12-13/12/2010 Costa Rica

During this trip, we visited 4 out of 8 coffee production zones – West, Central Valley, Orosi και Tarrazu – and 20 micromills. In Costa Rica the micromills phenomenon is present the last 8-10 years. It is all about a revolution of micromills in the coffee producing microregions. Producers add value to their farms by processing the coffee cherries in their mill.
In that way all the effort of the producer is revealed as well as the unique taste profile because the coffee is not mixed. The micromills phenomenon in Costa Rica is addressed to a nice coffee market (boutique coffee).

Costa Rica has a history in producing coffee, since it is estimated that coffee is cultivated for more than 200 years in this country.
The cultivated areas are estimated more than 90.000 and 50.000 families on average are engaged with coffee producing, harvesting etc.

Ιmportant dates for Costa Rica

1792: First Typica beans arrived to Central Valley from Caribbean
1833: First exports to London, UK from estates-oligarchy establishment
1820-1950: Coffee develops the identity, education, infrastructure, idiosyncrasy, coffee develops Costa Rica

1933-1948: Creation of Oficina de Defensa del Cafe as offices for conflict resolution
1943: Labor Law, worker’s rights
1948-1962: Oficina del Cafe de Costa Rica
1948: Abolition of the army on December 1st
1961: Creation of Law # 2762: Instituto del Cafe de Costa Rica(ICAFE) as regulator of the industry
1962 to date : Instituto del Cafe de CR – ICAFE
1950-1980’s: Cooperative Revolution
1990’s: 7 Coffee Regions by ICAFE: Tarrazu, West Valley, Central Valley, Orosi, Brunca, Turrialba, Tres Rios and Guanacaste
1992: Environmental Decree for coffee industry-mills; application of rigorous standards on water usage, by-products, composting
2000- to date: Micromill Revolution, micro lots, single cultivar lots

In the past, the producer was selling his coffee as a commodity to big processing stations and there a mixing of coffees from several producers was taking place. Now each producer adds value by investing in his own processing station, by controlling the whole procedure and by creating micro lots and/or nano lots, depending on buyers’ needs and requests.

We had the chance to discuss with the producers and see the passion that they have for growing and processing coffee. Producers were explaining to us how much conditions have just changed during the last years in the industry but also how much their life has changed. Oscar Mendez, owner of the genesis micromill, is an example of coffee producer who talked with passion about his coffee when we visited his micromill.

The four coffee producing zones that I mentioned earlier are very different from each other; therefore, coffee from each zone has different flavor characteristics.
Besides, coffee characteristics are formed based on the altitude and the micro-regions they grow. For this reason, each coffee region of Costa Rica has something different to present.

Micromills use the yellow honey, red honey and washed processing methods.
In the first case, the mucilage is removed mechanically, limiting in that way the use of large amounts of water. In the second case, the mucilage can be removed mechanically but not completely.

Coffee then goes to the patios or to the African beds for drying.

Of course not all micromills are the same. Some micromills have equipment that covers the production of smaller amounts of coffee while others can cover larger production. We visited the micromill called Los Altos in the evening, there they use a small Penagos and the siphon is made of wood.

At Taf, we already cooperated with 3 micromills from Costa Rica, La Margarita (micromill Zalmari), micromill La Cabana and micromill Don Jose. I consider meeting the coffee producers with who I cooperate a very important thing.

The farm La Margarita is located in the Cachi microregion in Costa Rica in the Orosi Valley, close to Cartago

There, I met Cecilia, her family (Murray) built in 2000 a small mill inside the farm and called it Zalmari.

In this region of Costa Rica, Cecilia and her family are considered pioneers.

La Cabana micromill is located in Tarrazu, in the microregion named San Pablo de Leon Cortes and it was built by Javier Meza and his father Isaias Meza.

They decided to create this micromill to add value to their coffee that dries in their own patios and African beds. I would like to really thank Javier Meza for the gift that he offered me when I visited his farm.

Finally, Don Jose micromill is located in West Valley and more specifically in San Juanillo de Naranjo at an altitude of 1550meters. There, Milagro Sanchez – the manager of the micromill, gave us a tour.

The varieties that mainly grow in Costa Rica are catimor, caturra, bourbon, typica, villalobos, geisha and villasarchi.
Traceability is an important issue for the control of the quality of coffee, which is why lots have as an indication the harvest date and are being controlled regularly.

In that way, coffee producers can receive feedback regarding their lots from the laboratory where controls take place.
On Friday, after our return to San Jose, we had the chance to try 30 different samples from 1st picking coffee by cupping them.
At the end of this cupping, we had notes with the cup profiles for re-evaluation.

During my trip i had the chance to discuss a couple of times with Francisco Mena regarding the situation in Costa Rica. Our duscussions are summarized in the following interview.

-What does coffee mean for the Costa Rican economy?
It means 200 years of history, and the base of Costa Rica’s economy, coffee developed our identity as a country….

-In which areas does it grow?
It grows in 8 coffee regions: Tarrazu, West Valley, Central Valley, Orosi Valley, Tres Rios, Turrialba, Brunca and Guanacaste.

-What has changed over the past ten years given the new micromill trend?
Micro mills have rediscovered Costa Rica terroir, due to the micro lot processing, in small , petite volumes..

-How was the situation prior to that?
With tough market price, producers where having tough times.

-How do you see the future?
I see the future in rewarding the producers great premiums with transparency based on excellence in the quality produced.

-How is the specialty movement responsible for and moves the consumption of the production?
Well, the roasters in the Direct Trade Model are definitely making a big change to the producers and their families.

-In what ways do you get that feedback?
Permanent contact with them on a constant basis

-Would it be of interest to you as a producer to have some interviews with our customers in the local market?

Yiannis Taloumis