Farm Diaries: Guatemala and Costa Rica January 2012

Our Director of Coffee, Byron Holcomb, recently got back from a relationship-building trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica. Here is Part Two of his letters home.

My night visit to La Tacita was amazing. Very high altitude (very cold at night), wonderful people, great looking farm, huge amounts of history. They separate the farm by tablones but weren’t as keen on the idea of keeping them separated. They might send me samples. 

Yesterday was amazing and long. We left the hotel just after 3am, made a connection in Panama where my sweet-talking the immigration agent didn’t pay off because he forgot to give me my customs form. Customs only made me fill out another one. Then I got to the hotel and they charged my credit card $8000. It was not my day for smooth traveling. 

We got to San Jose, Costa Rica and what a different country this is. Everyone is tan and looks like they shop in Southern California. Surfer style rules here. Our cab driver had enough gel in his hear to look like Sonic the Hedeghog. 

We ate lunch and tore off to Terrazu to visit a farm. The farm is 9 brothers that all own farms and work in different areas of production. The farms are really well managed, and they have had great success selling to top buyers and differentiating lots per the buyers demands. 

They are truly at the front of the top micro mills out there. They keep a small “simple” operation. No massive patios, no 200 raised beds. Just a really small-capacity wet mill, some raised beds, a concrete patio. They have been one of the front runners in the micro-mill movement in Costa Rica. They do all different types of honey coffee, keep varieties separate, keep specific farms apart,  they pay the attention to detail like you would imagine any professional craftsman would pay. They are really doing amazing work with varieties: I tasted the cherries from SL-28 (orange, spicy sweet with a savory finish), Geisha (all floral but not as sweet as I imagined), Red Catuai and Caturra (crazy sweet, kinda like Hi-C Red flavor). 

They do many different types of Typica processing. And they have been doing selections of plantings of Geisha based on cherry sweetness and will launch an improved Geisha variety lot this year or the next. We have the chance to buy some of this coffee this year, which really is an honor considering most everything they have is long-term relationships. They are also environmentally responsible and really great people to be around. 

One of my favorite parts of meeting them was how eloquent the farmer was when describing how different markets demand different profiles, and what he needs from his buyers in direction. For example, if we want a sweetness driven coffee (based on a sample) then he will craft one to our needs. I haven’t cupped it yet, but according to them, these guys can create a lot based on a requested profile. For example, I could say I want a coffee that is very bright and very sweet with notes of citrus, red cherries and passion fruit. They would run an experiment, send me a sample for feed back then custom craft the lot.  

Of course we haven’t cupped it yet but we will on Monday. 

We also visited another farm which has planted a really cool variety they will probably keep separate for next year. And the most impressive part is how they use an organic system of foliar spray that has reduced the need for herbicide on the farm and eliminated the need to use fungicide completely on the farm for the last 7 years. This was all done through the use of pulp, molasses, efficient micro-organisms, salts, etc. 

That is a lot of information. From the farm side, I’m totally excited, lets just cross our fingers the cups are as impressive. 

Farm Diaries: Guatemala January 2012

Our Director of Coffee, Byron Holcomb, recently got back from a relationship-building trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica. Here is Part One of his letters home.

So far this trip has gone smoothly like a waterslide lined in butter.

The weather has been perfect. The nights are cool and the mid day sun intense. The first day we spent our time cupping a couple different tables and visiting the a dry mill and one advanced farm. The dry mill has an impressive operation and incredible traceability once a coffee arrives to the mill. They set all lots to a bar code system. The coffees are cupped every two weeks to monitor the qualiy and look for defects. Then in the headquarters lab they are cupped again with only the bar code visible, then the coffee is judged and classified to fill basic stock grades: Extra Prime, Hard Bean, Strictly Hard Bean, Strictly Hard Bean Huehue and Robusta, just to name a few.

There is a bit of everything here: body driven coffees that are “cheap”, pointed bright coffees, pickers who barely speak Spanish because they are “Naturales” — a local word that refers to indigenous populations, beautifully painted “chicken buses” (old American school buses), really tasty meats, lots of guards everywhere with guns. Every single mill we visited has at least 12ft barbed wire fences, two or three armed guards who grill our drivers for info and names before they crack a smile. Why? because people steal coffee.

It is funny what happens when I read commodity reports that are saying, “Central America will ship late.” Then when I use my personal knowledge of farms and weather, I get different results – Central America should be early. And both Honduras and Guatemala are both about a month ahead of schedule. Humm… This is from the incredibly heavy rains this season. They accelerate the maturation of the cherries. I’ve lived it. It should also decrease the volume. Again the commodity reports said, volumes should be fine, maybe a touch low. And yet from what I hear and see it looks like the volumes will be greatly affected.

Today we left early and headed to the Santa Rosa area. The coffees were solid and they actually had a nice natural. The farm is massive. 700 hectares and all organic certified and Rainforest Alliance as well. When the Pacamara was blended with one of the better lots, it was incredibly balanced and delish.

I’m writing this in a truck on my way to La Tacita. Tomorrow we check out of the hotel at 3am for a 5am flight to Costa Rica. Night night.