Costa Rica is one of our favourite coffee producing countries, and we love being able to trade directly with producers via the help of Selva Coffee. Selva is a small export business based in Tarrazu with their own cupping lab and direct connections to some of the best coffee producers in the country. Costa Rica is a beautiful country know for its focus on environment and sustainability, and this is very evident in the coffee industry. Coffee from Costa Rica can showcase many different processing styles and flavour profiles from wild, juicy natural process coffees to soft, delicate honey processed coffees. Some small producers and co-operatives also produce washed coffees, and experimental processes like anaerobic fermentation have also become very popular.
We first bought coffee from San Juanillo farm in 2019 and managed to fit in a visit in February 2020 just before Covid-19 put a halt to all international air travel. We bought two fantastic coffees, a natural and honey process both produced from the Marsallesa varietal. This is a great way to experience the same coffee processed using two different methods.
Tomas Gutierrez and Allan Vargas bought the farm in 2007 intending to regenerate the landscape, soil and to plant new and exciting varietals. The farm was originally planted with Caturra and Catuai trees. Tomas and Allan were keen to try out new varietals that showed better resistance to disease and those that show interesting cup character. They now grow a range of varietals including Marsellesa, H1 Centroamericano, Caturra, Catuaí and a small amount of Geisha. In 2018 they purchased their neighbours' farm increasing their total farm size to 12 hectares, and they are Rainforest Alliance certified. In 2015 they placed 19th in the Cup of Excellence competition with a coffee from their H1 hybrid varietal.
This Red Honey processed coffee was hand-harvested from the Marsallesa varietal trees on the farm. Tomas and Allan employ a team of highly skilled pickers who are paid a premium for selecting only the ripest cherry. Many of these pickers travel to work in Costa Rica from Panama and Nicaragua. They are highly valued for their hard work and dedication during the harvest.
After harvesting the coffee is transported to the Patalillo micro mill. The coffee cherry is floated in a fermentation tank to remove any defective cherry. The cherry is then fermented for 12-16 hours after the flotation process. This kick starts the natural fermentation process, and tests indicate that this can contribute to better flavours in the cup.
After resting the coffee is pulped to remove the outer layer of fruit and the coffee is taken directly to raised drying tables for an initial two day drying period. The raised tables allow the coffee to dry quickly with better airflow, this reduces the chances of mould growth and allows the mucilage to dry enough that it will stick to the outer parchment layer of the beans. The coffee is then moved to concrete patios for drying. They call this process red honey as the amount of mucilage and speed of drying tends to cause the mucilage to dry as a deep, vibrant red colour.