This is a first attempt at writing a blog. We thought it might be fun to share some of our experience as coffee buyers. We'll see how we do.
We've spent the past few days in Costa Rica. Late Saturday evening, we landed in San Jose. It was a long day of travels, with a 6am departure from Calgary to Houston, then a six hour layover in Houston. You can say it wasn't the best of planning, but it was the most cost effective travel option. We survived.
We had the full day off on Sunday. It seems that Sunday is pretty traditionally a day off in Central American culture. It was really nice for Dave and I to sleep in, spend the day wandering San Jose and drinking coffee at a lovely shop called Cafeoteca. For us, it's entertaining and enlightening to visit other coffee shops as we travel. Specialty coffee is a small community worldwide, and sharing insights, values and procedures can be beneficial for us and for the local baristas. Marco, the gentleman who helped us at Cafeoteca, also helped us navigate our way to a local soccer match. A classico, as he kept calling it.
We scalped tickets for Saprissa vs Alajuela, and found ourselves in the very, very last row of the stadium. We weren't totally certain whom to cheer for, so we decided to go with the majority, Saprissa, and lucky for us, our team won! GOOOOOOOAALLLLL. It was the first professional soccer match either of us had been to. The energy in the stadium was unreal. The chats, the drums, the banter, it just didn't stop. We loved it.
Monday, February 6th:
We were picked up at our hotel at 9:00am, thinking we would be headed to the lab right away to taste coffees. Instead, we went directly to the West Valley (Valle Occidente) to visit with producers we've purchased from the last two years. We were able to visit four farms/mills. All of which had some sort of improvement from last year. Of course, that was exciting for us to see.
We started at Helsar, which is said to be one of the original micro-mills in Costa Rica. It was very interesting listening to Ricardo Perez, one of the owners of Helsar. He is more of an entrepreneur, or forward thinker, than most other producers. In the past few years, he has introduced a roasting facility, to supply the local coffee market, a cascara processing area, to facilitate a new international market. He has also dropped his organic certification and changed his mantra to 'clean product'. Very cool stuff.
After Helsar, we went to Anonos Farm. Brothers, Marvin and Felipe, the owners of Anonos, are the other partners in Helsar. They've decided to also change their ways and drop their organic certification, moving themselves to 'clean product'. This doesn't mean they are no longer using organic practices, this is just a showcase of how organic certification isn't all it's chalked up to be. We were told since certifying their farms years ago, they've just filled out paper work year after year to continue their certification. No one checks on their practices, no one comes to their farms, they simply just pay to have the certificate. It's eye opening.
We stopped for a typical Tico (slang for Costa Rican) lunch. It was rice, beans, stewed meats, plantains, fried egg and some unknown vegetables. At least unknown to us gringos. We ate quickly. Probably too quickly, to ensure we could see the rest of our tour before sunset.
Next up was Sumava. This was a farm we have not bought coffee from; however, Francisco, the owner of this farm, is also the owner of the exporting company we meet with here in Costa Rica. He has been a part of Sumava for the past three years, and we've been lucky enough to visit every year we've been to Costa Rica. So we've seen the development of his operations year after year. Very impressive. There are a plethora of different coffee varietals: geisha, pacamara, villa sarcha, SL28, H3 (Ethiopia x Caturra) and more. In 2016, Sumava had the honor of winning the Costa Rican Cup of Excellence. We had the opportunity to taste some on Tuesday - we'll get to that later.
Our last stop for the day was with one of my favorite producers, Allan of Don Joel. I'm not sure I'm allowed to vocalize my favorites, but it's out there now. Allan has made large improvements to his mill every year, has expanded his lands and begun planting some interesting varietals. He is proud, genuine and hard working. This year as we arrived, he was just finishing a day of harvest with his team of pickers. He immediately had a smile on his face and toured us around to show investments he had made around the farm and the mill. This year, an expanded patio, some new crops and the first harvest of SL28 and Villasarchi. He gave us samples, as most of the producers we visit do. This allows us to cup, evaluate, provide feedback, and select our purchases. The best part of this interaction was Allan's promise to come and cup with us the following morning. For us, this is special because it means he will taste his coffee, understand more about varietal, processing and simply further his learning.
Believe it or not, most coffee producers won't end up tasting their own coffee. Instead, they'll buy lower grade coffees at local markets and sell the coffee they produce. Seems crazy, hey?