Thursday, June 4, 2009

Costa Rican Coffee

Costa Rican coffee has set the standards for fine wet-processed coffee for the rest of Central and South America.

The words that used to be leveled at the coffees from Costa Rica - too balanced too clean, too mild but we categorize this type of coffee as the "classic cup," the traditional balanced coffee that has no defects or taints. Coffee cuppers call it "clean" and that's not the same as "boring."

Each year the new crop starts with the first rains in May which trigger a spectacular burst of sweet frequent flowers that cover the coffee fields like snow. The fruit ripens slowly under the warm tropical sun and the harvest season starts in November and continues through March. Most of Costa Rica's coffee is grown on small family farms where the whole family works long hours to hand pick the ripe cherries and deliver them to the coffee mills each evening.

At the coffee mills (Beneficios) the coffee goes through an extensive process that includes mechanically removing the outer fruit, and cleaning off the sticky film (Parchment) surrounds the beans.

The coffee is fermented, and then washed and either dried under the sun or slow dried in large heated dryers for about twenty hours until the internal humidity reaches about 11%.

The outer parchment is then removed mechanically before the coffee is then sorted and graded by size, weight and even color. Finally the finished green coffee is bagged to be delivered to coffee merchants or coffee roasters.

During roasting the colour of the coffe bean changes as the sucrose sugars caramelize.

Although many people assume the opposite in fact, lighter roast coffees have more caffeine than darker roast coffees because the longer the coffee is roasted the higher the temperatures which reduces the caffeine by about 15 to 20%. Darker roast coffees have stronger flavors & their beans have an oily finish due to the extrusion of the natural fatty oils in the coffee.

In coffee terms acidity does not correlate to the PH level but is akin to the dry but bright sensation experienced on the back sides of your tongue while drinking a red wine. Acidity has been correlated with coffees grown at very high altitudes and in mineral rich volcanic soils throughout Central America.

Now everything is changing in Costa Rica, and the big farms and big powerful cooperative mills, have a reason to do a double-take. There is a new quality initiative coming from the Micro-Mills, tiny low-volume farm-specific coffee producers who now keep their lots separate, mill it themselves, gaining total control of the process, and tuning it to yield the best possible flavors (and achieving the best prices!)

This revolution is possible due to new environmentally friendly small milling equipment.

No longer do the small producers see their carefully grown and harvested coffee purchased buy large dealers and mixed with lower grade lower quality coffes, with an independent Micro-Mill, a farmer can become a true "coffee craftsperson," maximize the cup quality of their coffee, dividing lots by elevation or cultivar, and receiving the highest prices for their Micro-Lot coffees. In turn, we get unique and diverse Micro-Lots, and a transparent, long-term relationship with the small farmer.

The Cup Of Excellence Awards is a strict competition that selects the very best coffee produced in member countries for a particular year, to see the best producers in Costa Rica for 2009, just click here (results released on June 11th 2009)

Welcome to Costa Rica, coffee and beaches are waiting for you!!!

Peter Zhang June 2009

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