From Costa Rica until Christmas

December 23rd, 2007

This blog has been very quiet these last couple of weeks, the main reason being that I haven not! (Warning – long post to follow!)

So last time I posted it was about the evil Broca, which no one likes. The reason I had seen so much about them was that I had spent a few days at CICAFE in Costa Rica, where they have a research farm. I had been invited to Costa Rica by ICAFE and I was delighted to get the chance to go and see Herbazu as well as visit another producing country. CICAFE was an interesting place – though a lot of their work is on yield and pest prevention – some lots of their Villa Sarchi are producing 50 quintales per hectare when only two years old. This is a lot of coffee…..

The first couple of days I was there I was doing seminars. The first day was more competition based – a talk to judges in the morning and then one to competitors in the afternoon. Costa Rica has a relatively long running history of barista comeptition – 6 years now I think. Espresso also seems to be taking off in a big way in San Jose and beyond.

People asked lots of questions which was good, and I did my best through the fog of jetlag, and I think it was interesting for everyone to taste different coffees, different styles of espresso and also for us to argue around and discuss how espresso is “supposed” to taste.

The next day I was asked to give a broader spectrum lecture – covering all aspects of coffee consumption across Europe. People who attended were interested in the expectations of the ever growing number of tourists visiting Costa Rica. I have to say it was good for me to be challenged – to try and organise my thoughts and vague understanding of this huge topic into a couple of hours. Again – lots of questions and hopefully people enjoyed it. It is always fun to be translated though the delay between joke and laughter often makes you feel a bit silly!

Now some bad news – I somehow lost all my photos from Costa Rica. I have no idea how – one morning they were just gone from Aperture and my hard drive. I was most cross. Hopefully I can recover some after Christmas from the CF card but we shall see. If I do get some back I will duly update this post but sadly a few really great ones have definitely been lost forever. I do however have a bit of video that I shall crowbar in here for fun later on.

Anyway – the next morning was an early one as I was on live tv – the Costa Rican equivalent of Richard and Judy (UK injoke I am afraid). They asked me to make a couple of fun drinks people could try at home and I was relieved my latte art didn’t suck too badly. It is interesting only having 3 minutes to set a grinder – divided into 3 one minute bursts whilst they cut from live to VT.

After the tv show Francois from the ACFCR picked me up and we headed out towards Herbazu. This, for me, was the most important part of the trip and it was a pleasure to sit in Antonio’s kitchen drinking his coffee and chatting about using his coffee in competition and beyond. I was surprised at how good the coffee was – not just because it was from past crop but also because it was brewed in a traditional cloth filter which to those embracing espresso is almost an embarrassing way to make coffee. I disagree, I love a little tradition and the cup (beyond the wonderful situation itself) was really good.

After coffee we toured the farm seeing different varietals they have and meeting a few of the pickers there who had started on part of the farm. It wasn’t yet into full production – about 40% of the total pickers were active. Like many Costa Rican farms Herbazu are tentatively looking at Geisha – they had some plants in the nursery as well as out in the fields likely to yield in ’08/’09. For the most part they are sticking with Villa Sarchi as it has been pretty good to them so far!

We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the farm and its mill and then Francois and I headed out from Naranjo to Heredia to see another farm whose coffee I know a little – Las Brumas.

The owner was a great guy – totally excited about coffee, about experimenting with varietal and processing and creating boutique lots of coffee to people who want it. The process slightly differently to many farms in Costa Rica – they produce what they call “Honey Coffee”. This is mostly to do with the pulping – they pulp with almost no water and their equipment lets them decide how much mucilege (honey) is left behind – 20%, 40%, 60% or 100%. The coffee is dried straight after pulping on patios – though the last couple of days are spent in suspended screen beds.

After a couple of tasty tomales (it being Christmas time after all) Francois took me back to the hotel where I was collected by a group of baristas to go to a house party. It was a pleasant evening of good food, drink and good opportunity to listen to a lot of spanish and learn a few Costa Rican phrases (pura vida etc!) At the end of the night suddenly they presented me with a few thank you gifts which took me by surprise and was incredibly generous.

What I found quite inspirational was that the gifts came from the Bombillo Club – an informal group set up to allow baristas and other coffee professionals to get together and socialise out of work hours and to chat about coffee, to have lectures, to cup and to learn. I was impressed and I’d love to see more groups like this forming.

I realise I’ve written quite a lot so I shall move quickly through the rest of the trip – I did a few magazine interviews, I filmed 4 different drinks stood out in a coffee field for a tv show called La Cocina Alternativa which was crazy and on my final night in San Jose the town went crazy with the Festival of Lights – a huge parade through the main street lasting several hours full of floats, funky-ass marching bands, cheerleaders and all sorts of everything else.

alt text

Jugglers at the Festival of Lights

Also whilst out in the fields with a pan, a gas heater and some water I did the obvious thing and grabbed a load of ripe cherries and tried cooking them down with some water to see what I would get. It was not as expected – part sweet cherry taste, part cooked lettuce. Next time I will cook down pulped seeds without the skins.

A little video:

Online Videos by Veoh.com

I arrived home from Costa Rica just in time to rent a car and to drive to Belgium. Anette was teaching a course there and it was also an opportunity to pick up our sample roaster. This will require a post of its own in the future but it is beautiful. It is a five barrel Gothot that is the same model as this one:

Gothot sample roaster

Gothot sample roaster at the Probat Museum

It will be both restored and modded a little – I have big plans to make it extra beautiful and extra functional.

I arrived home, caught a few hours sleep and then back in the car to drive up to Edinburgh, via Bunn (thanks for the TDS meters Mike!) to install a Synesso. Stephen Morrissey had already flown in and it was 7pm by the time I got there and I didn’t leave Kilimanjaro coffee til 1 (espresso is too much fun) and like a fool I drove straight back down to London to crash out at 7am (850 mile roundtrips are not fun in a day) and then get up to fly to Trondheim.

Synesso at Kilimanjaro Coffee in Edinburgh

Synesso at Kilimanjaro coffee

Life, it seems has been conspiring against us because when we finally got to Oslo to connect to Trondheim we discovered an airport in chaos and at 1am that night they finally cancelled our flight meaning no sleep and queueing for 9 hours along with the hundreds and hundreds of others for new flights.

Now in Trondheim I’ve done little else than sleep and wander about in the snow. It is lovely here, plenty of snow but not too cold and a pleasant break from the coffee world. I get to help Anette hack down a Christmas tree and enjoy not being in a city.

If you have read this far then thank you for reading, I hope you have a great Christmas and thanks to everyone who has contributed here or via e-mail – it makes writing for the blog a real pleasure. I will post something before NYE rounding up the year but for now – drink, eat and sleep and have a splendid Christmas.

Comment Policy

There are no longer comments on new posts. If you'd like to respond you can find me on twitter.