I recently took the opportunity to interview Carlos Fernández Morera, a coffee producer in Costa Rica who is using cutting edge experimentation to improve the quality of his coffee. Carlos owns Finca El Diamante and works with a coffee association called Café de Altura, which is located near San Rafael de San Ramón within the province of Alajuela.
With Café de Altura’s support, Carlos is processing his coffee using an anaerobic fermentation process, which means he is fermenting depulped coffee in an airtight tank with the same water it has been washed with. The results were recently recognized with a fourth-place finish in the 2017 Cup of the Excellence auction in Costa Rica. Some of the coffee Carlos produces has just landed in our Oakland warehouse as a Crown Jewel 22lb box.
Please introduce yourself and provide a brief description of your work as a coffee producer.
My name is Carlos Fernández Morera and I am from the community of San Rafael de San Ramón where my family has lived since 1895. My family has been dedicated to coffee since the 1940s. I come from a family of 8 siblings.
How did you start working in coffee?
I started young, the way children help their parents, taking lunch and water to my brothers, and picking coffee in my free time. After finishing grade school in 1953, I went to work with my father and brothers on the farm. My family mainly cultivated tobacco and raised cattle. A decade before this, my father had decided to plant the first coffee trees and since that time we have always had a small coffee plantation in our family.
What is your favorite part about harvesting coffee?
My favorite time is the rainy season, when you work every day to prepare the plant to produce good fruit, watch it grow and become beautiful each time you do work on the coffee farm. Coffee is an agreeable crop: if you dedicate a little love, it responds very well. I believe it is like being human.
How do you process your coffee?
The coffee in mucilage is fermented in an airtight tank (anaerobic fermentation process), dried on the patio for 3 days and then placed in shaded African-style raised beds for about 18 days.
How has business changed over the years?
It is curious, how history repeats itself. First, we planted with lots space in between the coffee and without chemicals that did not exist yet. Later we had to increase the plant density and use chemicals to produce a lot. Unfortunately in this period many producers, in some degree for lack of knowledge, abused the use of herbicides and insecticides which caused great imbalance in the ecosystem and had a long term impact on coffee cultivation.
The soil is a living thing. We should care for it, cherish it, so it will transmit all its power to the coffee plant. Today I understand more than ever that good agricultural practices are strongly reflected in the quality and productivity, which is indispensable for guaranteeing the wellbeing of my family as coffee producers. We have to improve the verities that we plant, but with ones that ensure a good balance between quality and productivity. Costa Rica is an origin where it is very expensive to produce and if you fail at either of these two factors your business declines and you can’t survive as a producer.
Now more than ever, it is indispensable to be affiliated with a good company that supports you. As they say, ‘the closer you are to a good tree, the better the shade you receive.’ Some producers opt to make their own micro-mills and they are fine. But I have seen many people fail because their production costs are very high since not all of their coffee is sold as micro-lots or they get themselves into a part of the business that they don’t know, making very grave mistakes or getting fooled by unscrupulous businessmen. And even though there are examples of success, for me, working with Café de Altura is best. It’s my business, I am a partner, and I get good service and help. For me it works and I am content. My focus is producing good coffee with plants that produce a lot. That is my life.
What I am most conscious of today is that what I do on the farm has repercussions in the cup quality. This is the key to survival because I need to produce a good coffee so clients want it and are willing to pay a good price for it, and with that I can maintain and make progress for our family.
How does your family help you during the harvest?
I have 4 children who are married and I have 9 grandchildren. We are a family of more than 20 people. My eldest son helps me with the farm operations and his sons (my grandsons) help us in their free time. My eldest son works for Café de Altura along with my eldest grandson who just graduated as an agricultural engineer. They are in charge of programming farm maintenance, improving genetics, new technology for growing, and maximizing production without losing quality.
What is the hardest part of coffee production?
Planting and renovating, and also controlling leaf rust.
What is your opinion about the prices of coffee in the international market?
It is unpredictable. Many factors move it, those who make the most money don’t really need coffee and they just use it as an investment vehicle. Many times it endangers the sustainability of producers and the wellbeing of our families.
Not all coffee can be sold as micro-lots. I wish it could be, but that is not the way it is, so the greater part of the harvest is sold according to the market and premiums that a business can get. If the price falls a lot, there are losses and no money to invest in the coffee. The farm productivity declines and every month is less profitable, spiraling into a vicious cycle that is hard to get out of later even with high market prices.
Can you tell us about your experience in the Cup of the Excellence?
We have been participating for several years with the help of Café de Altura and we have been improving our position over time. It has been a valuable experience.