Re-blog from Origin Coffee- Phil’s trip to Costa Rica
Our friends and coffee suppliers at Origin Coffee work extremely closely with their coffee growers around the world. We loved this blog from Phil giving a first hand insight into their sourcing process so much that we wanted to share it with you all, here it is- enjoy:
“We’re big on direct trade here at Origin. If you know us, you already know that. If you don’t – this is what it means. Instead of finding a middle man, who buys coffee from a farmer and then to the roaster who then sells it to the restaurant/hotel/cafe (etc) who then sells it to the discerning coffee drinker, we try and go direct to the farmer where we can.
It’s massively important to us that we meet the people growing the coffee we buy. That we see how and where its grown, the conditions in which its grown, who grows it and who picks it.
Not only does this mean we can discuss our requirements face-to-face with the people we’re buying from, but also enables us to find tiny micro lots of coffee that we may not have otherwise got the chance to taste. We’re looking for the good stuff – the stuff that makes you stand up and say ‘woah’. And turns out? We think we found some…
I touched down last night on a warm evening in San Jose. Costa Rica is the most developed country in central America owing to its booming tourism market and lots of (US) investment in IT technology. It’s health care is famed for its excellence. The country already seems to me to be the most advanced when it comes to working microlots and supplying boutique and specialist roasters direct. Today I spent the day with the team at Coopedota. Coopedota is a medium sized cooperative located in the small town of Santa Maria and lays with in the coffee growing region know as Tarrazu. Tarrazu is a combination of 3 smaller regions and the main town is San Marcos. Santa Maria is 5 miles east of here and 40 miles south of San Jose.
What should have been an hour and 1/2 journey from the capital turned into 3 hours when we came across a very peaceful protest outside of a school where they had decided to block the road. I couldn’t figure out exactly what their axe was.
The Cooperative is made up of 800 members. Quality premiums are passed directly to the producer of any microlot that sells for above the co-ops base price and the co-op manager tries to ensure all of the members have a buyer for their microlots. The average size of each farm is 2 hectares so it is easy to see how being part of a co-operative is of benefit. The co-operative buys fertilizer, pesticides on behalf of the entire group securing prices that a grower on his or her own could never achieve. The cost of agronomists is split between 800 not 1. Marketing the coffee to a larger audience becomes financially viable, also viable because together they have the volume to supply bigger contracts. The cupping was of 10 different microlots and a couple were outstanding. Tomorrow is more cupping.
I started the day after a good sleep despite the chorus of dogs and nocturnal cockerels! I was told that I would get a good nights sleep when I was offered a local ‘energy drink’ which consisted of (I was told after drinking) raw fish stock (ceviche juice) and salsa. I reaslied today how ‘local’ it was and that in fact, it was only served in the bar I was in! First off some facts about Coopedota where I have spent the past 2 days. It is a cooperative of 800 producers in the Dota valley. It was founded in 1960 by 92 producers looking for a direct market. They export 55,000 bags of coffee per year. To put that into some context at origin we buy about 2000 bags per year. Each day of the harvest in excess of 450 growers deliver coffee to the reception point below.
The altitude of the members ranges between 1500 and 1900 meters. The valley is broken up into 52 micro regions which are separated to produce coffee for specialty roasters. During the harvest the coffee is picked by migrant workers, mostly from Nicaragua and Panama. A picker will earn $40us per fenaga (local measurement) and a good picker will pick 1/2 a fenaga a day. The harvest finished a couple of weeks ago so the main activity on the farms right now is known as ‘poda’. This includes pruning coffee trees, cutting trees that provide shade in the dry season, adding fertiliser and preparing the land for the next harvest. I was again able to taste some of the great micro lots they produce here. After this I was able to tour the area to meet with some of the producers that I thought produced to best coffees on the table. Including Danny Jimenez who produces coffee on 8 hectares of the San Rafeal micro regio and Gerado in the Gauria region.
Today I spent all day cupping with Exclusive Coffee, an exporter in Alajuela near San Jose. 60 coffees in total and I feel a little worse for wear now. I have Selected 6 micro mills to visit tomorrow. The ones which were, in my opinion, the best 6. Not by coincidence, they all come from the Tarrazu region.
The word micro gets used a lot in Costa Rica as you may have gathered so I´ll explain what a micro mill is by first explaining what a wet mill is and what a dry mill is.
A wet mill is, as the name suggests, is a mill that uses water. At a wet mill the fruit is removed (de-pulped) from the coffee seeds and the mucilage (see below) is removed. Here is where the coffee is dried and goes from 55% humidity to 12%.
Mucilage is a sticky, sugary layer that surrounds the coffee bean but is not removed during the the de-pulping. If, how and how much of the mucilage is removed impacts in a big way on the flavour of the coffee.
A dry mill is where the coffee is prepared for export, arriving here at 12% humidity. Coffee is separated by size, density and colour until it is uniform. It’s then bagged and packed into shipping containers and shipped. Normally a small producer will sell cherries to a wet mill and likely not get a great price for it as there is still so much work to do until it ready for sale. They could join a co-operative with a wet mill and sell it there at a higher price. This is changing in Costa Rica. The way things are changing has been named the Micro Mill Revolution. It means growers are investing in small wet mills, processing the coffee themselves and selling to an exporter (who takes a percentage on the sales price). They do this to get a much higher price by adding value to the supply chain. They can earn a much, much higher price if the coffee is sold on the virtues of its taste to a specialty roaster like us. Although this is not without risk. If the quality is not there they could be left with no buyer at all. So joining us was a coffee producing family, member of a co-operative in the Western Valley. They wanted to leave the co-op and invest in a mill. Unfortunately, with the coffee that they had, it would be very difficult for them to attract a specialty buyer. At 1100 meters (where they were) producing the same quality as 1900 meters is impossible. The guys at Exclusive advised them to stay with the Cooperative.”
Thanks to Origin Coffee for letting us share. For more information on Origin and their magical caffeinated happenings head over to their website here. Join us at the bar to enjoy Origin coffee served as you like it 🙂