PEACH, BROWN SUGAR, PAPAYA
FILTER ROAST / MICROLOT
REGION: SABANILLA DE ALAJUELA, CENTRAL VALLEY
VARIETALS: CATURRA, CATUAI, VILLA SARCHI
ALTITUDE: 1450 - 1600 MASL
OSCAR AND FRANCISCA
Oscar and Francisca Chacón are third-generation coffee producers, but the coffee is more than just in their family heritage: It's in their hearts and souls as well. The couple is committed to quality and innovation, and are among the very first farmers in Costa Rica to produce Honey and Natural process specialty coffee.
In 2005, after years of delivering their cherry to a cooperative for the going market price, they decided to join the brand-new "micromill revolution" and buy their own depulper to have more control over the quality and the price they received for their lots. "At first, we didn't know what we were doing," Oscar explains. "We were just experimenting." That experimentation led to some of the most exciting new flavor profiles we have ever tasted: Now, the Chacons produce a wide range of Honey process coffees, modulating the drying time in order to create different effects in the cup.
Necessity bred more innovation for the family when an earthquake in 2008 wiped out electricity and water to their area during the harvest. Unable to run the depulpers or to wash the mucilage off to produce Washed lots, Francisca took inspiration from her knowledge of African coffee production and quickly built raised Honey beds on the property.
These days, Las Lajas focuses on several variations of both Honey and Natural process:
Yellow Honey: Coffee is turned hourly on raised beds for a few days, then transferred to the greenhouse and turned regularly.
Red Honey: Coffee is turned several times a day and dried longer in the greenhouse.
Black Honey: Coffee is turned once a day.
Perla Negra Natural: Coffee dries directly in the sun for 10 days, being rotated constantly, and then is transferred to bags and left for 2–3 days before moving to raised beds.
Alma Negra Natural: Drying starts in the greenhouse for a few days. Then it is piled up in the greenhouse overnight but moved to the raised beds during the sunshine hours.
HISTORY OF COFFEE IN COSTA RICA
Coffee was planted in Costa Rica in the late 1700s, and it was the first Central American country to have a fully established coffee industry; by the 1820s, coffee was a major agricultural export with great economic significance to the population. National output was greatly increased by the completion of a main road to Puntarenas in 1846, allowing farmers to more readily bring their coffee from their farms to market in oxcarts—which remained the way most small farmers transported their coffee until the 1920s.
In 1933, the national coffee association, Icafe (Instituto del Café de Costa Rica), was established as an NGO designed to assist with the agricultural and commercial development of the Costa Rican coffee market. It is funded by a 1.5% export tax on all Costa Rican coffee, which contributes to the organization’s $7 million budget, used for scientific research into Arabica genetics and biology, plant pathology, soil and water analysis, and oversight of the national coffee industry. Among other things, Icafe exists to guarantee that contract terms for Costa Rican coffee ensure the farmer receives 80% of the FOB price (“free on board,” the point at which the ownership and price risks are transferred from the farmer/seller to the buyer).
Costa Rica contributes less than 1% of the world’s coffee production, yet it has a strong reputation for producing relatively good, if often mild quality. One way that Costa Rica has hoped to differentiate itself among coffee-growing nations is through the diversity of profiles in its growing regions, despite the country’s relatively small geographical size. Tarrazú might be the most famous of the regions: Its high altitudes contribute to its coffees’ crisp acidity. West Valley has a high percentage of Cup of Excellence winners, and grows an abundance of both the Costa Rica–specific varieties Villa Sarchi and Villa Lobos, as well as some of the more “experimental” varieties that have come here, such as SL-28 and Gesha. Tres Ríos coffee has a smooth, milder profile—perhaps more “easy drinking” with toffee sweetness and soft citrus than the more complex or dynamic Costas available. Central Valley has some of the most distinct weather patterns in the country, with well-defined wet and dry seasons: Some of the best honey processed coffees are found in this region.
In recent years, coffee producers are increasingly interested in using variety selection as another way to stand out in the competitive market: SL-28 and Gesha are becoming more common, and local varieties like Villa Sarchi (a dwarf Bourbon mutation found near the town of Sarchi) and Venesia (a Caturra mutation).