Origin Trip :: Clive Coffee in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Santiago Micro LotSo much of the coffee on the market these days is really a commodity product that has been standardized to provide consistency. Generally, this means the coffee isn’t too terribly bad nor too terribly great. It’s a generic, non-offensive caffeine delivery mechanism.

An origin trip changes all that. It brings you, the roaster, face to face with the person that is growing and processing your coffee beans. It means you and farmer have talked shop over a cup of coffee, toured the processing mill that he set up himself, and met the family he’s feeding with the profits. It’s the antithesis of generic, commodity coffee.

A few months ago I toured five small farms in the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica, driving for hours over the steep hillsides that are covered in lush, deep green vegetation. The tropical sun is very intense at the high altitude, but the temperature when I was there was only around 75 degrees, and the constant breeze made it very comfortable. The city of San Jose is nestled in a valley that is surrounded by extremely steep hills, which are continually buffeted by clouds rolling in from the Pacific Ocean before dissipating over the tops of the hills. It reminded me of San Francisco and the surrounding hills on the peninsula. There’s a mystical quality to the fog breaking up just above the tree branches.

Tarrazu’s unique topography and proximity to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans brings microclimates of surprising variety, producing fantastic, rare coffees. The rich volcanic soil, high altitude, and dry summers produce a coffee that is sought internationally for its clean profile and bright acidity. However, great Costa Rican coffee must be cultivated with great care to bring out the best flavors. It takes a lot of work and foresight to steward the coffee from sapling to export.

Fortunately, there is recent trend in Costa Rica and elsewhere is towards smaller lots, with more traceability and accountability for quality. A lot of coffee farmers have decided to go beyond just growing the coffee beans to be sold to a large processing factory.

Hillsides of Tarrazu

By setting up a micro mill on their property, these farmers can control the entire process of growing, harvesting, and processing the coffee for export. This means higher quality, better recognition from roasters like Clive, and higher prices for their product.

A Micro Mill

All of the farms I toured were family run micro mills, which means that the coffee we bring to you has been carefully tended to by only a few parties, and every person that touched that coffee has been rewarded for the hard work that goes into growing, processing, transporting, and roasting specialty coffee.

Cupping Costa Rican Coffee

After the tours, I cupped over 100 coffee samples to find my favorite. I wanted to find a really fantastic micro lot that represents Costa Rican coffee at its best – bright, balanced acidity, and a very clean finish.

I found that micro lot at a beautiful farm called La Candelilla, which means “little candle.” The name derives from the fireflies that light up the small creek the divides the coffee estate. The estate is nestled in the lush hills of the Talamanca Mountains, close to the Pirris River. The Sanchez family have been working this land for five generations. Until a few years ago, the nine brothers and sisters and their families each owned separate parcels of land on the “family mountain.” In the year 2000, they decided to pool their resources to build a micro mill so that they could process their own coffee instead of sending it to a large mill down in the valley. Each parcel of land produces its own unique lot of coffee, with striking differences considering the coffee beans were grown less than a mile apart.

La Candellia Estate

One of the Candelilla parcels is called Finca Santiago. This parcel of land is only 2 hectares, or roughly 5 acres. The peak of the harvest from this parcel of land was bundled together as one micro lot, and after tasting it on the cupping table we decided to buy the entire lot. Everyone in the room agreed it was the best coffee on the table.

Here’s a picture of Marvin Sanchez Godinez, the family member that owns the Finca Santiago. He’s immensely proud of his small parcel of land and tends to it with extreme care.

Marvin Sanchez of Finca Santiago

Clive Coffee will be the sole roaster of Finca Santiago estate coffee. Expect a bright, juicy orange acidity backed up by a subtle hint of cinnamon bark.

View Slideshow of the Costa Rica Trip