Costa Rica is a well-known coffee country, and one of our favorite places of origin here at Mission. The country has been a forerunner of environment-conscious coffee practices, a well-known instance of this being the infamous honey processing method for drying coffee. Honey processing reduces the farmers’ need for water due to letting the mucilage hang out on the bean, then removed during the milling process. Honeys of various color grades have really taken off within the specialty coffee industry, likewise, an increased environmental and social consciousness of what goes into a cup of coffee.
Photo Credit: @cafeconamor.cr
Costa Rica is a rather environmentally conscious country as a whole, advocating for sustainable farming practices amongst the country’s other major crops, serving as a model for conservation and green political action, and incorporating ecotourism as a meant to preserve their biodiverse environment. In combo with the country’s environmental savvy applied to coffee farming and production practices, the country features pioneers and pillars for women involved in coffee. The International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) is a pillar utilized by female coffee farmers and producers as a means to gain industry insight and join together to strengthen a presence in the international specialty coffee industry.
This is where we are thrilled to say our newest coffee comes into play. Kathia Zamora is the fourth-generation owner of the Cloza Estate, a farm and micro-mill in the Naranjo de Alajuela region. She, alongside her mother, are founding members of the IWCA-Costa Rica Chapter. The mission of the IWCA is to empower women in the international coffee community to achieve meaningful and sustainable lives and to encourage and recognize the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry. (More information on this incredible alliance can be found here). Kathia’s farm has also obtained the Women Care Certification, which represents her commitment to supporting the empowerment of women in the coffee industry. Certifications like such can serve as crucial pathways to women empowerment throughout the coffee supply chain as the market for certified coffee is rapidly increasing.
Photo Credit: @cafeconamor.cr
Kathia is also an integral part of the Farmer’s Project, an initiative consisting of 5 coffee-growing families founded by Jonathan Jost and Marianella Baez Jost of Café Con Amor. The initiative consists of over 200 Hectares following sustainable practices while employing 35 Full-Time Workers, 24 Part-Time Workers, and 165 Seasonal Pickers. The farmers aim to learn from one another, share best practices, and navigate the international specialty market together.
Photo Credit: @cafeconamor.cr
We are very incredibly happy to be able to support this initiative by purchasing Kathia’s coffee. It brings with it an awareness of women in various positions of the coffee supply chain; in this instance from farmer to exporter/importer to roaster (and sometimes Barista when Tiff is behind bar). We chose this coffee because of the opportunity it presents us here at Mission to learn about and create awareness for women throughout coffee, as well as the importance and impact of coffee producers unifying to help farmers sell coffee for a proper, fair, sustainable price.
We also chose this coffee because we love how it tastes! We were impressed with what this bean brought to the cupping table. Costa Rica holds a soft spot of origin travels and first coffee farm experiences for a few of us here at Mission, so we are always geeked to get samples from this region. We are always infatuated with Costa Rican coffee’s sweet and luscious body, yet this one brought a fun melon note with it that we wanted to play it. This only enhances that smooth sweetness we are so fond of. There is also a nice caramel sweetness layered with the melon, finishing with a sweet lemon taste that brightens things up. The honey processing results in a very fruit, bodacious sensation while retaining the clean acidity and cup complexity that washed coffees can bring to the table. The IWCA is a global network of self-driven chapters in pursuit of its own goals. All are united by the IWCA mission to empower women in the international coffee community. A donation can greatly help a local chapter, and be carried throughout the coffee supply chain. If you are willing and able please follow this link to make a donation.
In a previous blog, we touched on the responsibility of buying power in of Ethiopian coffee and the role the Ethiopian Coffee Exchange (ECX) plays. This system remedies disparity amongst coffee producing communities, though it trades that equality by limiting the transparency and identity of the farmers and their product. Our newest Ethiopian coffee is an example of a coffee that is able to transcend that system through the collaboration of a washing station, a coffee producer / exporter, and a specialty green importing company, who all hold the same vision for transparency and quality as we do here at Mission Coffee Co.
A few of the producers who deliver coffee to the Reko Washing Station. Photo Credit: Trabocca
Our Ethiopia Reko gets its name from the washing station in Kochere where it was processed. The Kochere region is one of the woredas, or districts, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia. The washing station is itself named after a nearby mountain, Reko, which is notoriously hard to climb; the word translates roughly to “challenge.” The name holds symbolic value and represents the challenges that both Faysel A. Yonis, founder of Testi Coffee, and Masreshu Sima, founder of the washing station, face providing high quality, traceable coffees. This particular coffee is a great example of how impactful relationships cultivate transparency and respect towards farmers and shines a spotlight on the wonderful cherries they produce.
