Our recent trip to source to Tarrazu and Heredia regions in Costa Rica took place this past November. I was joined by my Vournas Coffee Trading team members Andrew and June, and we landed late on a Saturday night in San Jose. Our travel went off without a hitch and I was happy to be in coffee country. Rising early on our first day we were treated with vibrant sunshine, a slight breeze and the familiar feel of humidity in the air. As we left the hotel we could see the mountains surrounding San Jose. They stretch for miles and feel as if they are wrapping the city in a big hug.
We made our way up through the Poas area to Hacienda Sonora, a farm named for the sweet sounds of wind and water running through it. It is over 100 years old, and owned by Diego, a 4th generation coffee farmer and his dad. We had high expectations as we had heard really good things about Diego and his family, and this farm did not disappoint. Originally it started as a sugar plantation, but the family saw the potential in coffee and made the transition successfully. I was taken in by its beauty, the abundance of varietals, and how well maintained the farm was. Its biodiverse ecosystem, with 20% of the farm dedicated to forest, compliments the growing of green coffee and utilizes environmental sustainable practices by generating its own energy. Hacienda Sonora specializes in naturals and honey microlots, and through the years Diego and his family have fine tuned to the growing process. They now know where to reinvest money that will create a higher yield, when the use of shade grown is appropriate, what is just the right amount of drying time for naturals and honeys, and understand what pruning practices and fertilizers work best. We were shown exactly how coffee growing and processing done with utmost care and attention to detail can produce an exceptional high quality cup. Stay tuned for our microlot offerings from this farm.
Touring Through Tarrazu
Again the next day we were up with the sun. There is something about Costa Rica that puts a skip in your step. I was excited as I knew we had the day of touring Tarrazu in front of us. We had rented our own car and locals had said to keep an eye out for Ticos (locals) as they like to drive fast. That warning did not go unheeded, and later that morning as we wound our way through the streets of San Jose we came within inches of being hit by a speeding bus. Andrew has always been a great driver, and his reaction time saved us. I thanked my lucky stars we avoided an accident. With the near collision avoided, we turned our attention back to the trip at hand.
By mid-morning we met up with our old friend Jorge and he took the wheel of our Toyota. Suddenly we were on a road that seemed to go nowhere but soon discovered it went everywhere. Everywhere in Tarrazu that is! Tarrazu is one of the 6 growing regions in Costa Rica and is located southeast of the capitol, San Jose. It is made up of small valleys surrounded by some of Costa Rica’s highest mountains and has ideal growing conditions with elevation ranging from 1200 – 1700 meters, and mineral-rich volcanic soil and great climate. About 95% of the coffee grown is SHB. With each dip and turn of the road a new set of majestic hills covered in coffee trees were revealed. We stopped several times on the roadside and I was once again reminded of how arduous a job coffee farming is. The steep grade of the hillside, and it’s inaccessible terrain make growing and picking extremely challenging. Growing coffee is truly a labor of love.
Early that afternoon we stopped by Coppedota Coffee Cooperative in Santa Maria de Dota, where we were treated to a cupping of Guji’s black honeys, Geishas and Tarrazus. Coppedota is a coffee cooperative made up of 900 farmers that is known for producing its award winning coffee, and in 2011 became the world’s first carbon neutral coffee producer. The operation Coppedota has set up is impressive and it’s no wonder they produce such great coffee.
As we left Tarrazu late in the day we came upon Finca Bella Vista in the Tres Rios growing region. Thirty years ago Tres Rios was an area once covered in coffee trees. But change was apparent right away and an area that was once coffee plantations is now enmeshed with strips malls and farms tucked in between. This evidence of change wasn’t just particular to Tres Rios, in our 3 days traveling around the growing regions of Costa Rica we saw similar changes in others as well. We closed off the day knowing how fortunate we were to see the beautiful areas of Tarrazu and Tres Rios, and realizing how special these are. As we said our good nights we were treated by our hotel to chocolate chip cookies that tasted exceptional and the smell reminded us of home.
Old Friends And Excellent Coffee
On our final day of the trip we met up with Carlos Leon, another old friend who Vournas Coffee Trading has been buying coffee from for over 25 years, and is where we bring in our current Costa Rica El Tigre from. Carlos, a 5th generation farmer, showed us two of his farms Finca Buena Vista and Finca Conception each located in the fertile San Isidrode Heredia region. Nearby, several volcanoes (Barva, Irazu and Poas) provide mineral-rich base for the production of the coffee. On our way up to Finca Buena Vista we stopped by a vacant lot that used to be the site of the Old Mill run by Carlos’ grandfather. Processing the coffee has since been moved to a new location in Heredia, but the feeling of old family coffee history was so strong at this site you could almost touch it.
Finca Buena Vista and Finca Conception are beautiful farms with sweeping views of San Jose. They sit on 15 acres and 10 acres respectively at 1300 meters (4,000 feet) elevation. Carlos has a crew of eight that work the farms year round, and has an additional crew of 150 during harvest. Selective pruning, natural shade canopies and disease resistant varietals are all part of these farms environmental sustainable practices. At the mill, traditional artisan milling techniques have been handed down through the family for generations – no large industrial process is used in the milling or drying stages.
Similar to what many farms in Costa Rica experienced in the last 8 years Finca Conception has been no stranger to Roya Rust. To combat it the Leon Family brought in a varietal called Obata. Hundreds of these were planted 2 years ago and now there are rows upon rows of flourishing Obata trees that will be ready for harvest next year. It was encouraging to see this as it is one of the ways to fight the battle on coffee tree diseases.
The Journey’s Close
As our day came to a close, so did our trip touring our producer’s farms in Costa Rica. We went on to attend Sintercafé, an annual coffee community forum. Established in 1987 Sintercafé unites our industry professional from all corners of the globe to strengthen farm-to-cup commerce. Information on the market, new growing techniques and how to ensure higher prices for producers and much more were topics discussed. It was enlightening, empowering and I look forward to attending it in years to come. Until then I will take with me the wonderful memories and stories I learned of Costa Rica and its rich history in coffee.
C.O.O. Vournas Coffee Trading
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