Monday, February 28, 2011

Costa Rica 2011: Part 4

A cloud forest


Day five of our trip started with a three-hour drive to the Aproceto Pierda Blanca cooperative mill, which is a great little two-year-old community cooperative with 40 members. In total, they farm just over 50 hectares. It was a beautiful drive though the country side, and it got even better once we neared our destination. These farms and mills are so remote that they are usually only accessed by helicopter, and our car couldn’t make it up to the mill. So, we all hopped in the back of one of the mill operator’s trucks and rode a good 20 minutes until we finally reached the mill. After the long, bumpy drive, we were treated to some of the best coffee that I have ever had at a coffee plantation. The reason for this is that the “good” coffee is always exported so they keep and drink the inferior coffee.

Livin' on the edge

After we sat and talked (and sipped) we were given a tour of the wet mill, the drying patios and then the coffee warehouse where they let the coffee rest before it’s polished and exported. Then, we were greeted by the Mayor and Vice Mayor of the town who joined us for lunch. And what an amazing lunch it was! We were invited to the home of the mill’s president of the board. His wife made us an amazing traditional Costa Rican meal, finished off with some of his home made “juice” which was strong enough to light our breath on fire after a taste.

A delicious lunch

We had some coffee to clear our palates, then headed up to the top of the mountain to visit Finca Provencial, which was another 30-minute ride in the back of a pick-up truck -- but man was it beautiful! Once at the top, we were in the middle of a cloud forest in which we could barely see 20 feet in front of us. After a quick tour of the farm (the reason for it being quick is that we really couldn’t see much because it was so foggy) we went over to the community center. Someone had left a soccer ball, so we decided that we could kick it around for a little while. We all agreed that there must have been something wrong with that ball since none of us could get it in the goal.

A foggy game of futbol

On our way back down the mountain, we were really hoping it would clear up so we could catch a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, for us it didn’t, but it did start to rain, which made the fact that we were riding in the back of a truck on a really bumpy road all that more fun. Once back at the mill, they showed us how they juice sugar cane, and we got to sample some of the juice as well as some of their local honey, which was very tasty.

The next (sixth) day we headed over to the Poas volcano for a little sight seeing. On this day, it was clear and we could see the crater. Although the view was amazing, the smell was not so attractive. After enduring what smelled like rotten eggs, we decided to hike over to the old lagoons, created by the now-inactive volcano next to the Poas. The hike was pretty intense as it was uphill for about 30 minutes at very high altitudes (we again used the altitude as the reason why we were all so winded, it couldn’t be the fact that we were out of shape!). After the hour-long hike to and from the lagoons, we headed back to Coffee County.

Our last stop was Las Llajas, where we again toured the mill and were treated to a cupping. (Man, were those some amazing coffees; you will definitely need to be on the lookout for one of those coming later this year to our cafes -- especially the Honey Processed coffee, which is one of the best coffees that I have tasted to date). After some great coffee talk, and French pressing some more of their coffees, we sadly headed back toward our hotel to pack our bags for our impending departure from Costa Rica the next morning.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Costa Rica 2011: Part 3


Climbing down the ladder

The next morning we all (except for Danny) woke at 6 and decided we would go on a quick hike to a near-by waterfall. After we got lost three times, we finally found the correct trail and were on our way. The hike was a lot scarier than any of us predicted; one misstep and we could fall a few hundred feet down to the river. After some cautious, harrowing footing we reached a metal ladder ― quite possibly the scariest part of the hike. It was a good 60 feet straight down on this rickety ladder. But once we made it down, it was just a few more minutes of hiking and we were at the waterfall. The trip was definitely worth it. Looking up at this 200-foot waterfall from the bottom of the ravine was 100-percent worth almost dying a few times on the path. After we spent a good 30 minutes just taking it all in, and really just trying to catch our breath we took off back toward the hotel. Almost. The altitude really got to us, and we all had to stop halfway back for a little breather.

Paul and Zach survived the hike... barely

Soon after our return (and recovery) we were off to visit our first farm, the beautiful Finca Santa Elena, probably the largest farm and mill we visited on our trip. The farm has 92 Hectors but grows sugar cane. After taking a tour of the very clean processing plant, (I have to say, I was very impressed by the care that all of these farmers and millers take with the cleanliness of their facilities) we were taken out to the fields and shown the different varietals, as well as how we can easily identify them. During the walk, we also talked about how the farm became Rain Forest Certified and the challenges that they face to keep those certifications. Once back at the farm house, we had some coffee and pastries while we talked more about the coffee and how it's growing.

After a great visit, we were on our way to the second stop of the day, the farm of the Aguilera brothers. I had spent some time on this farm the previous year, helping them out... and really just trying to stay out of their way as I immersed myself in coffee processing. The farm is run by 12 brothers who all work together, and each own the same percentage of the farm; it's a great family operation. Like other farmers we'd talked to, the rains really affected the Aguilera brothers' coffee in terms of quantity, but really helped the coffee in terms of quality ― which makes us really excited!

Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment of our 2011 trip to Costa Rica...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Costa Rica 2011: Part 2


Our second day of coffee hunting began with a long drive back through San Jose and up to the West Valley; this is the region of the country where we get our Don Quijote coffee. Once we arrived at the processing mill, we started off by having a cup of coffee with Norman and Erik, the men who run the mill. This is the same mill where I spent a week working last year, so it was good to see my former co-workers and chat with them about this year's harvest, as well as what's new in their lives. After we took a tour of the facilities, I showed everyone my former living quarters. We then had a little shoveling contest and tried to disperse the coffee evenly on the patio from a specialized wheelbarrow with an opening on the bottom. After a few laughs (some of us weren't as good as others) we headed over to what would be one of the highlights of the trip.

Me attempting to maneuver the wheelbarrow

Just a short walk from the mill are the two childcare centers that The Roasterie helps fund. This year, as a small gift for the children and their teachers, we each brought along a few boxes full of school supplies and toys. We were greeted by the children singing us songs, and it was great to see how happy they seemed. After some brief introductions, we talked about what the school really needed, and came to the conclusion that they were in need of a larger kitchen and more kitchen supplies. We talked more about how they are progressing and how we can continue to help them.

Visiting the first childcare center

After saying our goodbyes, we walked up the hill and over to the other childcare center. Once there, we were again greeted by the children singing songs for us. We then took some pictures with the children, and they loved to see themselves in the photos. For about 20 minutes, they were all lining up to have their pictures taken just so they could see themselves in the camera. When we broke out the video camera, they were even more excited, seeing everything in real time on its small display screen. After some more play time, we talked to the teachers about what they were in need of this year — which was updating the playground to make it safer.

The kids seeing themselves on camera

Once back at the mill, we took a tour of the coffee silos and got to see first-hand how they put the identifying marks on the burlap bags ― and man, was it messy! After saying goodbye to everyone at the mill, we were on our way up the mountain to see some coffee fields. The harvest in this area was just about done; they had about a pass or two left on the trees to collect the final cherries that were just maturing.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our 2011 trip to Costa Rica...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Costa Rica 2011: Part 1


We arrived in Costa Rica ready for another adventure and that is exactly what we found. Our first day on the ground was a little confusing as it was Super Bowl Sunday and it was like Costa Rica had turned into just another American state. Every where we looked they were offering an American sports bar experience — chicken wings and nachos were all we could find to eat. Although we felt like we were still in the States for our first few hours on the ground, that sure changed the next morning. We took off for our first stop on this trip ― a two-hour drive to the Terrazzo region of Costa Rica. During the beautifully scenic and picturesque drive, Danny, Zach and I felt each other out in terms of how much heckling everyone could handle on this particular trip. About an hour later, we arrived in coffee country and it was great to see all of the plants at the end of harvest (harvest was early this year due to weather conditions), and catch a break from Danny's friendly heckling.

The first farm we visited was La Pira, where we get our amazing Geisha varietal as well as the Naturally processed Costa Rica beans. It was great to see Carlos, the farm owner, again and talk coffee. One thing that stood out here, as it did on all of our trip, was the damage to the land and the crop due to an excessive rain that Costa Rica endured during the maturation period of the beans. Carlos actually had a brand-new stream that ran right through the middle of his processing area. After getting some great insight on this year's crop and seeing his newly-improved warehouse and processing facility, we got to smell and chew on some amazing parchment coffee. This might be one of my favorite activities when visiting a coffee county ― just walking up to a drying patio or African bed and taking a big handful of drying coffee and smelling it, then tasting a few beans at this early stage. The difference from farm to farm and process to process is extraordinary.

After our great visit to La Pira, we visited two more small micro mills that were in their first year of production, Fallas y Rodrigues and Ezequiel Vallalta. Seeing these micro mills shows that these farmers are really taking pride in the quality of their product, as they are consolidating their supply chain and making sure that all of the processes are done with accuracy and care.

Danny smells the beans at Fallas y Rodrigues

Next, we headed out to a few more familiar places, including Los Angeles, another small farm and mill run by Diego and his two sons. After a little coffee raking contest we made a few coffee angels (think snow angles in drying coffee). Then, they treated us to a sampling of their homemade coffee liquor ― which I must say puts anything that we have here in the States to shame.

Beans at Los Angeles

Our last stop of the day was La Candelilla, where last year, we found our award-winning Peaberry. There we were greeted by Stephan and taken on a tour of the facilities. We were lucky to arrive when they were receiving coffee, and so we jumped in line and helped them unload it, measure it, process it and then spread it on the drying patios. We also took a nice walk through the fields and tasted the difference between a Geisha berry and a Catuai berry. The difference was astonishing! The Geisha berry was so much sweeter, it had the greatest wild honey notes.

Tomorrow, we'll report on Day 2 of our 2011 trip to Costa Rica.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Danny Dishes: Why Airplanes?

Does our coffee get transported in airplanes? And why do we use the DC-3 for our logo? Is Danny a pilot? Find out in our first-ever Roasterie podcast.