By Blazej Stempin
When we arrived in San Jose we kind of realised straight away that we definitely need to plan more time for the next trip. Costa Rica is a fairly small country, but every region is very different, when it comes to altitude, microclimate, soil and that reflects in the cup very well. I never had an opportunity to try so many different flavour profiles from one origin within just a few days. We were planning this trip since last year already, but finally it became a bit easier to arrange it after the pandemic slowed down a little bit.
Whole trip was arranged by one of our close green coffee partners - Ally Coffee.
It was very busy but absolutely amazing and exciting for the whole time. Hats off to Filip, Abraham, Bram and Ricardo who were taking care of us, great hospitality but also a big learning experience for us. It was really the perfect time to go - end of February. We got to see all the steps of coffee preparation from harvest, drying, processing to tasting many samples. Since the whole trip was full of impressions, new experiences to us and lots of good coffee I will try to compress it all into bullet points.
Originally the main reason to go to Costa Rica was to visit farm Roble Negro.
We started a relationship with them back in 2020 and bought most of their production since then. We had a pleasure to meet Jorge, Daniela and Alex virtually after we got coffee from them for the first time. Ever since I was very curious about meeting them in person, I just knew there is great energy and they are doing something really special. Jorge has a degree in public accounting and worked at the National Bank of Costa Rica for 21 years (11 years as a manager). After his long career in a bank Jorge decided to fund his own recycling business and soon after that he purchased coffee farm Finca Cedral Alto in 2007. For Roble Negro, he oversees the production: mill, crops and circular practices in the farm. He is supported by his niece Daniela who is Director of Planning and Logistics and Alex who works as the director of quality, where he is in charge of ensuring the quality of the production. His main goal is to assure the quality of the coffee over the years and continue with the traceability with our customers. All together they create a very tight and dedicated team. Jorge works very closely with nature, using organic and biodynamic practices. He built a beautiful cabin in the forest, just next to the coffee farm. There are many stunning waterfalls on the property that remind of the beauty and power of freshwater as necessary to people, plants, animals, and agriculture. Quoting Jorge: ,,Even though the work on the farm is focused on producing high quality coffee, we are clear that our main goal is to take care of the environment, and the conservation of the water sources, therefore we make coffee cultivation a friendly space with the environment, growing fruit species that serve both for human consumption and for the fauna of the area.’’
When it comes to coffee - Roble Negro is focused on cultivating Catuai and Geisha varieties. Farm is located at 1850 masl which gives great conditions for both. Walking In the middle of a beautiful forest it didn't take us long to understand why Jorge loves it so much. Everything at the farm is so well organised and colourful. All the drying beds for coffee, storage warehouse and most of the machines used during the production are made of recycled materials from Jorge’s second business which we found very impressive. Then coffee just speaks for itself. Catuai is tasting great this year. It's very juicy and has great intensity of flavour - we will be getting Honey and Natural process. And then we got to taste the ripe cherries of Geisha - that was definitely one of the highlights of the trip - full of flavour - bananas, lots of tropical fruits, florals and just incredibly sweet!
This summer will be a second year Prolog will get nano lot Geisha from Roble Negro - I promise - you are up for a treat! Second day was full of drinking coffee - we got to visit Ally’s new office located in San Pablo. So many great coffees and so many different profiles. It was a really great experience to find so many flavours and processing methods coming from just one origin - I will not spoil this part :) We also got to meet Tachito Castro - recent Costa Rican Barista champion who showed us a training lab also located at Ally office.
Third day we visited Aquiares Estate. We started a relationship with them last year. Aquiares is the largest continuous coffee farm in Costa Rica and also the first registered coffee wet mill in the country. It's also the largest Rainforest Certified coffee farm in Costa Rica and one of four Carbon Neutral certified coffee farms in the country. Aquiares is much more than just a farm - it’s a community of 2000 people. The whole estate is basically a beautiful colourful town surrounded by coffee and many other plants and fauna. Diego Robelo who is managing Aquiares is a great host - he was explaining to us pretty much all day about what's going on at the farm, the history and their focus on sustainability.
Costa Rica has the largest base of coffee varieties seeds - around 4000.
At Aquiares they cultivate around 400 varieties. It was really impressive just walking between the plots of Sl-28, Sl-34, Geisha, Etiope, Castillo and the list could just go on. Besides producing excellent coffee they grow various types of vegetables, fruit and herbs. We saw the beginning of a new project where they grow organic eucalyptus, oregano and juanilama which will be used for making essential oils and cough syrup. We were really lucky to see the farm at the moment when most of the coffee trees were blossoming surrounding us with a wonderful intense aroma of jasmine.
Diego is really open minded when it comes to the coffee production, he really tries to move forward the way coffee producers are thinking about farming by constantly carrying out various experiments.
Green houses for drying the coffee are organised in the most precise and meticulous way.
At the end of the day we got to taste the fruits of this year's harvest.
Main focus of the cupping table was on the Centroamericano H1 variety which is a hybrid between Sarchimor T-5296 and a wild Rume Sudan variety.
We tried a few different processing methods and experiments of the same variety. Red Honey H1 cupped really well and we are very happy that we will get it soon in Copenhagen again. My personal favourite was a nano lot of honey processed SL-28 representing the best qualities of both Kenyan and Costa Rican cup profile - only 20kg produced and Prolog will be lucky to get to roast it this year. Another highlights was Natural Anaerobic processed H1 and more experimental anaerobic processing with molasses or brett yeast added to the fermentation tank - resulting in completely different flavour profiles but not dominating the character of coffee too much.
Thank you to Ally Coffee team, Roble Negro team and Aquiares team for being such a great hosts - we can’t wait to visit again and share the fruits of our collaboration soon!