Stirring dull roots with spring rain, April usually signals the opening of the floodgates – Central American coffees have begun to land in droves at the port of Oakland. One reliable, early landing Costa Rican coffee has become a staple of the Crown Jewel lineup. This is the third such release from Hacienda la Amistad in southern Costa Rica, and it signals the revitalization of our vernal menu. Amistad was our first ever Crown Jewel, and Roberto Montero’s coffee was among our best sellers for the last two seasons. His harvest was small again this year, and we’ve only made a small handful of 22-lb boxes available from this harvest. Grab some before it’s gone!
Located in Coto Brus, a canton in the province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica, Hacienda la Amistad is in an unusual region for growing coffee. While much of the Costa Rica’s production comes from Tarrazú and the Central and West Valleys, Coto Brus is in a more remote region in the far southwest. The farm rests on the edge of a colossal forest preserve, bearing the same name as the farm, that crosses over into the country of Panama. Roberto’s grandfather first came to the area in the early 1900’s as part of a team surveying the border, and later purchased over 10,000 hectares of land and began to cultivate coffee. Since then, the Montero family has returned over 6,000 hectares of land to the park, and while the coffee cultivation area is large (300 hectares), nearly 4,000 hectares of the family’s land remains untouched forests home to native flora and fauna.
Roberto’s commitment to responsible farming pairs harmoniously with his commitment to his community. During the coffee harvest, Roberto provides housing and free access to medical care for the pickers, many of whom are indigenous peoples who bring their entire family along for the seasonal labor. Roberto also takes pride in his ability to provide more than 100 full-time jobs to his neighbors from Las Mellizas, not only in coffee cultivation, but also in the dried fruit operation that he runs year round at La Amistad. Roberto hosts an annual employee celebration to recognize all their hard work and he also distributes school supplies to their children each year before school starts.
A video from La Amistad available for your viewing here, and Roberto was featured in an article by Mayra Orellana-Powell here about organic coffees and coffee rust.
Hacienda la Amistad, despite its slightly lower than average elevations, has been cultivating its low-resistance, high-maintenance, excellent-tasting varieties without the aid of conventional fertilizers and pesticides. Caturra and Catuaí are classic Central American varieties (though both originally hail from Brazil). Caturra is a spontaneous dwarf mutation of heirloom Bourbon, first observed in 1937, and Catuaí was developed about a decade later (though not formally released until the 1970’s) by hybridizing Yellow Caturra with Mundo Novo. The short stature of these two cultivars makes them resistant to wind, and easier to plant densely and harvest, though they are susceptible to rust and other common coffee afflictions.
Our coffee from Finca Amistad this year is dry, and of generally larger screen sizes, falling nicely into traditional European Prep (EP) specs at 90% 16+. Average density paired with low water activity could result in slowness to brown, particularly after first crack, a tendency we’ve noted in Don Montero’s coffee from years past.
I decided to use a recently developed profile for this week’s analysis, but after looking at the green analysis, I noticed that this coffee not only had a low moisture content, it also had a low water activity. A low reading would determine that the vapor barrier pressure would be less resistant to releasing the bound water in the coffee. I decided to reduce the drying stage and increase the length of the Maillard stage to see if I could get a better result.
On the cupping table, Roast (1) my original profile was very sweet with lots of sugar browning flavors of caramel, roasted nuts, honey, and a very light orange flavor. Roast (2), the modified version, was much more delicate and sweet with lemon, apple and floral qualities like rose hip. While there has been some research into high water activity readings and accelerated sugar browning, low water activity coffees have been linked to a longer, stable shelf life. We have yet to discover if there is a strategy for roasting them. Perhaps a shorter drying stage just might be the way to go.
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Behmor roasts. Generally, I’ll use the 1lb setting, manual mode (P5), full power, and high drum speed until crack. Read my original post and stats here.
This well-behaved coffee developed a bit slowly in the roaster, but had a nice and even crack. The only thing I would watch out for when roasting this coffee is the smaller screen size beans. These have a tendency to get caught in the perforations of the Behmor’s drum, so you’ll need to clear these out before your next roast. Otherwise, perfectly smooth and steady sailing with this coffee.
On the cupping table, I found my roast of this coffee to be a bit light but everyone seemed to enjoy it, so I did my best not to sabotage other people’s enjoyment and deferred to their taste. Personally, I believe that this coffee could fit the expectations of many different demographics, whether they enjoy the sweet or the bright side of coffee.
Look for carmelized spice notes at darker roast levels, and bright citrus and pear when holding back on the development. A delicious deliverable!
Although Hacienda la Amistad has a long history at Royal as well as a track record as a highly favored Crown Jewel, this was my first time working with it. It cupped deliciously, with structured sweetness from sugar browning and crisp citrus acidity. I really wanted to extract as much out of this coffee as I could – my goal was to over extract and see what unpleasant flavors might arise, then scale it back to a tasty dial.
To aid in this mission I used Saint Anthony Industries new ceramic C70 dripper. The 70° angle of the device allows for a taller brew column, increasing contact time between coffee and water. They also use thicker filters, similar to a chemex filters but with equal layers on each side (chemex filters tend to have three layers of paper on one side and one on the other). Finally, the ceramic brewer helps retain heat, keeping the brew water hotter for longer.
Not wanting to completely overshoot my extraction, I started with on a fairly coarse grind size for the Behmor roasts – a 9 on the EK43. The resultant brew was full of pear and apple sweetness rounded out by heavier notes of fig and cacao, but only registered a 1.23 TDS. Tightening the grinder a full degree to size 8, I tried again to over extract. This brew offered slightly more florals and lemongrass, and only hit a 1.31 TDS, even though the brew went on for six minutes!
By this point, I was impressed. The brews seemed to remain true to the coffee’s character despite my aggressive brew methods. Curious about how far I could take extraction while maintaining a 1:16 ratio, I broke out the Hario V60 and tested out one of the Probat roasts. This brew had a higher TDS reading retained a lot of the previous flavor notes, adding in some crisp clear fruit notes like lychee and peach tea.