Costa Rica

If there is a problem with Costa Rica coffee, it's the fact that it can lack distinction; it is straightforward, clean, softly acidic, mild. It has lots of "coffee flavor." The trend in Costa Rica was to create large volumes of moderately good "specialty" coffee. There was a push toward high-yield coffee shrubs that lacked the clarity in cup flavor of the older types. They also required a lot of fertilizer input to maintain their bountiful yields. The large mills mixed all the small-farm coffee cherries that were delivered, the high-grown and low-grown, the ripe fruits and the not-so-ripe. The result was mediocrity.

Costa Rica Helsar - Nancy
$6.20
$11.78
$26.97
$51.46
$98.48
Penagos pulper at the Helsar de Zarcero mill
Arrival dateApril 2014
Appearance.2 d/300gr, 17-18 Screen
GradeSHB
ProcessingWet Process Style Machine Washed
RegionLlano Bonito de Naranjo, West Valley
Varietal(s)Caturra
Intensity/Prime attributeMild-Medium intensity / Sweet fruits, sugar browning, layered chocolate, bodied
RoastCity+ to Full City+: this coffee does best when taken beyond City level in order to develop the potential sweetness
This coffee, somewhat mysteriously designated "Nancy" is from the area of Llano Bonito de Naranjo, West Valley, Costa Rica. It comes from the Helsar de Zarcero mill, where all the coffee is processed from fruit to green bean form. We have a long relationship with the Helsar mill , which is located on the Santa Lucia farm site, going back 8 years now. I suppose the reason we turn to Helsar for coffee, and the reason the local farmers deliver their coffee fruit there: They are excellent at processing coffee from fruit to dried pergamino to ready-to-export green coffee beans. Each year they refine their process, and under the guidance of Ricardo Perez Barrantes the recent improvements include more raised drying beds, more warehouse space to rest coffee (reposo) and new dry milling equipment. While there are many variations on processing being performed in Costa Rica now, it is the washed style coffees that give the quintessential flavor experience, balanced, restrained, clean taste, sweet finish. Helsar uses a machine-wash method to scrub the fruit layers from the parchment coffee, then sun dries most lots, with supplemental machine drying as well. The result is a style of coffee with great clarity in the cup flavors, like traditional wet-processing, but using much less water, and better recovery and re-use of the byproducts for composting: the skin and pulp of the fruit.
The dry fragrance of this Helsar lot is fruit forward, with a peach butter smell and slight hazelnut note. Dark roasts have baking spices and raisin. Wet aromatics continue this theme, along with berry sweetness and a near floral twist at more developed roast levels. The flavor profile of the cup is front loaded with fruit flavors that are balanced out by cocoa powder taste and mouthfeel, and a honey sweetness. It's a clean cupping Costa, and has a refreshing green apple like brightness - though still relatively lower acidity than our other Costa Rican coffees. Flavors of sugar browning shift throughout the cooling cup, and wind up somewhere in the realm of dark malt syrup. Chocolate notes are also prevalent, and layer from semi-sweet to more high % cacao. Add to this a body with heft, and you have one of our better options for a dual use Costa Rica. At Full City, espresso is so sweet, with tart raspberry and dark chocolate.
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Costa Rica Helsar - Magdalena Vega
$6.20
$11.78
$26.97
$51.46
$98.48
Another contented pup of the Helsar De Zarcero mill, Costa Rica
Arrival dateApril 2014
Appearance.2 d/300gr, 16-18 Screen
GradeSHB
ProcessingWet Process Style Machine Washed
RegionLlano Bonito de Naranjo, West Valley
Varietal(s)Catuai, Caturra
Intensity/Prime attributeMild-Medium intensity / Balanced nut-to-chocolate roast tones, cane sugar and blackberry honey sweetness.
RoastCity+ to Full City+: At light roasts (City) it has a less resonant sweetness, so we recommend some development in the roaster after First Crack concludes. Entering 2nd crack is fine, but not recommended for the cup we describe.
