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.

For me, the main issue with Costa Rica had been the marketing model: big mills creating their own brands, not small farms with their own tree-to-bag processing. Since we are small and can handle small lots in a way that is not economical for a larger coffee company, we changed the way we sourced Costa Rican coffees in 2008 to offer coffees from the emerging movement of micro mill coffee production.
This new quality initiative is coming from smaller mills, low-volume, farm-specific coffee producers who now keep their lots separate, mill it themselves, gaining control of the process, and fine-tuning it to yield the best possible flavors (and the best price). This change in processing is possible due to new environmentally-friendly small milling equipment, and fueled by the dissatisfaction of small producers who sell coffee at market prices, only to see it blended with average, carelessly-harvested lots.

With an independent family mill, a farmer can become a true craftsperson, maximize the cup quality of their coffee, divide lots by elevation or cultivar, and receive the highest prices for their coffees. In turn, we get unique and diverse micro-lots, and long-term relationship with the small farmer. Some call it Direct Trade, but we call it our Farm Gate program, where we can be assured of exactly what the farmer received. And in these cases they yield 40%-100%+ more than Fair Trade prices.

The range of flavors that result from Costa Rican coffees has expanded due to the new relationships we are forming, ranging from traditional wet-processed lots with vivid brightness and clean fruit notes, to ... well, radically different dry-processed coffees as well as pulped natural "honey" coffees. Some of these experiments have crossed a threshold into ill-advised procedures that result in curious, yet unstable flavor attributes. We are not big fans of producing dry-process coffees in areas that can't dry them well. The flavors may be outlandish, but the coffees tend to fade quickly, turning from fruit toward ferment, and from rustic sweetness to woody age notes.

Costa Rica can still produce great clean wet-processed type coffees, but lately we have found that competition from buyers, high internal coffee cherry prices, and lack of commitment on the part of farmers to long-term relationships have made these coffees unattractive. On top of that, we can put together a table of blind samples from other Central American producing countries and find more clarity in the brightness and sweetness of the coffees. I would never say the Costa Rica highlands can't produce world-class lots, but there aren't as many as there are buyers, some tossing inflated prices at coffee lots that are of dubious cup character.

Is the problem of Costa Rica's success its accessibility, and its downfall part of the constraints of other economic pressures, from the unchecked growth of San Jose and its suburbs, tourism and expatriate retirees, its educated and demanding work force, and their over-connectedness to the markets they sell into? It's the success of development, and yet in crops like coffee it seems oddly off base. I mean, I don't want the farms I work with to come up in Google with their own Flash-animated web sites. I want them to grown good coffee, that's all. Call me an imperialist. I have been to Costa Rica now many times. It's a five hour flight, after all. For more information check out the photos in the travelogue section of the Coffee Library page. -Tom

No coffees are currently available from this origin. The review is our most recent offering, provided for reference.
Costa Rica Tarrazu - Jardines de Luijim
Don Pedro, farm manager at Rio Jorco
Appearance.2 d/300gr, 16-18 Screen
GradeSHB EP
ProcessingWet Process (Washed)
RegionAsseri, Tarrazu
Varietal(s)Catuai, Caturra
RoastCity to Full City is the best range for cupping, and I think the sweetness shows best development at a minimum of City+.
Jardines de Luijim is run by farmer Carlos Montero, relative of the Castro Zeledon coffee family. It's a small plot that is part of a much larger organic estate, replete with a washing station onsite. The Estate has a fairly wide range of altitudes, with this particular plot sitting at about 1700 meters above sea level. Jardines de Luijim is roughly 7 hectares (17 acres), and Montero produced roughly 75 bags of coffee this year, 13 considered top tier, micro-lot coffee. This part of the farm is planted mainly in Caturra and Catuai, and is fully washed and milled at the micro-mill onsite. We picked this up through an intermediary who is working to bring in micro-lot coffees from this particular part of Tarrazu, often using wet mills at some of the larger estates to process the coffee since most of these small farms don't have their own mills onsite. Out of the grinder, this coffee has a nice dried stone fruit smell, like apricot and peach, and the sweetness of ginger snap cookies. Dark roasts show a bit of spice in the fragrance, like clove, that compliments the toasted sugar smell brought on with a little more roast. Fruits are prevalent across the roast spectrum, and bolstered with the addition of hot water. Smells of pie fruit emanate from the wet crust, with the dark sugar and pectin notes you'd expect. It takes on more red berry attributes at City+, which while still present at Full City, are a bit overshadowed by a strong scent of dark brown sugar - especially when breaking the crust. The cup is so sweet, with heaps of light brown sugar, with notes of date and raisin. There's a juicy flavor of peach nectar as well, that also defines a stone fruit-like acidity, It's a rather refreshing coffee, with essence of tangerine laced in, especially in lighter roasts. Full City roasts have great mouthfeel, one that I don't always expect from Costa Rica coffees, and with a sweet cocoa flavor as well as a bit of toasted caramel. For this reason, I wouldn't hesitate from extracting a few espresso shots with Full City and beyond roasts. The finish is cocoa all the way which is not drying at all, and with lots of sweetness long after. This is one of the better Costa Rica coffees we tasted this year.