Pictured above are coffee cherries being laid on raised beds for drying, probably towards the beginning stages of this process due to their still vibrant color. Photo Credit: Trabocca
The Reko washing station makes a conscious effort to support and sustain surrounding coffee communities. During harvest time (which normally takes place from mid-October into late-January) farmers are able to bring their red cherries to the washing station. Cherries are pulped with an old-school Agard pulping-machine, and are sent to fermentation tanks, where they sit for roughly 36-48 hours (enough time so the remaining fruit, also called mucilage, is loose). The mucilage is then washed off the coffee with water from a nearby river. The freshly washed cherries are then moved to raised drying beds, where it rests for 10-12 days. These structures keep the cherries off the ground and allow for air to circulate more easily. This results in cherries that are more evenly dry, facilitating more consistent coffee.
Fully washed coffee (or coffee that had it's cherry removed) dries on raised beds. Photo Credit: Trabocca
It is at this point where Testi Coffee comes into play; sorting and screening of the recently dried parchment beans. This family owned company aims to provide farmers, their families, and their communities more crop opportunities, and also facilitates social program initiatives to additionally aid the coffee grower community. More information on Testi’S Project Direct is available by following this link . Testi Coffee then holds a relationship with Trabocca, a specialty coffee sourcing company that emphasizes traceability in their green buying. The relationship between Tetsi Coffee as a producer and exporter and Trabocca coffee as a sourcer creates an impactful opportunity to facilitate buying transparency to the Reko washing station and the farmers that utilize it.
A washing channel, used post fermentation during the washing process. This ingenious process utilizes density in connection with water flow to sort various seeds throughout the differing channels. Denser beans sink in the first channel, and the remainders move on, sinking when their density beckons so.Photo Credit: Trabocca
Our Ethiopian Reko is mix of Kurume, a well-known Ethiopian variety and mixed heirloom varieties. Kurume, unique to the Kochere region, has a bright acidity due to the high altitude of the region. The mixed heirloom varieties represent the somewhere between six and ten thousand coffee varieties that exist in Ethiopia. Such an extensive number of coffee varieties under the heirloom name is due to multiple factors, including the country’s extensive history with the plant, regional name differences amongst differing woredas, natural and forced cross-pollination, and the lack of transparency in sourcing Ethiopian coffee.
The roasted bean will hold juicy tasting notes of apricot and tangerine, with some reminiscence of pomegranate. Jasmine and black tea-like flavors will also come forward to create a zingy, complex, exciting cup. Having been previously featured as an component in our seasonal Polar Blend, we are eager and excited to present this coffee in single origin form.
We often talk about struggling farmers or underappreciated coffee workers in our blogs. As much as we’d like it to just be a trope, it’s an issue in many of the places that produce coffee around the world. And, today, we get to talk about El Salvador, a country that was once a darling of specialty coffee and progress. Now, it is a country struggling to deal with issues from gang violence to lack of government support to poverty. Like we said, we wish it was just a trope, but when you visit farms and are picked up in bulletproof cars (this happened to me twice), and citizens are afraid of going into certain areas/towns due to criminal activity, you get a real sense for the difficult situation that’s going on here.
Coffee pickers weigh the cherries they've picked throughout the day @ Los Pirineos.
So, El Salvador. It’s a country that just 40 years ago, saw about 50% of its gross domestic product come from coffee exports. Now, it’s a fraction of that. Civil war fractured the infrastructure. Other countries (primarily Brazil and Vietnam) grew exponentially in volume, forcing the national price of coffee downward. In the last decade or so, that price continued to drop, and struggles with both disease (coffee rust, just to name one), climate change (there’s been drought for five of the six last years), and political unrest. It has led to up to 30% of coffee farmers literally abandoning and walking away from their farms.
A view of the drying beds and patios at Los Pirineos.
With all this tumult, it’s awe-inspiring to see a coffee producer in this climate making a go of it. And, it’s never easy for these folks. Such is the case with Gilberto Baraona, owner of Los Pirineos Farm and Mill in Usulatán, El Salvador. Baraona, a 4th generation coffee farmer, has lived through the civil war and what the country has endured since. His family farm is in the east of the country, beyond the civil war line. In fact, during the civil war, Gilberto had to abandon the farm and found refuge in Guatemala.
Gilberto, in front of a lot of honey process coffee resting on a raised bed.
