Producer: Chacón family Location: Central Valley - Sabanilla Altitude: 1,500 masl Cultivar: Caturra & Catuai Process: Alma negra (natural) Flavour profile: Berry jam & sweet balsamic
Costa Rica is a small country but the diversity of climates and their impact on coffee production is more important that you would expect.
In general, flowering was really good and homogenous last year therefore the entire volume (at one given area) was harvested within a couple of weeks. Which made it tense in terms of space and labor in the farms and mills. However, the summer (harvest time) which is normally very dry has been a little wet which has impacted a lot the harvest rounds and the process of the coffee. A drought earlier in the year has impacted the volume of the crop. But although the volume is lower this year, the quality is really nice.
The Central Valley is under the Atlantic Ocean influence and for that reason quite a wet region in Costa Rica. This is the original place where coffee has been produced in the country.
We have been buying Las Lajas coffee for 3 years now and we are happy to support them again.
The Chacón family is composed by 6 brothers having each 1 farm with a total of 73 ha of coffee plantation. 13 new hectares have been acquired since last year and some good renovation work has been done in the existing parcels. Oscar and his wife Francisca are the ones running the mill. They do everything including dry mill and green sorting. They have 4 kids and try to involve them as much as they can in the coffee business. Their older son just took the second level of the Q processing course organised by CQI.
The mill and farms are located in the town of Sabanilla de Alajuela, on the Poas volcano slope. The altitude is 1,300 masl for the mill and from 1,450 to 1,500 masl for the farms. The harvest here usually runs mainly from Dec to Jan with very little to be processed in Feb. Their process is focused on very high quality and as a result of that very labor intensive and costly. Because of the concentration of the harvest this year, the Chacóns had to find up to 100 pickers at the peak of the harvest. And at the end of January, there was coffee drying up to the roof (literally).
Some of their farms are organic (but not certified anymore) which is quite rare in Costa Rica. They use the pulp from the mill to make compost. Francesca told us they wanted to do organic farming because this is their view of agriculture production, but the cost of the certification is becoming too high and wasn’t adding too much value to their products, so they decided to drop it and continue farming organically without the certification. They innovate a lot every year and they now have about 10 different varieties in their farms: Caturra, Red and Yellow Catuai, Paraiso (Sarchimore and Catuai), Milenio, Villa Sarchi, Geisha, Pacamara and SL28. The latter is the most recent and this year is the first year of production for 7,000 trees. The Milenio and the Pacamara grow at 1,450 and above.
The mill produced about 2,000 exportable bags this year. Which is about 500 more than last year which was an abnormally low harvest for them.
They used Penagos to float all coffees before any process.
The honeys are first dried on beds in the sun for a couple of days. They are moved depending on the honey color desired and with a more or less thick layers for the same reasons. The longer the drying takes, the darker the honey will be. The Black honey is not moved at all for the first 2 days after pulping. As they move coffee on patios, they flip the crust formed rather than create rows with a rake. They found out it makes it more consistent as a lot. With their process they manage to use only 1 cube meter of water a day that they rest in a pond for a day to clean it before releasing it in the land. They researched and made up a few other processes that they called Alma Negra, Perla Negra, Yellow Diamond, etc.
This year they got new fermentation tanks that receive the coffee just after pulping thanks to some conveyer belt, they have a new mechanical dryer for second grades and did some renovation in the warehouse. Containers can be now efficiently loaded directly from the warehouse. In our case they are still being consolidated with other lots from the same area.
Oscar said that working in the mill made them be better people. They started working just the 2 of them and now employ 20 people in the mill and up to 100 pickers. They pay 1,200 c/ per cajuela harvested and a premium of 300 is paid later for all the cajuelas picked and the money is given to the head of household: the woman, as they realised money is better managed by women.