Costa Rica, Finca Juan Carlos Valerio Semi-Honey
- Farm: Hacienda Valerio
- Varietal: Caturra Catuaí Villa Sarchí
- Processing: Semi Washed
- Altitude: 1,500 metres above sea level
- Owner: Juan Carlos Valerio
- Town/City: San Luis de Grecia, Grecia
- Region: West Valley
Juan Carlos Valerio is the owner and manager of this 49 hectare farm, spread picturesquely over the crest of the mountain ridge in San Luis de Grecia located in Costa Rica’s West Valley. The farm sits at around 1,500 metres above sea level and benefits from rich volcanic soil and a perfect, natural climate for coffee farming.
On days that this microlot coffee is picked, the pickers are given a higher wage per cajuela (basket) to pick only the maduro puro (pure ripe) cherries. The day’s picking is then delivered to the on-site receiving station, where it is checked for quality, sorted and measured by volume. A truck sits at the bottom of the chute, ready to carry the fruit directly to the micro mill.
All of the machines in the mill are tuned to perform in the most efficient manner, using only energy harvested within the farm. The mill specialises in honey and natural processing, both of which require more work and care than the traditional fully washed but are much more energy and water efficient. Using the honey method saves more than 3 gallons of water per pound of coffee.
The processing imparts some complex flavours. While cupping detects some subtle peach, nut and tea notes overlaying the Central American chocolate, there is also a pleasant biscuity character when freshly ground.
El Savador, El Borbollón
- Farm: La Reforma & Santa Maria
- Varietal: Red Bourbon
- Processing: Fully Washed
- Altitude: 1,300 to 1,500 metres above sea level
- Owner: Alvarez Family
- Town/City: Santa Ana
- Region: Santa Ana Volcano
The Alvarez family has been growing coffee in El Salvador for over 100 years and across four generations. Their award-winning farms are located on the lush green hills of Santa Ana, in the west of the country, whose rich volcanic soils and mild climate provide ideal conditions for growing coffee.
The beans which together make up El Borbollón come from two small neighboring farms - La Reforma and El Cerro. They are hand-picked and collected in traditional hand woven baskets from December until March by pickers who have been specially trained to select only the best and fully-mature coffee cherries.
The trees are cultivated under native shade, which improves and conserves the soil and provides habitation for birds, and are managed according to a stringent pruning schedule that maintains the health of the trees and improves their resistance to diseases and insect damage. The excellent growing conditions and the commitment to sustainable growing practices has help the family to harvest some of the best coffee from this elite region of El Salvador, which is then processed at the family’s state-of-the-art El Borbollón mill in Santa Ana.
El Borbollón mill is managed to complement the natural potential of the coffees that the farms in the region produce. The coffees are pulped without water and then fermented for 16 – 20 hours until peak fermentation is achieved, then washed in clean, fresh water to remove all traces of mucilage. The parchment coffee is moved to clay patios, where it is slowly sundried and regularly turned by hand. Clay absorbs heat and is very good at regulating temperature so the coffees are dried very slowly and evenly.
El Salvadorian coffees are famously sweet and chocolatey and this example exhibits these properties in spades! This is a refined and fragrant chocolate though, intended for grown-ups to savour.
Guatemala, Finca El Pilar
- Farm: Finca El Pilar
- Varietal: Red Bourbon, Típica, Yellow Bourbon
- Processing: Fully Washed and sun dried
- Altitude: 1,500 to 2,000 metres above sea level
- Owner: Juan Carlos Chen
- Town/City: San Juan Sacatepequez
- Region: Antigua
Finca El Pilar lies high in the hills just outside the town of San Juan Sacatepequez. The farm itself is large and stretches across just over 2,000 hectares; however, the area under coffee only extends across 80 hectares at a prime coffee-growing altitude of 1,500 to 2,000 metres. The rest of the land is under forest and milpa (traditional indigenous corn fields), which are cared for by and feed the local population.
Juan Carlos has signed large swathes of the farm over to the communities for their
own use – as agricultural land for subsistence, alternative cash crops and for ornamental flower cultivation for local markets. In return, around 20 people from the communities have offered to help him to work and manage the farm. Their understanding of the ‘rhythm of coffee’ has been enlightening and Juan seeks to add their wisdom to the modern practices recommended by his technical advisors, making for a perfect marriage of the old and the new.
After being selectively hand-harvested, coffee is delivered to the mill on the same day it is picked. The cherries are sorted by flotation and are then pulped, after which they are delivered to one of the mill’s five newly-tiled fermentation tanks. The clay tiles, endothermic despite being glazed, help conserve heat, which provides more constant temperatures and reduces fermentation time. After fermenting, the coffee is either washed or run through the farm’s new demucilager and is then delivered to patios to dry.
This is simply an exceptional coffee. Its fruit and spice notes would not be out of place in an African 'natural'. We treat this one gently to preserve its unique characteristics.