Pura Vida: 2 New Costa Rican Coffees on the Bar

Pura Vida: 2 New Costa Rican Coffees on the Bar

robert varner costa rica coffee sump
A portrait of the author in his natural environment


We’re in the thick of the brutal St. Louis summer now at Sump. While we can all agree that this was the perfect season to finally invest in a badass new HVAC system for the shop, I think the only thing we might be more excited about right now is the introduction of two new coffees from Costa Rica.

The first is a fully washed microlot coffee from Finca El Rafelillo, a small farm in the Leòn Cortez district of Tarruzú, Costa Rica. The good coffee people of Cafe Imports have done their homework, becoming involved with the on site transportation of coffees from farm to mill. This gives us as consumers a better picture of what those processes are like, making traceability of coffees possible as well as relevant for us. The small farm of El Rafelillo, as well as others throughout the Tarruzu district, have their coffee processed at the Rio Jorco micromill. The operators of Rio Jorco manage their own coffee farm (Los Lobos) in addition to paying premium prices to the number of small farmers whose coffees they process. Having an intimate knowledge of both coffee growing and processing, as well as exportation and knowledge of their out of country markets, quality of coffee cherries is thoroughly monitored and compensated through greater financial premiums up front.

While we can’t claim much more knowledge about these systems than what we’re told from other parties, the results speak for themselves once we begin roasting and brewing the El Rafelillo. When bringing in a South or Central American coffee, there is always a moment of initial let down for me. Unless there is something just extremely exceptional or bizarre to immediately latch on to, it's often hard to find something entirely novel about the experience of brewing another one of these coffees. After a few different brews of the El Rafelillo though, I’m going to chalk that up to operator error on my end, because this cup is excellent. There is a familiar chocolate/caramel backdrop to the flavor profile, which I would argue you’re going to be able to find 9.99 times out of 10 if you want to in a cup of coffee. From that starting point though, coffee enthusiasts are going to find an extremely pleasant melon or cantaloupe-like acidity present in this coffee. In addition to the familiar and pleasant sweetnesses present in the cup, there is a palate heaviness to the coffee which often gets under-emphasized by our v60 brewers at the shop. With proper execution, this cup will satisfy the coffee drinker looking for something with nuance and excitement, as well as suffice for those “I just need a cup of coffee” moments we all experience.

In addition to the El Rafelillo, we have also just released for consumption a black honey processed coffee from the Las Lajas micromill out of the Sabanilla de Alajuela region of the country. Don Oscar Chacon is one of the operators of the Las Lajas mill and also manages Finca La Julia, where this particular coffee has come to us from. The mill utilizes practices deeply tied to land preservation principles. Once again we can see the benefits of having a farm and mill operated by the same persons: quality of cup and traceability are intentionally valued to the point that they become daily practices and just another thread in the fabric of the coffee growers’ lives. Las Lajas has developed its own proprietary manner of categorizing its coffee processing, hence the label ‘black honey’. The site-specific ‘honey process’ refers to leaving 100% of the coffee cherry mucilage on the seed/bean during the drying process. The term ‘black’ means that during the drying process the coffee is only turned once a day, with other colors having different designations for turning or agitation of the coffees during their drying phases.

Being an alternative process coffee, there is an expectation to experience a wild and bombastic cup of coffee. While the La Julia does have strong fruit-forward expression as a cup, the intensity is dialed back and the drinker is presented with a slight tartness, reminiscent of fresh blueberries. Subtlety reigns supreme in this cup, presenting the drinker with a vaguely red wine-like quality, which becomes more apparent when prepared as a slow drip Kyoto coffee. Make sure to look out for that when it's available at the shop.

In conjunction with the release of these two exciting new coffees, we would also like to announce that as a shop we are sponsoring/ participating in a cycling team for the Bike MS event in early September. Scott and Marz were approached a few weeks back by a customer with MS who actively supports and participates in the event and we are beyond honored to be able to offer any assistance that we can as a shop. While we will be announcing other fundraising initiatives in the coming weeks, one way we are going to reach our cash money goal is by having a dollar from each bag of the Costa Rica Finca La Julia we sell go towards our entry fee. The money raised by each team’s entry fee into the event is funneled into the National MS Society's Gateway Arch chapter to bolster the medical research already being focused around Multiple Sclerosis.

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