Notes from Origin – Hacienda Rio Negro Costa Rica
I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica early Monday morning and a few hours later hopped a smaller plane to the city of Golfito with representatives from the La Minita Coffee team. Once we landed and made a quick stop for lunch we took a two hour car ride bound for the Hacienda Rio Negro Farm in the Coto Brus region.
On our way to the farm we stopped at one of the seventeen buying stations located in the region. Buying stations are where small holder farmers that are not part of La Minita can come to sell unprocessed coffee cherries. The coffee cherries are weighed and inspected for ripeness and quality and then are shipped to the mill for processing. Farmers are paid directly onsite after the weight measurements are taken.
After arriving at the farm we went straight to a tour of the wet mill. When coffee cherry is received at the mill for processing it is again weighed and inspected for quality. It is then sent through three de-pulping stages to extract the highest quality beans before being fermented, washed, and transported into temperature controlled coffee dryers.
The farm also makes big efforts to keep the coffee processing sustainable. All of the coffee cherries that are removed get composted and are turned into fertilizer for their farm or given back to farmers that they work with through the buying stations.
The highlight of the tour for me was the light sorter. Green coffee beans moving at a high rate of speed pass through a lighted channel that has an infrared sensor attached to it. Light reflects the color of the bean as it moves through the channel and the sensor evaluates if it is within the acceptable color for the coffee. If it is within the color parameters it passes thorough, if it is not a burst of compressed air quickly blast that bean out of the line of flowing green beans. The whole evaluation process takes less than a second.
After the tour of the mill we enjoyed a late dinner and by then I was ready for bed.
Tuesday morning after breakfast we cupped “first pickings” – or the first lots of coffee to be harvested for this season, then we headed out for a tour of the farm. Hacienda Rio Negro is located in the southernmost region of Costa Rica near the Panamanian boarder. It is bordered by a large protected park preserve that also straddles the Panamanian boarder. The farm is very committed to supporting environmentally responsible farming and was actually the first farm in Costa Rica to become Rainforest Alliance Certified. There is about 1700 acres of coffee on the farm along with a coffee nursery that holds 10,000 seedlings. The farm also invests in it’s seasonal and permanent workers by providing on farm housing, a health clinic and a childcare facility that is staffed with a nutritionist.