Coffee Travel Diaries: Winter 2014 Part II

We would never let Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, visit so many of the beautiful farms with whom we have relationships without promising to write home about it. Here is his second of two travel diaries from his recent winter harvest trip to Central America.

Panchito and Dan looking over the green coffee. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Panchito and Dan looking over the green coffee. Photo by Mayita Mendez.

Day 5:
It has been a great visit. I just spent the whole evening with Panchito of Los Plantanares and we shared our whole life stories, and discussed why we are working so hard. His story is exceptionally inspirational. I also got to watch him de-pulp some coffee, and learn more about how he is processing at his house. I am also really excited because the coffee is exceptional this year.

I also spent about an hour at the house of Jose Luis of Los Lirios today learning about what has happened this year. His coffee is also very good again this year.

The best news, they both have more coffee for us!

Jose Luis. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Jose Luis. Photo by Mayita Mendez.

Yesterday and Saturday I spent cupping looking for our lot from the co-op, and also tasting the coffees from Pancho and Jose Luis. Today, I selected 3 lots for our blend, and our container should probably arrive mid-April, if everything goes well.

The co-op here is continuing to make a lot of improvements, and they have started many new projects to help the producers here control the costs of managing their farms. This is especially important with Roya, because they need to apply a spray every 25 days to keep it under control. The co-op has initiated a program so that they can make these organic sprays in the co-op and reduce the costs of the products. It is really fascinating, especially because most of what they are doing is taking things that are normally treated as trash, and turning them into things that have positive benefits for the farms. Bones, coffee pulp, wood ash, etc… they are all being converted into different types of fertilizers, etc.

It was especially evident at Pancho’s farm that it takes a lot of work to control the Roya. His neighbor has not been working his farm, and it is completely destroyed. Whereas Pancho is working hard, and his farm looks very healthy.

Tomorrow, on to Costa Rica.

Day 6:
We left the Las Capucas farm at 9am and proceeded to Santa Rosa to visit the dry mill, where they prepare the coffee for export. This year they have installed a new line that allows them to run only micro-lots. This is great news, as we will not have to wait to receive our coffee. In the past, it has caused a lot of problems to do the small lots, because it takes the same amount of time to do 20 bags as 275, so we get put at the end of the line to keep their larger customers happy.

Now this is no longer a problem. Afterwards, we proceeded to the airport for the 1 hour flight to Costa Rica. We arrived early, and everything was looking good until we hit traffic and our 2 hour trip to Tarrazu, turned into 3 hours. They were waiting for us at the wet mill of Candelilla but sadly they had already finished processing for the night. We had a quick dinner and went to bed.

This morning, we toured the wet mill and learned about the 5 different processes they do here. Natural, Honey, Semi-Washed, Mechanically Washed, and Traditionally Washed. They use Traditionally Washed the least, as it uses too much water (they ferment in water here, as opposed to dry in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala). Afterward, we walked up to see where they have planted some Geisha, and SL-28 varieties. We tasted the SL-28 and Geisha cherries against the Caturra and Catuai, and the difference is incredible. Geisha tastes like Jasmine tea, and SL-28 tastes like peaches.

After that, we had lunch…and then it was time to pick. Surprisingly it is cooler in the afternoon here, as they get a lot of afternoon shade being on the Eastern side of the mountain. They gave me a basket and had me pick… I only managed to pick $2 worth of cherry in 2 hours. About 1/3 of what their best pickers do. Picking is pretty hard work, and I kept getting attacked by ants who didn’t want me to take away their sweet fruit clusters.

We finished picking, and went to take a break and have some coffee, however a local station was doing a piece on the mill/family and they interviewed me about what I think is so impressive about Candelilla. Then we talked with Marcia, the mill administrator, about the history of the Mill. She told us that Candelilla is called that because there are many fireflies there, which are called Candelilla here.

Marcia on La Candelilla. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Marcia on La Candelilla. Photo by Mayita Mendez.

The mill is owned cooperatively by Marcia’s family—nine siblings, who each have farms. The Candelilla we buy is a collection from all of the farms (and has some of all the varieties, but is mostly Caturra & Catuai). The family is really cool, we picked with one of the brothers, Mario, and have met at least half of them all now. I have never been on a farm/mill before where the family members are actually doing many of the jobs…. (Picking, turning coffee on the patio, cleaning the mill, etc.)

Next came unloading, and de-pulping all the coffee. It was nearly dusk when we started, and we had to count how much coffee was in each truckload. Afterwards we got some photos of the coffee being de-pulped and transported to the patios. Everything picked today was processed as honey process.

We had dinner with the family at their house, and turned in for the night.