Farm: Las Lajas Organic Farm
Varietal: Caturra and Catuaí
Altitude: 1,300 to 1,500 metres above sea level
Owner: Chacón Solano Family
Town / City: Los Angeles, Sabanillas de Alajuela
Region: Central Valley
Las Lajas Perla Negra – Organic - Costa Rica
The Chacón Solano Family has been growing coffee at Las Lajas for over 80 years and for three generations. The current generation, headed by Oscar and Francisca Chacón, began farming organically around 30 years ago and in 2000 became one of only a handful of farms in Costa Rica to be officially certified organic. The family strives not only to farm in an environmentally and socially responsible way, but also to produce coffee of the highest quality. They are innovative with regards to processing and were one of the early innovators in Costa Rica with regards to perfecting different honey and natural methods of processing.
Las Lajas is located at 1,300 to 1,500m in the foothills of the Poás volcano, in prime specialty coffee country in the Sabanilla de Alajuela region of Costa Rica’s Central Valley. This lush, fertile area is characterised by heavy and regular rainfall of around 3,000mm for 150 days of the year.
The farm produces 100% Arabica coffee, primarily Caturra and Catuaí varietals, which is grown in the shade of native trees. The farm also has small plots of Villa Sarchi, Red Bourbon, Kenya, and Obata, which for the most part contribute towards microlots. Organic composts are produced on site using vermiculture (worm composting), and the production process is entirely free of chemicals and agro-toxins.
The harvest starts in December and runs until February. The cherries are selectively handpicked, to ensure that only fully ripe and good quality cherries are collected. These are then processed at the farm’s state-of-the-art micromill, where the cherries are processed using the Las Lajas-pioneered ‘Perla Negra’ method (see below).
This coffee has been processed according to the Perla Negra (natural) method at the Chacón Solano Family’s Las Lajas micromill, which in addition to processing all of the Las Lajas coffees also processes coffees from the surrounding region. In fact, in 2008, the mill contributed to Francisca Cubillo Salas’ Cup of Excellence win!
Natural processing at Las Lajas came about somewhat by accident. In February of 2008, an earthquake hit the region, and the farm remained without water and electricity throughout several crucial weeks during the harvest. In order to not salvage a large part of that year’s production, the family decided their only option was to continue picking the coffee and to process the cherries the only way they knew that wouldn’t necessitate additional energy inputs. Thus, the very first natural coffees of Costa Rica were born!
The farm has since refined the process, and today they produce unusually delicate and consistent natural coffees made possible only by the rigorous standards and strict control over processing that the mill implements. Only the ripest and most perfect cherries are processed using to the ‘Perla Negra’ method. After delivery to the mill, the cherries are soaked in clean water to remove any debris or dirt. They are then immediately delivered to African beds (raised beds) or patios, where they are slowly dried for between 15 to 22 days.
Due to the exacting demands of the process, a maximum of 10% of the farm’s annual production is processed as Perla Negra.