Imperio Rojo

We arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, early on Wednesday morning after a 6am flight from Guatemala City. Paul, the Head Roaster at Rosso, also flew in Wednesday morning to meet up with us and to assist in the process of cupping, evaluating coffees and helping make our selections for the menu this coming year.

Costa Rica was the first origin we traveled to in 2015, our first Direct purchases trip. This marks the fourth season we'll be working with the majority of the producers we buy from here. It's crazy how fast time flies and it's even more crazy how much the producers developed their Micro-mills and their farms. We've now seen seedlings turn into full fledge trees that are now producing coffee cherries and are available for us to potentially bring home. Exciting.

For coffee to produce it takes approximately three years for the first harvest. With the peak of quality and yields happening generally between years five and seven. Oftentimes, producers will use the small amounts of production in the first years to reap seeds from the strongest and most healthy plants, allowing them to grow more seedlings and, thus, investing in the future of their farm.

On Wednesday, we spent the full day cupping and getting an idea of what to expect with the production from the five farms/mills that we work with here. Most of what we tasted was early harvest and we're picking up samples of the mid and late season harvest as we tour around and visit, then cupping again on the weekend. Generally speaking, the early harvest is not the best cup quality with coffee, and the mid and late season is usually sweeter and more has more true flavours from the varietal and micro-region.

On Thursday, we hit the road and made our way to Chirripo to visit with Jose Alvarado, the owner of the Imperio Rojo mill, and a few farms. Usually when we visit, his drying beds are filled with coffee. This year, when we arrived, there was no action at the mill. The harvest is completely over and today was Jose's last day working before taking his family and his key workers to the beach to celebrate the season. He invited us, but it obviously wouldn't work for our condensed schedule.

Cafe Imperio Rojo in Chirripo, Costa Rica

The region of Chirripo is actually a National Park and a mountain range. It's home to Mount Chirripo, which is the tallest mountain in Costa Rica, standing at 3820 metres. All the farms are scattered amongst steep hillsides that climb to peaks of nearly 2100 metres and have really just been started within the last 8 or so years. Imperio Rojo started just five years ago.

We loaded into the back of Jose's truck and went to the top of his main two farms, Los Higuerones and Fuji. Both are a drive up roads that can afford no error. I'm happy to report we made it to the top to see the amazing view of the Chirripo mountains. As well as the growth and development of his trees - they're looking amazing! 

Los Higuerones and Fuji

Higuerones is the first farm Jose owned and that's where our previous years' offering of Imperio Rojo have come from. The farm is named after a type of tree that grows very tall and are seen on the drive through the farm. The average plants here are about six or seven-years-old with some new growth coming in. Almost all the coffee here is Catuai with a bit of Caturra.

On Fuji, theres a whole bunch of new growth. The majority of plants are two years old and a scattering of different varietals. There's Catuai and Caturra again, but there's also Villasarchi, Geisha, Villalobos and a little bit of Pacamara. I'm excited to taste this in future years.


Coffee plants at Fuji, Imperio Rojo

Jose has been playing with some processing experiments this season. We could see by his excitement, that he's found a lot of interest in this. He's played with small batches of Anaerobic fermentation, where the fermentation takes place in a sealed container, void of oxygen. This is similar to how a lot of wine makers ferment their grapes, calling it Carbonic Maceration, with the idea of more forward fruit qualities, more sweetness and more aromatics. I'm keen to cup and see the results.

We're on the road now to Tarrazu, where we'll meet with the Solis Family, who owns the farms, San Francisco 1900 and the micro mill La Casona de Doña Lina. This will be our fourth season purchasing coffee from these great people, as well. See our next entry on how that visit went.

Imperio Rojo, Costa Rica

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