So much of the coffee on the market these days is really a commodity product that has been standardized to provide consistency. Generally, this means the coffee isn’t too terribly bad nor too terribly great. It’s a generic, non-offensive caffeine delivery mechanism.
An origin trip changes all that. It brings you, the roaster, face to face with the person that is growing and processing your coffee beans. It means you and farmer have talked shop over a cup of coffee, toured the processing mill that he set up himself, and met the family he’s feeding with the profits. It’s the antithesis of generic, commodity coffee.
A few months ago I toured five small farms in the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica, driving for hours over the steep hillsides that are covered in lush, deep green vegetation. The tropical sun is very intense at the high altitude, but the temperature when I was there was only around 75 degrees, and the constant breeze made it very comfortable. The city of San Jose is nestled in a valley that is surrounded by extremely steep hills, which are continually buffeted by clouds rolling in from the Pacific Ocean before dissipating over the tops of the hills. It reminded me of San Francisco and the surrounding hills on the peninsula. There’s a mystical quality to the fog breaking up just above the tree branches.
Tarrazu’s unique topography and proximity to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans brings microclimates of surprising variety, producing fantastic, rare coffees. The rich volcanic soil, high altitude, and dry summers produce a coffee that is sought internationally for its clean profile and bright acidity. However, great Costa Rican coffee must be cultivated with great care to bring out the best flavors. It takes a lot of work and foresight to steward the coffee from sapling to export.