We’ve just returned from our first sourcing trip of 2016 and have some tremendous updates to share with you all. Central America is a wildly exciting place to source quality coffees, made even more special by the remarkable people, places and experiences. This time around, we traversed Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras – three countries close together geographically, but so very different…
We landed in San José in the evening, weary-eyed from a long day of travel, but eager to begin exploring. While we enjoy spending time in Costa Rica’s lively capitol, it’s the picturesque countryside that captivates us every time we’re here. There’s nothing quite like breathing in fresh mountain air when the plants are flowering; the aromas so fragrant, they waft into the car through the air vent. Once through customs, we loaded into a school van and began the winding ascent from the humid city into the mountains towards our first destination – Rio Jorco.
Rio Jorco is the immaculate farm and dry mill we work with in Costa Rica. Our partners here buy coffee cherry, process it on site with an aqua pulper, conduct the quality control and also mill and export the coffees. Once the quality of a lot has been determined, they pay the producer a quality premium. Since we last checked in, they’ve diversified their processing methods to include more natural and honey processed coffees than ever before!
We visited Finca Las Pavas and a few other farms in the suburb of El Cedral, Rio Jorco, cupped some coffees and chatted about production methods and some of the biggest challenges facing specialty coffee producers today. With the onset of El Niño, severe weather conditions are a big one on everyone’s mind. Hot and dry days with little rain and forceful winds have plagued producers and may impact production volumes for next year’s harvest.
As our time in Costa Rica was coming to a close, we were fortunate enough to celebrate a birthday party with the Navarro family. Such a heartwarming experience
– we were welcomed into their home and treated like family. Although they have some smaller stunning three manzana farms where they produce coffee for us, in total, they have nearly 70 hectares of coffee plants. Jose Luis Navarro consistently delivers exceptional micro lots, and judging by the progress of this harvest, we’ll have some stunning new coffees to share later this year!
We flew into Managua and drove four hours through desert and tobacco plantations up to Ocotal, the capital of the Nueva Segovia Department of Nicaragua. Aside from the pine forests that blanket the hills above the town, Ocotal is very dry and arid. The soil is sandy and the landscape has a perpetual sun-drenched sheen. Not a place you might expect to find quality coffee, but looks can be deceiving…
The Caravela Nicaragua operation, Beneficio La Estrella, is nestled in Ocotal and is where we set our sights. Here, we spent some time with quality control expert William Ortiz who hails from Oporapa, the same Colombian town as the one-and-only Wilfredo Ule Vargas of Finca Alcatraz. We visited the lab, cupped some fresh coffees and toured the soon-to-be-completed dry mill. Caravela has done a lot of coffee drying R&D over the past few years, cupping coffees from the same producer that have been dried in three different ways: patio dried with full sunlight, dried on plastic in full sunlight and dried on the beds under shade. The three profiles yield very different results. When coffee is dried slower, it is dried more evenly, doesn’t age as quickly and tastes more complex.
My time was up in Nicaragua so I pushed onto Honduras, the land of the mighty (and ever so delicious) baleada!
We drove up to the border of Nicaragua and Honduras and got a taste of border crossing in the good old days – excruciatingly slow and painful. Lines, checkpoints, more lines, frisking and searching, etc. 8 hours of travel later, we found ourselves in Peña Blanca, Santa Barbara – a picturesque town that sits above Lake Yojoa, the largest natural land mass in Honduras. The unique micro-climate here contributes to the expressively transparent cup profiles of coffees from this region.
For the next week, we visited cherished producers and cupped some incredibly promising lots alongside our great bud and supply partner, Benjamin Paz. We were fortunate enough to spend time (and share a delicious meal or two) with some of our favorite longstanding Honduran producers: Norma Azucena Erazo (Finca Zulema), Salomé and Virgilio Reyes (Finca Salomé), Ramon Jeovany Baide (Finca Baide) and newer partner, David Muñoz.
While we cup countless coffees at origin to determine quality and map out our coffee bar menus, the majority of our time is dedicated to finding out how we can best support our partners. We’re really excited about a collaborative project with Norma aimed at improving her wet mill and drying infrastructure.
Stay tuned for more on that and some phenomenal fresh crop from Central America later this year! Until then, we leave you with some trip highlights…