What inspires me most about Gilberto is his optimism and focus on growth and new relationships. He’s spent years looking for the right opportunity to re-invest in his farm. When coffee rust hit El Salvador, he took the blow in stride, slowly replacing his plants with newer ones that were healthier and more resistant to the disease. When rainfall was at an all-time low (due to climate change), he constructed a rain reservoir to conserve water throughout the year. When coffee prices fell, he invested in new types of processing (honey, natural, shaded raised beds, etc.) and looked for other new ways to innovate. Not to mention, he has a coveted variety garden on his farm, with near 100 different varieties of coffee growing there.
A nursery of new plants ready to head out to the fields @ Los Pirineos
For this lot, we chose a fully washed Pacamara from one of the newly renovated areas of the farm. The Pacamara variety is more resistant to rust but is cultivated for its characteristic bright and citrusy flavor. When you look at the beans, you’ll see that they’re noticeably larger than other coffee beans. In the cup, you’ll get a full palate of flavor. Up front, you’ll notice a bright, citrusy, cherry-like and caramel mouthfeel. As it rests on your palate, you’ll start to notice a unique herbal characteristic that is slightly reminiscent of hops.
We love this new offering from Los Pirineos. We hope you will as well.
To consumers, coffee can seem foreign and exotic. It’s a bean that’s cultivated thousands of miles away by some coffee farmer before it’s roasted to perfection. Then, an expert barista gets her hands on it and extracts the best flavors. The taste offers a pure sense of enjoyment from the crisp aromatics and flavor compounds in your cup.
But, for some of us, we experience a bit more than just the flavor in the cup. We renew our relationship with our producer who put their year’s work into the beans. It’s not just “grapefruit and caramel,” it’s Deyner’s family’s coffee.
Deyner Fallas-Mora, our friend and part of the amazing family at Cerro Verde Micromill.
That’s how I feel about coffees from the friends I’ve made while sourcing over the years. I’d like to tell you a little bit more about how I met the family that owns Cerro Verde, and why this relationship is so important to me. This is one of my all-time favorite coffees—it’s consistently delicious, and you can really taste the hard work that goes into it. When I taste it, I can see the people behind it and the memories from the time I’ve spent there.
My first coffee sourcing trip ever was to Costa Rica back in early 2013. When you visit one of THE places that grows coffee—the thing you’re so passionate about—you feel like a kid in a candy store. We met up with an amazing exporter who served as the platform for over 80+ micromills showcasing their coffee. I spent three days visiting over 25 different micromills and was awed by the complexity, consistency, and sustainability these producers had built.
Sidebar: A micromill is literally a small mill—a machine used to remove coffee cherry and fruit off the parchment/beans). It’s not in a regional facility. This is on their own farm and allows them to fine tune smaller batches of cherry into specific “microlots.” So, a day of picking—or even a day’s harvest from part of the farm—may be considered its own “micro” lot. Micromills are expensive to set up, so you either need a way to finance it, or you need to have earlier investment capital. If coffee farmers could all own their own micromill, they probably would.
This is the Fallas-Mora family micromill at Cerro Verde.
Back to our trip. On our third day, we drove through the mountainous area of Tarrazu. Late in the day, we stopped and met with a new micromill looking for more exposure, since they were new to selling coffee in the specialty market. This mill was Cerro Verde. Their mill was exquisite, as was the view from the top of the farm. Knowing what I knew at the time (and admittedly, it wasn’t much) I wanted to partner with them. I knew there were some risks, but I also wanted to observe the growth of a new mill (I was a new roaster, and it seemed like a cool symbiotic relationship).
It's a jaw dropping view from the Cerro Verde Micromill.
Cerro Verde is owned by the Fallas-Mora family who also owns a few small plantations. This is a family farm through and through, especially during the heart of harvest season. Their mill is cleverly tucked into the hillside around their house, and family members take up stations during the picking and milling process (from skimming “floaters” to picking out defects by hand in the drying beds).
I worked with this family for four years, buying a handful of different lots from both of their farms at the time (Concepcion and San Francisco) and learning about their improvements in picking and processing. Each time I went back, they had something new they were working on. And, every time I visited, I was welcomed to a meal like I was family. I remember brewing their coffee using a Chemex they had purchased. I could brew their coffee for them. It was special.
I left my position at the company that I was with, and, unfortunately, I don't think that relationship stuck. But Cerro Verde was still important to me. So, I reached out to Deyner on Facebook (because that’s how we communicate these days) and asked if he was interested in working together on a coffee again. I can’t buy the volume that I used to (Mission is much smaller), but having that relationship back is something important. And, when we cupped their coffee, it was like catching up with an old friend—and we were able to pick up right where we left off.
Honey process coffee drying on beds overlooking Finca San Francisco @ Cerro Verde.
