This special ‘Don Alfonso’ coffee represents the very best of the harvest from the famous Aquiares Estate in Turrialba, Costa Rica. ‘Don Alfonso’ coffees bear the name of Don Alfonso Robelo, patriarch of one of the owning families of the estate who took over farm management in 1992 and made the social welfare of farm workers and the wider community one of his main priorities.
This lot is a mix of Marsellesa & Obatá varieties. Marellesa is a variety obtained from the hybridization of Sarchimor and Caturra. It is sought after for its superior cup quality and its resistance to leaf rust. Obatá is a Sarchimor: a cross between Timor Hybrid 832/2 and Villa Sarchi CIFC 971/10. Experiments made by Aquiares have shown the two varieties to have similar cup profiles, which is why they have been mixed in processing. The varieties are versatile, lending themselves equally to washed processing as to honey and natural processing. Three lots this year have, thus, been developed using same varieties processed in three different ways: Washed, Natural & Red Honey.
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 Red honey lot was produced by leaving approximately 80-90% of the mucilage attached after pulping. This is done by first washing and floating the cherries to remove the low-density beans, before de-pulping using a traditional “chancador” method. After this, the coffee is delivered to the mill’s covered greenhouses to pre-dry on ceramic patios for 2 days before being moved to the mill’s raised beds to dry for an additional 10 days. Here, temperature control is very important to allow for even drying; therefore the raised beds are maintained between 28.C and 45.C. Finally, the almost dried honey’d coffee is placed in a mechanical dryer or ‘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.
Aquiares is strongly committed to, and has become an international leader in, environmental sustainability. The farm has long seen the connection between agricultural, environmental and social health. By planting more than 50,000 shade trees, creating natural buffers around streams and water springs, preserving the river valleys as forest, planting along the contour, implementing integrated pest management systems and many other steps, Aquiares has demonstrated how to make ecological ideals a reality.
For example, given that soil health is the most important factor for a successful farm, Aquiares takes many steps to naturally improve the farm’s volcanic soil. The organic matter from pruning and the leaf litter from the coffee and shade trees are left to feed soil microbes and provide organic nutrients. The diversified shade trees (over 40 species) also cool the ground, slowing the ripening of the coffee, which allows for sugars from the mucilage to be fully absorbed by the bean, thus improving cup quality.
The farm’s agricultural objective is to find synergies like these, where environmental health translates into coffee plant health, which ultimately contributes to a long-term stability in the production of high-quality coffee. The farm’s terrain varies from gently sloping to steep hills. Valleys between hills create microclimates that are ideal for growing mainly Caturra and grafted Arabica-Nemaya varieties. Although Aquiares is considered large under Central American standards, the farm’s belief is that it is crucial to tend to every individual coffee plant’s needs. Therefore, Aquiares utilizes a system of pruning each plant independently, instead of pruning by row or lot.
Through an intensive re-habilitation program, Aquiares has re-planted more than 400,000 coffee trees in small patches of existing fields. This rejuvenated the crop of trees and increased the land’s utilization. It also played a crucial role in the 2012 rust attack, as young plants resisted the disease better, slowing its spread.
Its stringent environmental stewardship enabled the farm to achieve Rainforest Alliance Certification in 2003. In 2012, Aquiares became the first farm in Costa Rica to fulfil the requirements of the Rainforest Alliance Climate Module. This requires adhering to careful standards of greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, which are carefully tracked through each harvest season. This certification demonstrates that the farm’s low emissions do not meaningfully contribute to climate change.
Turrialba - Costa Rica
chocolate | hazelnut | apple
Farm: Aquiares Estate
Varietal(s): Marsellesa & Obatá
Processing: Fully washed
Altitude: 1,100 to 1,400 metres above sea level
Owner: Robelo Family
Country: Costa Rica
Total size of farm: 924 hectares
Area under coffee: 623 hectares