Almost 2 weeks ago, a group of us set off for Costa Rica – a trip to origin. This trip was meant to deepen our understanding of the coffee supply chain and the role Urnex plays within it. It did just that…and much more.
Upon our arrival, a white Euro-style minibus awaited curbside with two of our hosts for the trip: Francisco Mena, owner of Exclusive Coffees and visionary/influencer of specialty coffee in Costa Rica; and Ronaldo, the trusted driver of our adventure mobile. After a 6-hour flight, we were able to relax for the rest of the evening, excited for our upcoming itinerary.
Day 1: Central and West Valley
The following morning, we gathered for a traditional breakfast of gallo pinto (a Costa Rican dish made with rice and beans) before heading off to the Exclusive Coffees location. Exclusive Coffees connects producers with resources by coordinating, exporting, and communicating with buyers and traders on behalf of the growers. As coffee production in Costa Rica is increasing, these guys are busy, and we feel fortunate to have experienced a detailed itinerary arranged by such experts.
We wrapped up at EC with a blind cupping. Having tasted defective coffees alongside fabulous ones, we are proud to say that we could truly taste the difference. It wasn’t even noon, and it was evident that there was so much to learn and discover about the production of coffee in Costa Rica.
Soon after the cupping was our first farm visit. We jumped in the back of a truck and were driven to Brumas del Zurqui Farms, near the town of Heredia in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Later immersed in rows of coffee trees, we picked coffee cherries alongside migrant workers, aka coffee pickers, who travel from farm to farm during harvest season. In those few hours, we developed a tremendous respect for the individuals who take part in this hard labor, and we carried that respect with us to each subsequent stop on the trip.
Our next stop was to Helsar de Zacero Micromill, a wet-mill in the West Valley growing region. Here, coffee from their own farm (Organic Santa Lucia) as well as other high-quality producers from Lourdes de Naranjo and Llano Bonito de Naranjo (both micro-regions in the West Valley) is de-pulped and then moved to patios and raised beds to dry.
Day 2: West Valley
The next day began with a tour of the farm belonging to our host, Francisco Mena. His “Beneficio” is a joint effort with an outside investor and is called Sumava Lourdes. Coffee trees here sit in perfectly neat rows, organized by variety.
From there, we went to Herbazu Micromill and had the pleasure of being introduced to Tono Barrantes. Legend goes that a coffee-growing father had split his land between his children and encouraged them to invest in their own wet-mill. In spite of some reasonable fears, the children took a loan to build the mill and have succeeded beyond expectations or neighbors’ skepticism. The coffee here has won first place in the Cup of Excellence challenge – the most prestigious competition and award for high quality coffee – and got the attention of buyers at Starbucks.
Our last stop for the day was at Sin Limites Micromill, a small farm with a yellow dry mill in which we had to trek through miles of plots of seedlings, making sure not to crush any. Jose Jaime Cardenas developed his prize-winning coffees with the help of his wife, Maibel Barrantes and her sister. Their whole family is quite proud of their combined accomplishments.
Day 3: Tarrazus
The next morning, we stopped at Cafe Don Mayo, in the Tarrazu region. This is the only farm and micro-mill with its own cupping lab! Our guide, Francisco, even grabbed small bags of green coffee samples from Cafe Don Mayo to take back to the Exclusive Coffees offices. When multiple labs are cupping and grading the same coffees, it is important to stay calibrated.
Our second to last farm visit was to Beneficio Don Oscar. Don Oscar is a stately farmer and a true patriarch of coffee, with two sons following closely in his footsteps. Coffee was at peak harvest and they planned to begin picking coffee the next day. In terms of acreage, this was by far the largest farm we saw.
The last farm we saw was Beneficio Juanachute, whose owner, Mr. Tacho Castro, spent many summers living and working in East Hampton, New York. After working as carpenter in the United States, he realized that is passion was in coffee, and he returned to his homeland of Costa Rica.
For most on our team, this was their first trip to origin. As professionals, we know the passion and dedication required by those at the farm level to produce high quality beans is widely recognized in the specialty coffee industry, but there is nothing like witnessing the entire process first-hand.
Although we have all resettled back into our lives at Urnex, we will not forget the amazing experience that this trip has taught us. We can’t wait for our next trip.