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They say necessity is the mother of invention. For the Chacón family, necessity was certainly the driving force in 2006 when Oscar and Francisca Chacón decided to build Las Lajas, one of the first modern micro-mills in Costa Rica. Located in the Central Valley region (encompassing the provinces of San José, Heredia and Alajuela), today Las Lajas is at the forefront of micro-mill processing trend in Costa Rica.
Prior to building Las Lajas, Oscar and Francisca relied on large multinationals to purchase and process their coffee cherries. But the price for harvested cherry was not covering the Chacón’s rising costs of organic farm management and labor to harvest the cherry. The Chacón family needed the micro-mill to try and find a way to make ends meet.
Necessity struck again in 2008, when an earthquake cut off the Chacón’s access to electricity and water during the harvest. With no other way to process coffee and employees relying on Oscar and Francisca for income in a time of crisis, they did the only thing they could: dried the coffee in cherry.
Over the last ten years, the Chacón family has focused on balancing environmental impact with expressive cup profiles. The family farms have remained certified organic while processing cherry is always in a state of reinvention. Frequently a source of coffee in barista competitions and the Cup of Excellence, Las Lajas is renowned for its natural and honey processing methods, which are processes that greatly reduce water consumption but also require precisely executed drying protocols. For this particular coffee they have taken brix measurements to ensure only cherries with sufficient sugar content are selected.
We’re thrilled to have here a lovely example of Oscar and Francisca’s work. Ripe and vibrant fruits ranging from blackberry to pear to cherry glisten immediately, and are accompanied by generous sweetness, a subtle acidity, and the occasional wisp of florality. This is an exceptional coffee.
Unsurprisingly, the attention to detail in harvesting, selection, and processing are matched in kind at the dry mill. This coffee is precision sorted to mostly 17-18 screen size, of above average density, and has perfect marks for moisture and water activity. Impressive work, particularly for a dry processed Central American coffee, for which degree of finesse in post-harvest work is sadly uncommon.
The Chacón family are growing a unique blend of traditional cultivars and unique selections. In addition to legacy Bourbon are its dwarf South American mutation Caturra, and short stature Costa Rican counterpart Villa Sarchi. Also here is Catuaí, a Brazilian cross of Mundo Novo with Yellow Caturra, and SL28, rarely seen in the western hemisphere, but a Kenyan staple (despite its genetic origins traced to a Tanzanian selection).
A truly outstanding coffee from the Chacón family, this Costa Rican coffee from their Las Lajas micro-mill is very special. This natural coffee was on the drier side, of larger screen sizes, and very dense. With this in mind, I decided to approach it with a softer initial heat application and lower than usual charge temperature. This would allow me to raise the gas to the maximum setting I use on the Probatino at about a minute after the turning point. The Maillard phase started almost a minute after the gas change, and, wanting to spend the majority of my roast in this stage to eke out the sweet, juicy flavors we’d previously tasted on the cupping table, I lowered the gas a minute later. This coffee cracked at a higher temperature than I’m used to using on this machine, so I actually had time to step down on the gas again, about 15 seconds before this. Playing with a low rate of rise (RoR) just before and during post-crack development (PCD) of between 2 -3F/30 seconds, allowed me to effect a PCD ratio of 15%. As the crack produced so much exothermic energy, I may not step off the gas when roasting this again until after the crack has started its roll.
The surprise for me in roasting this coffee was the amount of time spent in the Maillard phase (in part, due to the late crack of this coffee), a whopping 52%! This was time well spent and when it came time to cup the coffee, that sweetness came through in spades. Notes of bright blueberry, blackberry, cherry, and white grape, were accompanied by a jammy dried fig and date sweetness. The floral jasmine note was a welcome and complementary surprise; the proverbially cherry on top of an already magnificent coffee. This Crown Jewel is at once incredibly sweet, clean, floral, fruity and silky. My recommendations? Prepare and drink it any and all ways possible!
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Quest roasts. Generally, I’ll allow the machine to warm up for 15 minutes until my environmental temperature reading is at least 250F, weigh out 150g batch size, and begin roasting when I’ve reached my desired charge temperature. Read my initial post here.
Natural coffees have a tendency to get away from me in the Quest M3s, and this one was no different. I tried something a little different this week, harkening back to some of my earlier experiments on the Quest. Starting with a charge temperature around 392F, I wanted to continue with high heat application to get through drying phase as quickly as possible, while still allowing plenty of time for development in Maillard. Well, I got the first part down, anyway.
I started the first roast with the back open to stymie airflow and set heat application to 10A, where I held until 1:45 / 220F. Here, I turned closed the back of the roaster and reduced heat application to 9A. Immediately at the end of drying phase at 3:45 / 300F, I engaged fan speed to full, and reduced heat application to 7.5A a minute later at 4:45 / 340F. This didn’t work out quite as intended, and I realized that with this natural coffee I needed even more drastic reduction of heat, even sooner in the roast. First crack happened at 6:02 / 382F (quite early, and a relatively low temperature), and I stopped the roast at 7:15 / 411F with a roast loss percentage of 12.8%.
Now, not all was lost. Bright strawberry, nectarine, and intense wine notes still came through on the cupping table. One guest cupper remarked ‘wow, that’s a natural.’ And is it ever. If you’re looking for a fruity and delicious selection to wow even those familiar with natural coffees, I’m not sure you need to look any further. This may be the most fruit-forward coffee on our menu thus far this year!
It’s been a little while since I brewed a natural processed coffee, so I was very excited when I got my first whiff of this! For the brew analysis, I chose to run the same temperature experiment with this coffee that I ran for CJO1298, to see if the results lined up. I get to experiment and play around with delicious coffee all the time, but don’t always go the extra step to see if what I’m doing is repeatable. So here we are, brew temperature experiment, take 2!
In case you didn’t read the brew analysis for the new Organic Crown Jewel from Colombia, here’s the plan: two brews with all brew variables held constant except the brew temperature. In order to try to force some noticeable results, I brewed the first cup with 210 degree water and the second with 180 degree water. I used temperature-control kettles, and kept them on their base to hold temperature whenever I wasn’t actively pouring. With the previous coffee, the brew at lower temperature was shockingly delicious with a remarkable body, so I was curious to see if that would be the case here as well.
Despite my best efforts to keep brew time the same, the first brew finished in 2:40, a good 40 seconds faster than the second brew. Aside from that, however, most of the details were pretty similar for the two brews. We did taste some noticeable differences in the two cups, however. The first (hotter and faster) brew had a brighter, crisper, more sparkling acidity, with notes of raspberry, orange, and tart blackberry. The second (cooler and slower) brew had a deeper acidity that flowed wonderfully into a jammy sweetness. We tasted strawberry, cherry, cranberry, and vanilla, with a round, buttery body. It’s worth noticing here that with both coffees (this one and CJO1298), the cooler brew temperature led to a richer, heavier body, without sacrificing much in the way of acidity. I was worried that the lower temperature would limit the fruitiness of a coffee, especially this natural, but that did not seem to be the case! Both brews of this coffee were a delight to drink, and I think this coffee could probably shine at a lighter brew ratio as well! Get some before it’s gone, and don’t overthink your brew method with this one!