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Farm: Aquiares Estate
Varietal(s): Centroamericano F1
Altitude: 1,200 to 1,400 metres above sea level
Owner: Robelo Family
Country: Costa Rica
Total size of farm: 924 hectares
Area under coffee: 623 hectares
Recommendations: Filter and Espresso
This lot is 100% ‘Centroamericano’ variety – a hybrid of Rume Sudan and Sarchimor, developed by a variety of different Central American coffee research institutes, that marries high cup quality with high resistance to disease. Aquiares has found the variety very well-suited to the farm’s high elevation (grown above 1,200 meters in most cases) and as consistently yielding a quality cup. The variety’s profile lends itself well to honey and natural processing, which is why the Robelos decided on processing this small lot using the natural method.
All Aquiares coffee is picked by hand to ensure consistent high quality. Microlots, such as this one, are picked by a special team of skilled harvesters who are paid well above the daily rate for their exceptional skill in picking the ripest cherries at each pass. Each tree is visited up to seven times during the harvest to ensure that only fully red ripe cherries are picked. The skilled hands of the pickers represent the farm’s most valuable asset. Pickers hail from the community of Aquiares, nearby towns, and even from the neighbouring country of Nicaragua. The farm ensures that all workers have a safe work environment and a comfortable place to live. Workers coming from further away can live in on-site housing and use a children’s day-care. The farm sponsors doctors’ visits for pickers and their families twice a week where nutritional health advice is also given. To take better care of its field workers, Aquiares has established first-of-its-kind physical therapy sessions and also a daily warm-up routine of exercise before work. Many pickers return each year, confirming success in providing a secure home in Aquiares.
As coffee cherries come from the field the same day that they are picked, they move into Aquiares’ wet mill. The farm produces fully washed coffees, honey processed coffees and naturals. This natural lot has been floated for density (with all floaters being removed) and then immediately moved to the farm's solar dryer patios (large greenhouse with ceramic floors) for pre-drying. After 2-3 days of pre-drying on the ceramic floors, they are moved to the farm’s raised beds, also in the covered greenhouse, where they slowly dry for around 10 days. Finally, the beans are placed in A mechanical drying in Guardiola for 1 day to complete the process.
Although Guardiolas are common in this wet, humid area of Costa Rica, the Robleos are always searching for new ways to innovate in processing and drying. For instance, they knew that drying was one of their main challenges in producing speciality coffee – particularly as they wanted to start producing honey and natural lots. According to Diego Robelo, “Everyone told us we were crazy. You are never going to make honeys and naturals in Turrialba. We decided to prove them wrong.”
The Robelos sourced a greenhouse from a neighbour in the region who had been producing roses and built drying beds according to specifications gleaned from other producers. After the first lots were dried in the greenhouse, thermometers and humidity gauges still showed a great deal of temperature fluctuation depending on time of day and weather. In order to create a constant and even temperature in the greenhouse they installed an airflow system connected to their guadiola system (used for commercial lots). Now, dry air of around 36 degrees Celsius circulates throughout the greenhouse, maintaining an even temperature. The new system works well, helps increase the drying capacity of the greenhouse and reduces variability in lots. Diego and his quality control team consider these steps just the first in perfecting processing at the farm.