In preparation for his trip to the famous Aquiares Estate in Costa Rica, Ben talks to Diego, the estate’s manager, about the current on-going improvements at the farm.
Aquiares, one of Costa Rica’s largest and most historic coffee farms, sits high on the fertile slopes of the Turrialba Volcano. Having produced coffee for over a century, the farm has developed an enduring model; one that manages to protect a stunning natural setting, support a thriving local community of 1,800 people and of course, grow high-quality Arabica coffee.
Established by British farmers in 1890, Aquiares was one of the first estates to produce and export Costa Rican coffee. In 1971, the farm was purchased by its current owners, three families, who have worked together with the farm’s staff and community to implement a modern model of sustainable agriculture. Today, the Estate is the largest continuous coffee farm in Costa Rica, covering 924 hectares, 80% of which is shade-grown Arabica.
The ‘Don Alfonso’ lots represent the very best of the harvest from the famous Aquiares Estate. The lot is named after Don Alfonso Robelo, patriarch to one of the owner families who took over farm management in 1971. One of Robelo’s main priorities was to improve the social welfare of farmworkers and the wider community: it only seems fitting that the top lot be named after a true visionary.
As of 1992, Don Alfonso’s son, Diego, now follows in his father’s footsteps; continuing to push standards at the farm to new heights. Each ‘Don Alfonso’ lot has been specially developed and selected for Mercanta by Diego and his team of experts. Although Aquiares produces coffee on a large scale, the ‘Don Alfonso’ line is unique to Mercanta, and is the result of a close partnership and strong communication between coffee producer/exporter and coffee importer. We are proud to be able to offer these exceptional and unique lots, as well as honoured to consider Diego and his family as our friends and partners.
Ben caught up with Diego recently to plan his first Origin trip along with clients hailing from across the globe. The Aquiares Team have been incredibly busy this year working on a range of exciting new projects that directly impact the ‘Don Alfonso’ lots mentioned above. The great news is that Ben and his merry group of roasters will be able to see such projects in all their operational glory come February. In the meantime, we managed to tease a little bit of information from Diego, so here’s a little taster for those of you who weren’t invited.
Nowadays, speciality dialogue is rife with buzzwords such as ‘anaerobic fermentation’ and ‘carbonic maceration’. ‘Guess the Origin’ is now futile due to such forms of processing, producing strange and wonderful profiles that divide and unite coffee lovers from around the world. Both Mercanta and Diego have come to recognise the value in producing and importing such lots for the European and Global Market, despite protests from one or two purists who call the Mercanta Laboratory home. However, such growth does not come without risks, requiring detailed planning in order to ensure consistency of cup quality and quantity.
Solar dryer, black ceramic tiles.
The images above illustrate one of the first projects that Diego has embarked on in 2019; the second solar dryer at Finca Aquiares. The aim of this project is to improve the overall processing of naturals produced at Aquiares; something that the farm is becoming renowned for. By lowering the height of the dryer, the heat capacity has increased by 3°C, as well as decreased the humidity by 3%. Combined with black ceramic tiling, the team are able to trap the heat from the sun, resulting in improved conditions for drying coffee. Brand spanking new sensors in both solar dryers allow for constant monitoring and adjustment to the temperature and relative humidity. It’s also proved to be an interesting project by comparing the results from the two solar dryers, enabling the team to establish which environment is best for producing naturals.
Diego also let slip that he has been making a few alterations to the Mill. As mentioned earlier, Aquiares is one of the largest farms in Costa Rica; producing not just the carefully selected ‘Don Alfonso’ lot for Mercanta, but also larger estate grade lots too. To separate the two, a specifically designed mill is required. This has resulted in money and time being invested in order to improve the transportation of coffee cherry. A stainless steel transportation system for the handpicked micro-lots has been developed, militating against contamination and ensuring cleanliness.
Stainless steel transportation system.
Diego states that the key to producing high-quality experimental micro-lots is a versatile mill. Despite being a market leader in such fermentation experiments, the team at Aquiares are new to the game, as with everyone. Like many facets of the coffee industry, no one really has a clue as to what and how exactly different factors produce certain characteristics. However, as described and illustrated above, there is a range of investments that one can make to mitigate and control the process to the most minute detail.
The improvements at Aquiares by Diego and his team are something that we at Mercanta feel resonates with our ethos – investing in replicable and enduring quality, and we can’t wait to get out to Costa Rica and see these creations in their true glory!