Origin Trip: Costa Rica 2014

We were surprised they let us out of El Salvador, what with all the pupusas stuffed in our pockets.

Continuing our journey to the source of things, we landed in Costa Rica, our hearts full from our time with Don Miguel and family, and our pockets, unfortunately, sans pupusas.

It probably was a good thing we weren’t still munching on that El Salvadorian treat--we had coffees to cup.

Our friends at Exclusive Coffees welcomed us, whisked us right off the tarmac and into the coffee lab. Miguel, Javier, Wayner, and Francisco--old pals from our last Costa Rica visit--guided us through a bountiful cupping table at Exclusive’s impressive facility. We tasted over thirty-five coffees that afternoon alone, and planned our farm visits around the ones that wowed us.  

The next day we trekked all about the Central and West Valleys. The lush, hilly region (think Scotland) is brimming with coffee life, and we liked what we saw (and tasted). Our day moved from one mill to the next, tasting and seeing many of the same impressive coffees we’d cupped the day before.

That there are so many mills to visit in Costa Rica is itself a big deal. In the not-so-long-ago old days, farmers would sell to large co-ops, not having mills of their own. Because their coffee was essentially going in with everyone else’s, farmers were paid less, and had less incentive to cultivate outstanding coffees.

Not anymore.

With the help of Exclusive Coffees, farmers are being empowered with small loans to build their own micro-mills--and it’s changing the way coffee is done across the country. 

Instead of sharing the production load with several neighboring and competing farms, the opportunity to build micro-mills has allowed local farmers to provide deeper care for their own crops, and sell their coffee at higher prices. This care has resulted in overall better coffees (and better paid farmers) emerging from Costa Rica.

Our own friends and partners enjoying this boon are in Tarrazu--we visited them the next day. Our hosts were Don Mayo and Luis, who had been so good to us the last time around. We toured Don Mayo’s mill and Finca Los Angeles where we were welcomed back with a delicious homemade liqueur and coffee concoction.

You should recognize the name of Luis’s mill. Named after his mother, the La Lia mill is gorgeous, and the birthplace of our delicious coffee of the same name.

Luis’s farms were predictably awesome. We hiked through Santa Rosa, strolled through Pie San, and ate coffee cherries at Finca Dragon. Each of the farms was wildly beautiful, perched high in the arid hills, and full of activity. Luis is experimenting with new crops, cultivating new varietals, and blazing new trails. At one point he literally blazed a trail, striking off through the trees, leading us to a tiny grove of papaya-tasting coffees. (Don’t worry--we’re gonna buy some.)

And what a treat it was, to be at the source of things, to be alongside our friends and partners, trailblazers in the Costa Rican coffee industry. From them we have learned the joys of careful, precise work, the value of empowering small, hardworking farmers, and the pleasures of a bright, sweet cup. But mostly we have learned to look out at our lives and say, just like our Costa Rican friends do, pura vida.