||Costa Rica Don Joel La Cumbre Yellow Honey Maragogype 2020
This is our fifth year buying from Allan Oviedo Rodriguez and his family. We buy from their two farms, Finca La Cumbre and Finca Carmela, and they also have the Don Joel micromill which services the processing needs of both farms (along with occasional small lots for their neighbours when there's space, because they've got a good reputation for it).
Finca La Cumbre is near the city of San Luis de Grecia. It's in the Alajuela province of the rather famous-for-coffee Western Valley of Costa Rica. Situated around 1,600 metres above sea level, this farm is just a short 5-minute drive away from their other farm, Carmela, which is on the other side of the hill.
Allan has been producing coffee in the area for eighteen years; he grew up in a coffee family and learnt the traditional producing methods alongside his father (Don Joel) and brothers. It was during these early years that he saw the difficulties that came with making a living as a coffee farmer, such as poor returns for what is a very demanding job, and the ever-increasing cost of living.
When Allan inherited La Cumbre (the larger family farm was divided between him and his brothers when Don Joel passed away), he decided to implement changes to improve their lot. During his early years of owning the farm, he used to work as a taxi driver in San Jose by night and managed the farm by day to make ends meet. But it was his dream to own the farm, and he was ardently focused on giving his family that security.
With a mix of willingness to try new things, an eye for detail, and the ability to learn quickly, Allan was able to keep improving his farm. A regular visitor to the wet mill where his coffee was being processed, he took a keen interest in how the processes worked and how the best results could be achieved, which lead him to build his own micromill on La Cumbre. He named the new mill after his father. Allan began to work on replanting the land, focusing on high-quality cup profile. The varietals he chose to work with were Caturra, Catuai, and Villa Sarchi.
Allan's other farm, Finca Carmela, followed when he was able to invest in expanding his growing area, and here he planted mainly Villa Sarchi and Typica, which he's now been tending for four years. Allan employs two staff outside of harvest season. Staffing during the harvest will depend how good the year is: seven people in a bad year, and up to a maximum of twenty in a really good year.
Despite the very short distance between the two farms, they exhibit interestingly different microclimates that impact the way that the coffee thrives. For example, rain may reach one side of the mountain but not the other, and strong winds can damage one whilst the other is sheltered. These factors may seem small, but they can make a big difference in terms of when the coffee plant goes into flower and how much sun it gets, whether plants get damaged, and so on. This all adds up.
You can see Poás Volcano from La Cumbre, which makes the farm roughly north-east facing. Carmela is more south-east facing, becuase you can see back towards San Jose. Think about it like planting up your garden at home. South facing? Lots of shade? Good drainage? Shelter from wind? All of these things are going to have an effect on what sort of plants are happiest living there, and happy plants are the first step towards tasty coffee!
Like a lot of Costa Rican producers, Allan’s scale is very small. However, he’s got an interest in the wider world and wider coffee market of the sort we’ve only usually seen in producers who are much larger and well-travelled. On his most recent visit, Roland spent the day with him and, over a delicious dinner (cooked by his wife), they quizzed him on global coffee trends, new processes and origins, what customers liked and didn’t, British politics, roasting… it was wide-ranging!
Roland says "I was there with Davian, who works with our exporters. His English is a bit better than my Spanish, but not by a long way, so I can say it was quite a challenge to explain Brexit! (Thank you Google Translate)."
Of the people we work with, Allan is the closest to Poás Volcano; he's only 7 KM away. He had worked incredibly hard building up the farms, taking on Carmela and expanding La Cumbre ... and then the volcano spewed ash over the area in 2019. It really brings home the risks a producer takes when they invest in their farm. In one swoop, all his plants had leaves hidden by ash and all he could do was hope the rains would come quickly to wash it away.
This was further impacted by the 2019 El Niño: warming reinforced the dry season patterns in January through April, and reduced rainfall during the rainy season in June through December. All this added up to a very difficult period for production in Costa Rica, but we're pleased to hear that things are much more positive this year.
The varietal Maragogype (pronounced mar-rah-go-jeepeh) was originally found in Brazil, and it's a mutation of the Typica varietal. The plant is very distinctive due to its very tall height and its huge leaves and fruit, but despite its great stature, it's a very low-yielding plant.
The coffee seed/bean is also very distinctive due to its large size; it’s often nicknamed 'Elephant Bean'. This has created some interest in the bean because it's very distinctive.
I’ve seen a few of these coffees from Brazil, Guatemala, and Mexico, though new plantings of this bean seem to be becoming a little less popular as interest in varietals like Kenyans and Geishas has risen in the last few years. This varietal is also the parent of two others: the Maracaturra (crossed with Caturra) and my beloved Pacamara (a cross with Pacas). You know I love a Pacamara, so guess who's also a fan of these big ol' beans? ????
When you can't decide on a fruit smoothie or a coffee for breakfast, why not have both? This has got a lovely velvety texture which reminds me of that smoothie, but more than anything it's packed full of a sweet mix of fruits. First in is apricot, then a few sweet cherries, and finally a chunk of cantaloupe melon and a little bit of pomegranate too. Juicy, complex and delicious.
Country: Costa Rica
Region: Western Valley
Nearest City: San Luis de Grecia
Farm: La Cumbre
Micromill: Don Joel
Producer: Allan Oviedo Rodriguez and family
Altitude: 1,600 m.a.s.l.
Processing method: Yellow Honey
Medium – through first, but keep it before second. Maragogype can be tricky to roast, but these ones are a little smaller than most. Don't over-complicate it: keep the roast time middle-of-the-road, and don't make it more complicated than it needs to be.
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