The Costa Rica SHB Tarrazu “La Pastora” arrived at the Black Drop a few weeks ago and has been a consistent favorite of our Coffees of the Day.
Tarrazu coffees are rated some of the finest in the world. These beans are grown at high altitudes, above 3,900 ft, allowing them to be designated Single Hard Bean – the highest classification in the Costa Rican system. The soil is mostly volcanic and gives the beans a high acidity, which translates, for me, into the coffee as brightness.
I recently had the good fortune to cup this coffee at Maniac Roasting with the rest of the Black Drop staff. Here are my detailed tasting notes:
The dry fragrance was predominate of of a musky apricot, sweet earth. Breaking the crust opened up sweet honey notes, strong grassy hay and a light creme brulee. I was ready for the acidity to overwhelm me but found that it was subtle, the “brightness” coming across more as a fermented fruitness. The coffee had a pleasing intensity. As it cooled, I picked up sweeter qualities: dates, dark grape. The finish was excellent, filling the mouth with a smooth spicy aftertaste. Overall, I thought the coffee was complex with strong bottom structure, chocolate, malt, and an rapidly emerging mid-range of honey, dates, almost grape. Highly recommended.
Location: Tarrazu, near Volcan Poas, in the Southern Pacific region of Costa Rica
Predominant Varietals: Caturra, Catuai
Elevation: 4,200 – 6,000 ft.
Climate: “Our region enjoys a precipitation level of 2,000 mm per year, a 3-to-4 month very well defined dry season and an average of 2,150 hours of sunlight on the plantations.” – www.cafetarrazu.com
Soil conditions: “the volcanic soils have a high acidity that positively impacts the taste of the coffee. Its pH is high, at 5 points as an average, and the soil naturally has a high volume of iron and magnesium.” – www.cafetarrazu.com
Processing method: Washed
Drying method: Wet and Dry Mill
Harvest period: November–January
Grade: Strictly Hard Bean
Organoleptic qualities: “The combination of altitude, climate and the variety cultivated give this coffee organoleptic qualities which are highly appreciated by the most demanding markets in the world. Good body, a highly acidic cup of fine, non-sharp taste, excellent aroma and an intense, subtle chocolate flavor.” – http://www.scacr.com
The beans travel directly from farm to factory or, for the outlying areas, collectors are provided. The beans are weighed, the farmers paid and the processing begins. The quality of the processing is a most important factor in good flavor. It must begin within twenty four hours of picking or the beans will begin to ferment. This is the biggest quality control challenge. Fermentation negatively affects the taste.
Separation is the next part of the process. The bean is separated from it’s soft outer cover – the red part, called pulp. Then, using a water system, they are separated by quality. The best beans are the heaviest. They sink. The third step in this “wet mill” process is removal of the mucous layer. Colombian technology has provided a machine using centrifugal force for this task.
Then comes the “dry mill.” The beans must be dried before they can be shipped. There are three different drying steps, with three huge ovens. One of these, the Berico, is several stories high. The beans are sent to the top and then dropped inside, to fall down through the hot air. For a good quality bean, they must be dried slowly. The whole milling process takes twenty five hours. The Berico takes three. Then comes the John Gordon machine – British technology. And lastly, the secadora, which rotates, rolling the beans while drying, for fourteen hours.
At this point, the coffee bean is still in a dry, outer shell, which is left on for protection. To enhance it’s quality, the coffee is stored this way, in silos, for two to five months. Then the shells are removed and it is packed in burlap bags, for shipping. I was delighted to see that they still use the traditional burlap bags, as so much has been replaced with plastic these days. Felix told me this is necessary, so the beans can breathe. He beamed with pride, when he told me about what they do with the shells. Years ago, the shells were a problem. They created waste, that nobody knew what to do with. Today, thanks to new technology, the shells are used to fuel the ovens that heat the coffee driers. This is yet, another example of positive, sustainability practice.
Copetarrazu ships it’s one hundred pound burlap bags, by the container, to twenty five buyers throughout the world, including the U.S.A., Canada, The European Union, Germany and Japan.
Nearly all of Costa Rican coffee worthy of mention – and qualifying as gourmet quality coffee – is grown in the high mountain volcanic soils of Costa Rica’s central valley. The best grades of Costa Rican coffee are grown in four districts surrounding the capitol of San Jose.
These four districts – Tarrazu, Tres Rios, Heredia and Alajuela – are ideal locations for the cultivation of coffee. The water and soil, rich and deep with a thick humus layer of volcanic origin, along with the climate, are irreplaceable factors that make the coffee grown in these areas truly gourmet quality.
The elevation, temperature, and rainfall are ideal for coffee production. The combination of ideal climactic conditions with outstanding soils produces a hard, dense bean, rich in essential oils that produce an intensely aromatic cup of coffee overflowing with rich flavor. [...]
Costa Rican coffee beans are graded by the hardness of the bean. This is determined by the altitude at which they are grown. “Strictly hard bean” (SHB) indicates coffee grown above 3,900 feet, “good hard bean” (GHB) at 3,300 to 3,900 feet, followed by “medium hard bean” (MHB) grown at 1,600 to 3,300 feet. Costa Rican coffees grown in the Atlantic area carry that fact in their names, as in High Grown Atlantic which is favored by the European nations.
Coffee production in Costa Rica began in 1779 in the Meseta Central which had ideal soil and climate conditions for coffee plantations. Coffea arabica first imported to Europe through Arabia, whence it takes its name, was introduced to the country directly from Ethiopia. In the nineteenth century, the Costa Rican government strongly encouraged coffee production, and the industry fundamentally transformed a colonial regime and village economy built on direct extraction by a city-based elite towards organized production for export on a larger scale. The government offered farmers plots of land for anybody who wanted to harvest the plants. The coffee plantation system in the country therefore developed in the nineteenth century largely as result of the government’s open policy, although the problem with coffee barons did play a role in internal differentiation, and inequality in growth. Soon coffee became a major source of revenue surpassing cacao, tobacco, and sugar production as early as 1829.
San Marcos de Tarrazu is a coffee growing region of Costa Rica which produces some of the country’s most distinguished coffees. The Tarrazu region is located in the country’s interior mountains, and Tarrazu is a market name. Coffee from this area is known to be relatively heavy-bodied and exhibits an aromatic complexity.
San Marcos de Tarrazu is situated in southern Costa Rica in a highland valley surrounded by the mountains of the Talamanca Sierra. The downtown area is located at 1,350 meters above sea level with surrounding peaks as high as 3,000 meters above sea level.
This region is ideal for growing coffee because of the rich, red volcanic soils and because many of the mountain slopes face the morning sunlight and then clouds are common during the afternoons, providing protection from the hottest hours of sun.