MERAKI Artisan Coffee
Costa Rica Esperanza كوستا ريكا اسبرانزا
Costa Rica Esperanza كوستا ريكا اسبرانزا
Papaya. Ribena. Cola
Farm: Aquiares Estate
Altitude: 1,200 to 1,400 meters above sea level
Owner: Robelo Family
Town / City: Aquiares
Country: Costa Rica
الإيحاءات: بابايا. كولا. كشمش أسود
المعالجة: تخمير لاهوائي
الارتفاع: ١،٢٠٠ الى ١،٤٠٠ متر فوق سطح البحر
المزارع: عائلة روبيلو
البلد: كوستا ريكا
Story Behind The Coffee
Aquiares, one of Costa Rica’s largest and most historic coffee farms, sits high on the fertile slopes of Turrialba Volcano. Producing coffee continuously for over a century, the farm has developed an enduring model for growing high-quality Arabica coffee, protecting a stunning natural setting, and supporting a thriving local community of 1,800 people. Established by British farmers in 1890, Aquiares was one of the first states to produce and export Costa Rican coffee. In 1971, the farm was purchased by its current owners-three families who have worked together with the farm ́s staff and community to implement a modern model of sustainable agriculture. Today, the Estate is the largest continuous coffee farm in Costa Rica, covering 924 hectares, 80% of which is planted under shade-grown Arabica.Nestled between the Aquiares and Turrialba Rivers, “Aquiares” means “land between rivers” in Costa Rica’s Huetar indigenous language. The region where the farm is located used to be the center for this pre-Columbian civilization, and occasionally old artifacts are found among the coffee trees. In fact, Guayabo National Monument, Costa Rica ́s most important indigenous settlement, is just 5 km (3.1 miles) away. The land of Aquiares is blessed with a multitude of clean water sources and even provides drinking water to three communities down-stream. Coffee plots are interlaced with natural springs and countless streams and rivers, all of which are protected with forested buffer zones. The network of natural corridors throughout the farm connects the large preserved forests in the two river valleys, providing a healthy environment for the local animals, birds, and plants.
Don Alfonso took over farm management in 1992, and at the time he was new(ish) to coffee. There are many ‘pre-Aquiares’ stories, too many for this info sheet, but enough to fill a book for sure (forthcoming we hope!). However, one thread throughout his life has been a commitment to social justice. From the beginning, Don Alfonso made the social welfare of farmworkers and the wider community one of his main priorities. His dedication has transformed the farm and the region.The community of Aquiares-originally built to house workers on the estate-sits amid the farm. Originally, the farm owned the houses where employees lived, creating home-insecurity amongst working families. In 1992,under Don Alfonso’s management, the farm started a project to enable people to own their own houses.Each worker was given a bonus for his or her years of service, lots were priced at a fraction of the local rate, and assistance was given to apply for the government house fund. In the beginning, workers thought it was too good to be true, but as the first families obtained their own homes, everyone followed suit. In a matter of three years, the town was brought to life. It was enriched with a deep feeling of security and achievement.Today, only around 15% of Aquiares residents work on the farm (many have gone on to become school teachers, doctors, etc) and 96% of these own their own home, giving them the option to take a path for their future that they, themselves, choose. Aquiares has become a place where many want to live, as evidenced in the value of land, which is comparable to that of San José, Costa Rica ́s capital. The town has its own school, youth sports program, recycling committee, early childhood nutrition center, and a church built in 1925, which is a National Architectural Historic Monument. The entire town and the Estate consider themselves to be of the same community rather than one ‘belonging’ to the other!The farm manages the entire coffee production chain, from seedling production to plant cultivation, harvesting and milling. This ensures that they can meet the highest standards of quality assurance and can guarantee a traceable product. Caturra is the main varietal grown on the farm, but climate change and pests require constant experimentation with new varieties that can adapt better to future conditions. Diego Robelo, who has developed this quality-focused line, has led much of the new ‘charge’ towards new variety experimentation; he began his post as ‘innovation manager’ in 2013 and has developed collaborations withWorld Coffee Research (WCR) and the Costa Rican Coffee Institute (ICAFE), including an experimental garden for Central American Coffee varieties for WCR. Throughout the season, workers from the community care for the trees: pruning, fertilizing, weeding, and protecting them.
About the coffee (Harvest & Processing):Entre Rios, translating as “Between Rivers' ', is a delicate and versatile coffee which mixes two varieties from the same parentage to create a singular cup. These varieties are Marsellesa & Red Obatá, both originating through combinations of Timor Hybrid and Villa Sarchi. Aquiares has found the varieties very well-suited to the farm’s high elevation (grown above 1,100 meters in most cases) and great for marrying both high cup quality with strong resistance to disease.All Aquiares coffee is picked by hand to ensure consistent high quality. Micro lots, 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 neighboring 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). It has then been produced using a special AnaerobicNatural method. The coffee is delivered, while still in cherry, to stainless steel tanks for fermentation, as they offer the most cleanliness but also help maintain lower temperatures. They are located in a shaded, cool place in the mill, and are completely sealed with only a bubbler, which allows gasses to escape, creating an anaerobic environment within. Temperature and pH are checked twice a day, and once it reaches a pH of4.3 (1-2 days), it is opened and the cherry is taken to the drying stations.For this lot, there are three stages of drying that the coffee must undergo. Firstly, Fermented cherries are pre-dried for 2 days on cool, clean ceramic floors. Next, cherry is taken to raised beds, where the temperature is kept between 28.C and 45.C for 10 days. Finally, the coffee is placed in a mechanical dryer known as Guardiola's' for the final day.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 specialty coffee–particularly as they wanted to start producing honey and naturallots. According to Diego Robelo, “Everyone told us we were crazy. You are never going to make honey and naturals in Turrialba. We decided to prove them wrong.”The Robelos sourced a greenhouse from a neighbor 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 fluctuations depending on the time of day and weather. To create a constant and even temperature in the greenhouse they installed an airflow system connected to their Guardiola 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.Environmental Stewardship: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 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 believes 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 rehabilitation program, Aquiareshas 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 fulfill the requirements of the Rainforest AllianceClimate 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.Aquiares has been home to research studies for decades, starting with early sociological studies in the 1950s.More recently, numerous scientific studies are conducted at Aquiares. In 2007, the farm was among the very first to try to calculate its carbon balance. Today, Aquiares is the main test plot for an ongoing project between the CIRAD Institute of France and CATIE University of Costa Rica. The “Carbon-Flux project”measures greenhouse gas exchange between the farm plot and the atmosphere over long-time horizons.This research station is the only one of its kind in the world, capable of accurately measuring the emission-sequestration balance of a hectare of shaded coffee. With this tool, the researchers are trying to develop a model that can be used by any coffee farmer in the world to estimate the carbon sequestration potential of his farm. This project is part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change research efforts. Also,since 2013 Aquiares has set up a program for Cornell University undergraduate and graduate students to find practical fieldwork experience at the farm. In this short time, the interns have already helped shape the farm's agricultural strategy and community relations. For example, one intern studied the community, and by interviewing town residents found increasing levels of type 2 diabetes as a result of an unhealthy diet.Following that research, another intern planned and developed a community organic vegetable garden;the farm donated land and women from the community-run the garden as a small business of their own.