Randy and I had an enlightening, exciting visit to origin in Costa Rica this harvest season! We had the opportunity to team up with Cafe Imports' new San Jose, Costa Rica based liaison, Piero Cristini, a native of Central America. Piero was the perfect guide on this trip, saving us a ton of time and hassle in our search to find the best coffees in Costa Rica. Prior to our arrival we told Piero we only wanted to see the top micro-mills and farms, micro-lots scoring 87 points and above. Our mission was to locate, inspect, and taste the finest coffees Costa Rica has to offer this season, along with developing relationships with the farmers we will work with..With a fully equipped cupping lab and sweet sample roaster at his office at origin, Piero has a unique ability to locate the best coffees as they first come out. Piero was a wealth of knowledge, while also serving as translator and tour guide.
Upon being picked up at San Jose Airport, we went directly to the Central Valley's highest elevation and best quality micro-mill and farm, run by Steven Vargas. Named after his grandfather Don Sabino, this is a true micro-mill literally built out of his garage four years ago. They are 5th generation farmers who are able to process and produce just 75 bags this year. Steven has worked his entire life in coffee, and this is truly a family business. His Dad, Gilber, does the farming, Steven handles the wet and dry processing, while his brother Gilber Jr is in charge of the roasting side. Traditionally all their coffee was sold locally, and its only in the past couple years they have exported to the United States. Steven's pride in their farms and mill was evident, and we were privileged to enjoy a local style lunch at his home after our tour.
We next visited top farms in the West Valley region, which were highlighted by a lengthy stay with the Aguilera Brothers at their wholly owned and first rate Beneficio (mill) and four small farms. Located at 1700 meters in the miicro-region of Los Robles de Naranjo, the climate is a bit cooler, simulating an even higher climate and offering the optimal change of temperature for superior coffee.. This is probably why this small mill has won the Cup of Excellence 5 times. All 12 brothers and sisters (yes twelve!) work together in this family business, which was quite inspiring for my brother and I. These guys have it dialed, constantly experimenting and improving their facility. We timed our visit perfectly, as the reddest, freshly picked coffee cherries were just arriving by pickup truck to be processed in front of us. We watched the intricate process of the coffee being unloaded, then depulped, through the mucilaginator, screens to remove defects, into indoor drying silos, and finally onto the outdoor drying patios. We learned how the mucilage from the cherries gets composted for fertilizer, how they adjust the amount of mucilage left on the cherry for their delicious honey processed coffees. Most of all we just l we just hung out with the bros, took lots of photos and watched the sunset.
Of course we spent a good amount of time in the beautiful and famous coffee region of Tarrazu. Rio Jorco Beneficio was a thrill to see, as this is one of the premier mills in the country, processing coffee for a number of quality farms in the Tarrazu region. The Rio Jorco group also owns their own farm above the mill called Los Lobos, meaning 'the wolves'. We had already had Los Lobos coffee in our lineup this fall, and now have firsthand experience to see why it is so darn good. Lobos is the highest elevation of all the farms processed by Rio Jorco, which is a mill that is phenomenal to witness. Their coffee is a bit more known and they have been able to invest back into their processing and farming which definitely translates to the cup.
Our last but certainly not least visit was to the top of a cloud enshrouded mountain in Tarrazu, home to Don Pepi, who runs the very small mill and farm with his son and grandson. It felt like we were in heaven in this picturesque setting, after finally arriving over some very treacherous dirt, mountain roads. In fact Piero met Don Pepi just recently. Piero got a flat tire while driving nearby, and Don Pepi stopped to help him change it. He then took Piero to his farm and blew him away with the quality. We spent time here and could real feel it when he told us how 'his coffee passion is in his blood". Don Pepi is an overall nice dude, who takes time to meet with other area producers and seems intent on simply improving the overall quality of all the farms in the area. Up until last year, Don Pepi would sell his awesome coffee cherries to a regional drop center, where they would get mixed with other lesser coffees and marketed as 'Tarrazu'. He therefore received the same fairly low price as his neighbors who don't necessarily do as good a job. Through the help of Cafe Imports, Don Pepi now processes his own coffee and will sell most of this year's crop through Cafe Imports. We plan to be one of maybe a couple US roasters to carry this amazing coffee!