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Meeting the coffee suppliers of Costa Rica

Back in the summer, we were discussing the coffee countries and suppliers that we should visit. We agreed unanimously to go to Costa Rica and Colombia. The main reason to visit Costa Rica was that for its relatively small size it produces a significant amount of coffee and we could therefore cover a number of coffee suppliers.

The second reason was to experience the country’s ecological credentials and how they apply to the growing of green coffee beans and coffee production. We could also take the opportunity to attend Sintercafe, an annual conference that reunites personalities from the coffee industry to discuss current and future trends in coffee production and consumption. Colombia was an obvious choice for our second destination as it’s thankfully starting to recover from the low levels of production reached in the past three years, which were catastrophic to its coffee sector. As you may know, Colombia’s coffee suppliers were affected in 2008-2009 by a combination of many factors, including: erratic weather patterns; a devastating attack of “roya” and “broca”; regeneration of old coffee plantations due to the fact that many farmers abandoned their land during the internal conflict with the guerrilla movement and the drug trafficking cartels; and, if that wasn’t enough, the Colombian peso was badly devalued against the US dollar – these people need a break!

Hemileia vastatrix (Roya) is a fungus of the order Pucciniales (previously also known as Uredinales) that causes coffee leaf rust (CLR), a disease that is devastating to susceptible coffee plantations.

The coffee borer beetle or coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) is a small beetle native to Africa. It is among the most harmful pests to coffee crops across the world where coffee is cultivated.

The Tarrazu region

We started our trip at one of the top coffee producing areas in Costa Rica, the Tarrazu region which is formed of three municipalities known as the three saints: Santa Maria de Dota, San Marcos de Tarrazu and San Pablo de Leon Cortes. In Dota we were impressed by the way the community has come together working with Coope Dota to build a sustainable town. The town looks spotless from every corner and all the used papers, plastic bottles and glass are recycled by the local authority in conjunction with the co-operative. About 95% of the economy of the town is based on coffee, so Coope Dota plays a key role in its development. All coffee produced by Coope Dota is carbon neutral, being the first and the only coffee producer and processor to achieve this certification in the country, and probably in the world.

 Coope Tarrazu

Our next visit was to Coope Tarrazu, located in the municipalities of San Marcos de Tarrazu and San Pablo de Leon Cortes. Here, we were impressed by their professionalism and the work they do with the members of the co-op providing multiple services like credit, technical assistance, training and so on. In conjunction with the co-op, D R Wakefield set up a community coffee project to help increase the value and recognition of the quality of the coffee produced in the communities of La Trinidad, Ojo de Agua and Paritilla. We were pleased that the premium given to the producers to select the best quality green coffee beans has made a positive impact on their lives. We were extremely lucky and honoured to be present and to hand out the premium to the farmers of La Trinidad. They decided to invest the premium into materials to finish building the main road that provides access to their community. Visit our blog in the coming weeks for an interview with different farmers for an insight into their lives and the difference that these premiums make to their community.

Next day, we visited a top single farm located in the Tarrazu region in the municipality of San Marcos near Rio Jorco at an average altitude of 1600 metres. This farm, which is one third family-owned, specialises in producing micro lots of green coffee bean varietals. We have been actively selling this coffee to our overseas friends as the market for micro lots there is well developed. We plan to bring some of these super green coffee beans to the UK as well in the coming season.

Lastly, we travelled through the Central Valley, one of the other well known coffee producing regions in Costa Rica, which in contrast to the Tarrazu region, is facing the threat of ever growing cities. Like anywhere else, urban expansion in Costa Rica increases the cost of land. This is the case for one of the co-ops we deal with in the municipality of Heredia. They have been forced to find new co-operative members in other districts such as Ezcasu, Orosi and Turrialba to keep the flow of coffee needed for their wet mill processing plant. Coffee grown in these areas comes from high altitude areas where the phenomenon of urban blight is less apparent. We then headed further north to the municipalities of Naranjo and Athenas where the new green coffee bean crop was in full swing and was looking very good! We met the farmers who brought their coffee cherries to the coop and Santi helped take the deliveries. We will have these coffees in stock from February and March 2013.

We ended our visit to the coffee suppliers of Costa Rica by saying goodbye to our “Tico” friends with the usual phrase “Pura Vida” which means many things but mainly Be Happy! Next stop Columbia.