It’s hard to believe we’ve been through an entire harvest cycle since we launched our first Crown Jewel. Befittingly, our one-hundredth such selection comes to us from the same farm as our very first: Hacienda la Amistad in southern Costa Rica. Roberto Montero’s coffee was among our best sellers last year. His harvest is smaller this season, and we’ve only made a small handful of 22-lb boxes available from this harvest.
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.
Roberto Montero’s coffee, despite being grown at slightly lower than average elevations and without the aid of conventional fertilizers and pesticides, is comprised of classic low-resistance, high-maintenance, excellent-tasting varieties like Caturra and Catuaí (dwarf Arabica hybrids) and heirloom Bourbon. The coffee is precision-dried on patios and in guardiolas, and has a modestly high density. The wide array of screen sizes falls mostly between 16-18, but you should keep a close eye on the development of larger or smaller beans when roasting to ensure consistency.
To illustrate the differences in these roasting styles I would like to compare them based on the three stages that we measure when we roast coffee; stage 1 is the drying stage, stage 2 is the Maillard reactions just after visible yellowing, and stage 3 is post crack development which is the total time after first crack. Roast one has a more gentle approach that increased the amount of drying time with a short Maillard stage and a short post crack development time. Roast two was roasted with more energy at the beginning of the roast and we see a more traditional recipe in relation of the three stages of the roast.
Taking a recipe strategy from the world of barbeque, I’d like to talk about these two roasts as ratios. Roast one was nearly a 3:2:1 in terms of time spent at the three stages and roast 2 was very close to a 2:2:1. With the extended drying time and short Maillard + pcd, roast one was very sweet and clean with lots of florals like honey and orange blossom. There were very few sugar browning notes although there was plenty of sweetness in the coffee: vanilla and buttercream icing were amongst the notes from the cuppers and heavy syrupy texture as well. Roast two was heavier on the Maillard + pcd in comparison which resulted in an amplified malic acid and more developed sugar browning notes. Top cupping notes were apple, dried dates, caramel, roasted hazelnuts and peanut brittle.
Both roasts were delicious and roasted to similar end times and end temperatures. This is a very sweet coffee and translates well in both recipes. If you want to retain those precious florals and are looking for a delicate clean cup with a heavy body, I recommend extending the drying time like in roast one. If you are looking for a chuggable all day drinker with an apple and caramel flavor profile then roast two is for you.
Jen and I discussed the two roasts she crafted, and opted to try brewing the first one, which despite being a little on the light side was our overall preference in terms of baseline flavor profile at the cupping table. I like having a Clever around the office because it offers the opportunity to brew immersion without the mess and baggage that comes along with a french press or siphon. I opted to compare/contrast two micro-brewing styles using slightly different ratios on the Clever and Kalita Wave.
The Clever’s immersion style tends to perform best when lowering the coffee ratio. I frequently overestimate the amount of water the device can hold (we have a pretty small one on hand at the moment) and while I intended to use close to 250 mL of water, my actual pour was closer to 235 – 240. Not a huge difference, but enough to lower my ratio from the intended 17-to-1 down to 16. Because immersion brewing does not have a constant supply of fresh water, the brew tends to be slower, and I waited a full 4 minutes to stop the extraction. Despite this, it had a relatively low total dissolved solids count and a pretty thin body. This proved a less effective method for brewing a very light roast of this particular lot.
Our preference was for the Kalita wave, which at a 1-15 ratio brewed briskly and tasted bright and full all at once. Here it was a little tea-like, with a sparkling malic acidity and creamy sweetness. We’d definitely encourage further exploration on your own with this coffee, as darker roasts and alternative brewing methods will offer new flavor experiences, the likes of which our limited time only allowed us to scratch the surface.