This lot is from a rather small farm owned by Magdalena Vega. She delivers all the coffee fruit to the nearby Santa Lucia farm where it is processed at the Helsar de Zarcero micromill. The vast majority of this finca is planted in Caturra cultivar, though there is Catuai variety also mixed in. (In truth, farms are rarely planted exclusively in one variety of coffee). Magdalena inherited the farm from a larger plot shared between her seven brothers. It measures at less than 5 hectares and tops out near 1700 meters, producing about 10k lbs. a year of exportable green coffee. We have had a buying relationship with Helsar de Zarcero mill, and the owning partner/manager Ricardo Perez, for close to 8 years now. Each year we see quality refinements to their process, with new drying beds, warehouse space and dry mill equipment being added in the past season. And we see a consistent quality in that comes from their processing methods, a clean-tasting, classic Costa Rica character with both brightness and balance.
The Magdalena Vega lot has the dry fragrance of cane sugar with a buttery sweetness from the ground coffee. Adding hot water, the wet aromatics has a resonant brown sugar scent, baked apple, and powder cinnamon. The darker roast is markedly sweeter than our lightest City roast batch, with red berry fruit, and the burning sugar scent from Creme Brulee. The cup possess the archetype of Costa Rica coffee character in nut-to-chocolate roast tastes and restrained sweetness of caramelized sugars that balance it out. Lighter level City roasts seem a bit more basic (creamy nut tone, cane sugar) than the developed sweetness of City+ roasts; this coffee benefits from some time in the roaster as first crack concludes. These slightly darker levels (but prior to the start of 2nd crack) have a deeper range of sweetness, suggestions of blackberry honey, and chocolate ganache dessert. The complex, layered chocolate tones fade into a balanced bittersweetness in the long finish. It's a great drinking coffee, restrained and not showy. That's what we like in great Costa Rica lots.
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Costa Rica Helsar - Leo Rojas Rola
$6.30
$11.97
$27.41
$52.29
$100.02
Harvesting coffee on Leo Rojas farm.
Arrival dateApril 2014
Appearance.0 d/300gr, 17-18 Screen
GradeSHB
ProcessingWet Process Style Machine Washed
RegionLlano Bonito de Naranjo, West Valley
Varietal(s)Caturra
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium intensity / A clean and balanced roast taste with fruited accents
RoastCity+ to Full City+: We didn't like City roast here as well as the more developed sweetness that came from more roast development after 1st Crack
This selection is from a single coffee farmer, Leonardo Rojas, who has all his coffee processed at the Helsar de Zarcero's mill. The mill is located in the West Valley region, not far from the town of Naranjo, and Leo's farm is nearby in the area called Llano Bonito de Naranjo. I have visited this farm during harvest, and we have a long buying relationship with the Helsar mill, over 8 years finding wonderful coffees from them. It is run by one of the nicest and most progressive persons in coffee, Ricardo Perez. They are consistently improving their processing, this past year adding more raised beds for drying the parchment coffee, additional warehouse space, and new sorting equipment. I noticed this coffee when cupping in Costa Rica for its clean, classic character. While there are many variations on processing being performed in Costa Rica now, it is the washed style coffees that give the quintessential flavor experience, balanced, restrained, clean taste, sweet finish. The vast majority of Leo's farm is planted in Caturra cultivar, though I have seen small amounts of other types when walking the farm. It is situated at 1600 meters.
The Leo Rojas lot has a pronounced cane sugar and red apple sweetness from the dry fragrance, taking on a chocolate brownie roast accent with a more developed roast level. Adding the hot water, the wet aromatics shift toward a banana fruit scent, and fresh cream sweetness, with the dark roast having molasses and caramelizing sugars as one might expect. The cup has a beautiful combination of fruited sweetness with chocolate bittering qualities. Less developed roast levels have a light malt syrup and almond base tone, with accents of apple juice and white grape. The finish of the lightest roast we did has the drying aspect of almond skins, which is why we preferred the City+ to Full City levels, with further browning after 1st crack ends. These roasts had dark brown sugars and cinnamon stick, baked apple and chocolate almond bark. I wrote "delicious drinking coffee" which perhaps makes little sense, or all the sense in the world. That's what we want from Costa Rica coffee!
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