Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Rica

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Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Rica

Postby RolandGlew » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:22 pm

I recently got to go to visit a coffee producing country for the first time - Costa Rica. First off, it was fantastic :D but beyond that, I've got a notepad of scribbled notes on things I discovered about coffee production in Costa Rica that I didn't know before, which I thought I'd share in case anyone else is interested!

This is all from the perspective of someone who hasn't seen a farm or mill in person before, so there will be some things people might consider obvious! To keep it easy on time, I'll go for deciphering about one scrawled note per day, and hopefully everyone else can pitch in to correct or add to it as we go!

So for a first fact-let...

The coffee plants in Costa Rica need a good dose of rain before they blossom. Their winter/rainy season starts in May, and about 11 days after the rains start the plants will be in blossom.
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby CakeBoy » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:58 pm

Interesting stuff Roland, I look forward to reading your notes. I think as consumers we tend to think of the processes involved with coffee production and not so much about the natural botany. I can see how that would really hit home when it became apparent.
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby Steve » Tue Jun 09, 2015 8:34 pm

Great Roland at work and at home, can life get any better :)

good to see you active here Glew !!
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby RolandGlew » Wed Jun 10, 2015 2:15 pm

Thanks both :)

So today's fact-let:

The process for coffee farmers in Costa Rica to get their money is that they pick the cherries, then decide which mill they want to send them to. They can take the cherries direct to that mill, or to one of it's receiving stations in the area. When they do that, they get a token that they can swap for money - but this isn't payment, it's an advance. The mill gets a percentage of the money they sell the coffee for, so if they sell it higher than expected, they have to make an additional payment to the farmer to cover the difference. If the mill sells it lower than expected however, the farmer has already been paid, so the mill has to take the financial hit instead.
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby RolandGlew » Thu Jun 11, 2015 11:18 am

There are two parts to mills - wet (removing the cherry and drying it) and dry (removing the parchment and sorting it before bagging). Before speciality coffee took off in Costa Rica, there were just a few mills that did both of these for the entire country. Now there are micromills - which range in size from wet mills on a farm for 30 or 40 bags a year up to combined wet & dry mills doing over 10,000 bags a year.
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby GreenBean » Thu Jun 11, 2015 11:53 am

I am enjoying reading these posts, Roland. Please keep them coming 8)
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby RolandGlew » Fri Jun 12, 2015 10:00 pm

Oops! First day I nearly forgot :P

5 years ago, farmers selling to commodity coffee in Costa Rica were only making back half of what it cost them to grow it. Costa Rica has one of the highest cost-of-livings of coffee producing countries, so the specialty market has attracted a lot of farmers away from commodity, particularly children taking over their parent's commodity farms and attempting to move them into specialty quality (and/or certification).
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby RolandGlew » Sat Jun 13, 2015 9:18 pm

Costa Rican mills traditionally did Washed coffees using large water tanks to ferment the cherries over many hours (or days). Whilst mills still use these tanks, they're also starting to use mechanical washing machines which can do a similar amount in a few hours.
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby RolandGlew » Mon Jun 15, 2015 3:39 pm

Unsurprisingly, I failed my self appointed challenge of a fact a day as soon as we reached a Sunday :P

So, two facts to make up for that!

1)
The Specialty Coffee Association of Costa Rica now considers Costa Rica to have 8 distinct coffee regions - West Valley, Tarrazu, Central Valley, Guanacaste, Tres Rios, Turrialba, Orosi & Brunca.

2)
The two regions that produce the greatest number of specialty grade coffees are West Valley & Tarrazu. In this year's Cup Of Excellence, 35 coffees made it through to auction. Of these, one was from Brunca, two were from Central Valley and the rest were from West Valley & Tarrazu.
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby Gouezeri » Mon Jun 15, 2015 4:08 pm

Really enjoying this Roland! Keep it up :-)
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby Steve » Mon Jun 15, 2015 7:24 pm

me too, who knew I'd find Roland interesting !! Certainly now me
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby bruceb » Mon Jun 15, 2015 8:32 pm

I finally got around to reading this. Very interesting. I've had some very enjoyable Costa Rica coffees, but in the past they were rather nondescript. Only recently was I given one of the new "specialty coffees" being produced by a small farm (forgot the name :oops:) and it was surprisingly good, pleasantly acidic, very clean and fruity. I'm looking forward to learning more about production there and also hopefully drinking some of the newer coffees. Thanks for sharing this Roland.
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby RolandGlew » Tue Jun 16, 2015 2:59 pm

Thanks :)

So to follow up on Bruce's comment about specialty Costa Rican coffee being new...

Given the number of negative stories about how bad coffee farming is doing at the moment, it's nice to realise Costa Rica is a success story. In 1989, the government banned Robusta. In the mid 90s, they brought in very strict environmental protection laws. On top of this, Costa Rica has got a high cost of living. By 2000, people had started to see an alternative to struggling to make a living selling good coffee into co-ops or to big mills, and began to build micro-mills near their farms. In 2007, they had their first Cup of Excellence. The success of farmers (both monetary and competitively) has encouraged their neighbours and extended families to pursue better cup quality as well. With this new enthusiasm for growing coffee, with taste as the prime focus, there has also been an increase in experimentation, micro-lots and communication between farmers, exporters and green buyers.

To underline the point, we were told that before the Cup of Excellence - so less than 10 years ago - cuppers in Costa Rica didn't do it to identify flavours; all they were looking for was defects.
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby RolandGlew » Wed Jun 17, 2015 1:59 pm

As I'm writing this, Costa Rica's Cup of Excellence Auction is underway. This year, they had more coffees make it through the National Jury (over 80 lots) than ever before. This was cut to 60 for the International Jury, the following week (and the first time they have done this). I was on the International Jury, which passed 35 lots to auction (again, the most ever for Costa Rica!).

The number 1 lot is from the micro mill Herbazu and is called Finca Leoncio. The varietal that won is called Kenia CL28. The history of this is a bit unclear, but it came to Costa Rica from El Salvador about 5 years ago, via agronomists working for Starbucks. The uncertainty comes in now, as whilst there is certainly various plant stock in El Salvador that they call Kenia and SL28, there isn't firm evidence (that I know of) that these plants are actually from Kenyan plant stock - or if they are, how much they might have changed in the intervening years.

Oh, and I got to visit the farm whilst I was there, so here's a photo :)

Herbazu Leoncio small.jpg
Herbazu Leoncio small.jpg (50.48 KiB) Viewed 5231 times
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Re: Things I didn't know about coffee production in Costa Ri

Postby bruceb » Thu Jun 18, 2015 9:28 am

So when are we going to be able to try some of these, Roland? :D
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