. The Villasarchi surprised me most, it held tropical fruit qualities, intense sweetness, a tactile presence that coated your whole palette and almost felt like you had put a spoonful of jam in your mouth. Both of these coffees rocked our socks. To have Allen there, and to be able to share that experience with him was very special. He got to taste and see first hand, how different his coffee could be. We said our goodbyes, thanked him for his dedication and left with smiles on our faces.
A quick lunch at a nearby cafe, and we were on the road to Tarrazu.
The road to Tarrazu is around two and a half hours from San Jose. On a map, it seems much closer, but once you factor in traffic, rough-ish infrastructure and roads that seem to constantly turn back and forth, it makes for quite the trek. All worth it for the day we had.
We went directly to meet up with Roger Solis. He's the only producer in Tarrazu that we work with. We've met with him, and purchased his coffee for the three years that we've been to Costa Rica on buying trips. He currently runs two farms and his own micro-mill. We started with a tour of San Francisco 1900, a farm we have not purchased in the past. The 1900 refers to the altitude of this farm, which is in the higher echelon of coffee production. He was telling us that he's owned this particular farm for 18 years, and he was one of the first in the highlands of Tarrazu to do so. Neighbouring farm owners told him coffee wouldn't work way up there, and now, as we walked around, it's literally coffee as far as the eye can see... He has Catuai and Caturra up there. Both high yielding plants with solid cup profiles. The cherries were a deep purple and incredibly sweet when picked and eaten off the tree. Here, he was in the midst of harvest, and would continue for the next handful of days. We were able to meet and have some hellos with his team of pickers, towards the end of their day.
Roger jumped into our car and we headed off to his mill, La Casona de Dona Lina, to continue the tour of his operations. To give some background, Roger has seven children, two boys and five girls. He worked in New Jersey for a handful of years in the late 90's and had the opportunity to come back to Tarrazu with the money he had earned, and take over his families coffee operations. He is a fourth generation coffee producer here in Costa Rica, and his ultimate goal is to establish his farm and mill for his children to take over. The two sons, Jorge and Sebastian, are currently both involed in the day to day, which is exciting for us to see. Lots of coffee producers are having trouble keeping the younger generation interested, due to opportunity in the city, further progression in education and understanding of how hard the labour on a farm can and will be. Roger has kept his children interested!
After a quick tour of La Casona (we'll be back for a more thorough tour and demonstration of processing in the morning) we were invited into his home for dinner with his family. This is the first time we've had this sort of opportunity. We met the whole family, and were warmly welcomed into their cozy, humble home. Before dinner, I had offered to make a coffee for Roger, using his coffee which we had cupped earlier in the morning. I had brought a Kalita Wave Dripper, my Bonavita Gooseneck Kettle, my Porlex grinder and a little scale with me, so making a coffee should be easy. Key words, 'should be easy'. Next thing I know, I have an audience made up of the entire Solis family, all of which are intrigued to taste the coffee they work day in and day out to produce. I was all of a sudden 'muy nervioso' as they say in Spanish. The coffee turned out well, I explained my procedure and everyone in the room shared a very special moment. I've never seen a singular cup so quickly make its way around a room, with eyes widening and smiles sneaking through. It was a moment I'll hold onto for years to come.
We followed the coffee brewing with dinner - Ojo de Carne. My spelling is probably not correct... It was a full flavored, traditional, beef soup with potatoes, rice and yuca. Delicious. We ate, exchanged questions about eachothers cultures, explained how cold Canada gets, and finally said our thank yous and our goodbyes. Hasta pronto, see you soon.
We'll be back at La Casona in the morning to see first hand how Roger and his sons Jorge and Sebastian, process their coffee. Cant wait.