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.
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.