The lot that we chose is a yellow honey process from Finca Concepcion. This coffee is a mix of older and newer trees and mixed varieties (Caturra, Catuai, Villa Sarchi). Yellow honey means that they leave a portion of the fruit on the outside of the coffee during the milling process. Not only does it save on water, but, if dried appropriately, it will impart a lingering sweetness. (We call it “honey” because it looks like someone dumped sticky, goopy stuff all over it). This coffee is dried on raised beds for 14–21 days to ideal moisture.
In the cup, you get a sweet, caramel-flavored, and dried-fruit mouth feel from the honey process. You’ll get notes of white grape and lush caramel. The Villa Sarchi adds just a smidge of grapefruit-like acidity, but this coffee is really balanced towards the sweet and lush body.
This is one of my favorite coffees ever. I hope you’ll take the time and enjoy it, and taste the hard work of the Fallas-Mora family.
In specialty coffee, we are seeing the emergence of two schools of thought around the future of coffee. One school focuses only on sustainable logos (FT, Organic, etc.) They believe if this product has a label, it does good. The other school focuses on exotic varieties and processing methods.
The truth is, in many cases, farmers and producers often don’t have the ability or quality to meet certification standards. Sometimes, because they are not the right type of organization. Others…well…they just don’t have the money yet, and they’re busy working on making their farm actually sustainable.
On the other side, we often see coffee nerds demanding crazy processing and boutique varieties. “Are you growing geisha? SL-28? How are you fermenting? Malolactic Anaerobic fermentation?!?!”
Fuego (left) and Acatenango (right) - two volcanoes that have contributed to the fertile volcanic soil of the Antigua Valley
A lot of coffee is not sexy or hip. But, often, it can be sustainably delicious. True sustainability happens only when you’re able to build something repeatable, invest in your farm, invest in your workers, and make something genuinely great! That is the case with our coffee from Finca Retana in Antigua, Guatemala.
We found this coffee with the help of our friends at San Miguel Coffee, a large mill found in Antigua. They’ve been the pinnacle of sustainability for years and now are helping other farms around Guatemala get exposure and teaching them this same sustainable model. San Miguel embraces many of the same values as Retana: they provide housing for workers, have a school on-premise for children of pickers and anyone else in the region who can’t afford school, and provides free clinics to all pickers/workers of the mill.
The drying patio at San Miguel Coffees. The Volcano Agua is in the background.
Let’s pause for a quick primer on why we love Antigua coffees. First, if you know a little about geography in Central America and Guatemala in particular, you’ll know that volcanoes are all over the place. In the region of Antigua, there are three that surround the entire valley: Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego. The later of the three is still active and has caused some crazy scary damage to the surrounding community (lava flows and random ash falls…). But, while there is some risk, the reward of volcanic soil marries perfectly with coffee varieties.
Second, the Antigua Regional Association (APCA) is one of the more progressive guiding associations in specialty coffee. Why? They’ve set up a regional price floor for specialty coffee in this region that is high enough to pay for the cost of production + cost of living + reinvestment. This price is often at or above USD 3.00 and doesn’t fluctuate with the specialty coffee market. As I write today (7/29/2019) the commodity coffee market is USD 1.00 per lb. That’s a significant difference.
Does that mean that the Antigua valley is perfect? No. But, producers there can thrive, grow, and build a coffee-growing community.
In the fields of Finca Retana. Photo credit:San Miguel Coffees and Finca Retana
Let’s take a closer look at Finca Retana. The land where Retana currently lives has gone through a handful of owners, originally owned by an order of friars who were led by Father Retana (the namesake of the farm). At different points, it has been home to sugar cane farms (used in making the traditional Antigua candy (rapadura), milk cattle, avocados, macadamia, and finally coffee.
Retana currently is about 125 acres of land planted with two varieties (yellow bourbon and Caturra). At the end of the harvest, they can produce around 1500 bags of green coffee every year.
Drying patios at Finca Retana. Also, #coffeedog. Photo credit: San Miguel Coffees and Finca Retana.
With this success, they were able to give back and support their picking families. There is a small settlement on the farm for its workers, where about 20 families live there. They pay for the education of children and supplies electricity, drinking water, and 3.46 acres of land for those families to plant and cultivate their own food.
The lot that we selected from Finca Retana is a 100% Bourbon variety that has been fully washed and dried on patios. In the cup, you’ll taste the rich volcanic soil express itself as a rich cocoa nib and lush body texture. The acidity in this cup is balanced and floral.
Ripe Yellow Bourbon ready for processing. Photo credit: San Miguel Coffees and Finca Retana
So, if you support sustainable coffee, buy a bag of Finca Retana. Or, if you want an accessible and all-day drinking coffee, this one will be your jam.