Blue State Coffee values our relationships with the farmers who produce our coffees. We have traveled to Costa Rica and Honduras to meet the farmers there and to select our microlot coffees. Each year our friendships with the farmers grow closer and the coffees we cup are more delicious.
Trip to Origin 2018
From our Head Roaster Jack Renna - Innovation in Costa Rica
A cup of coffee may just be a single variable in your day. A single variable, but an important one that may mean the difference between a good day and a bad day. In brewing a cup of coffee, you will find yourself playing with a number of variables (grind, water, amount of coffee, etc.) to make that cup of coffee happen. On my recent trip to Costa Rica I visited five different coffee mills and some of the farms associated with them. Every day was a lesson in the countless variables that farmers and producers juggle to create that delicious and sometimes necessary cup of coffee we enjoy worldwide.
One of our first stops was at the Las Lajas micro-mill and farm. It is run by Oscar and Francisca Chacon. Oscar and Francisca were met with a variety of unexpected complications when they first started their micro-mill, including but not limited to, equipment failures, power outages, and an earthquake. Rather than pack it in and sell the land, their lack of working equipment prompted them to experiment with natural and honey processed coffees (coffee that is dried on beds and processed with varying layers of cherry left on the bean). This has led to them producing some of the best natural and honey processed coffees that I have ever tasted! I'm not the only one who thought so, as most of their produce was already spoken for before we arrived. Luckily, I was able to reserve a few bags of their honey processed coffee so we can offer it as well. Oscar and Francisca further demonstrated their innovation by serving us some of their honey processed coffee that got frozen in an off-season rain. It turns out the coffee tasted pretty good and they decided they will be experimenting with freezing some of their coffees mid-process in the future.
If you enjoy Blue State Coffee's iced coffee or microlots than you can thank the Coopro Naranjo and ASOPROAAA mills. In contrast to Oscar and Francisca's micro-mill, these mills are much larger and work with many farmers in their respective areas. These larger mills are innovative in their own ways, using solar energy and recycled coffee parchment to power their equipment. They also offer premium prices and financing to many local farmers. They are crucial to helping keep Costa Rica's coffee production fruitful, high quality, and environmentally friendly.
At Coopro Naranjo we were given an educational tour by mill manager Jose Antonio. I learned that Jose had a microlot of his own named "Fasoli" which we had offered in the past. Mid- tour he pointed to a stack of bags in a corner of a storage room labeled "Mircolote Fasoli" and said "There's your coffee." Hard to argue with that! Combined with how spectacular his coffee tasted, it was an easy decision, and I look forward to looking at those same bags in our own storeroom.
After visiting the ASOPROAAA mill in Tarrazu our group piled into separate four-wheel drive vehicles and trekked up a bumpy mountain road to a couple of family owned farms. This was a big day for me, because most of these farms belong to various members of the Monge family, whose coffees I learned to roast on when I began my journey as a coffee roaster. I rode up with Don Carlos, owner of the "El Alto" farm, and his family. We visited the "Las Palomas" and "El Alto" farms. These two farms have been staples of Blue State Coffee's specialty offerings. Seeing them for the first time was indescribable. We had a barbecue at "Las Palomas" and I got to spend time with Don Carlos and his family. This year we will be offering coffee from him, his brother Jorge Monge, and his son who is also named Carlos.
Family, innovation, creativity, cooperation, relationships and more. A morning cup of coffee holds all of these variables. Each sip is a reminder of the vast and interdependent network that I am grateful to be a part of.
Trip to Origin 2017
From our Head Roaster Jack Renna - A "Business" Trip to Honduras
Standing in line at customs in Tegucigalpa Airport I filled out the small form that all persons flying in from another country must fill out. Passport number, flight, etc. At the bottom of the form it asked me to check a box next to either "business" or "pleasure." Without thinking, I went ahead and checked the box next to "business." This was, after all, a business trip.
I met with the other coffee buyers near the exit of the airport. While we were waiting for everyone to get through customs, one of the buyers who had been to the COMSA Co-op before began joking with another, "So what did you put this year? Business or pleasure? I always have a hard time deciding when I come here." He asked me if this was my first origin trip and I said it was. Laughing, he shook his head and said, "This is going to ruin all the rest of them for you."
We were given a warm welcome to Honduras by Maritza. Maritza was one of the unsung heroes of this trip. She was one of the primary translators, organized transportation and accommodations, and made sure everyone was having a good time. I was a little shy meeting all these new people but Maritza's friendliness combined with her uplifting sense of humor made me feel right at home.
After a four hour drive from the airport, we arrived at COMSA's headquarters, Finca La Fortaleza. It was dark and I was exhausted from travel but the atmosphere was lively. There was a fantastic band, fronted by the music teacher at the COMSA school, and almost everyone was dancing.
The next morning we returned to Finca La Fortaleza. After a delicious breakfast of eggs and fruits grown organically on the Co-op, we began to cup. Over the next three days we cupped and scored 177 different coffees. After each day of cupping, we visited a beautiful farm or mill and then would finish the day at one of the farmers' houses. The band was there almost every night and there was always plenty of singing, dancing, and tequila.
The hospitality we received from the people of COMSA was spectacular. They fed us every meal and welcomed us into their homes. (They also did their best to improve my ability to salsa dance.) It truly felt like I was a part of a large, happy family reunion, which is saying something considering I didn't know any of them a few days previously.
COMSA had a powerful effect on me, but it also has a powerful effect on its community. Because of their focused work, commitment to organic farming, and research on the best ways to grow and produce, the Co-op has been able to build a school, renovate a hospital, and provide organic food for the people of Marcala, Honduras. I was amazed by the students from the COMSA School. They all spoke perfect English and were highly ambitious. Myself and the other coffee buyers agreed to add an extra five cents to each pound of coffee we purchased as a donation to the school, amounting to over $4,000.
I left Honduras with happy memories, new connections, and exciting coffees. As I passed through customs in the U.S., I handed the airport agent a form with the box next to "pleasure" checked off.
Trip to Origin 2016
From our Head Roaster Ben Toalston - On to Honduras!
This year was Blue State Coffee's first trip to Honduras and I had the opportunity to source some amazing microlot coffee and build relationships with farmers who produce them. The coffees are stellar and I believe the hospitality, humility, and hard work of the people who produce them make them even more exceptional. Here's a story of my connection with one of these amazing producers...
Each day in Honduras we tasted over 40 different coffees. We tasted them blind, without knowing which farm they were from, so they were all judged fairly. During one of the tasting flights, there was one coffee that really stuck out to me above the rest. While everyone in our group enjoyed this coffee and gave it a great score, I seemed to enjoy it a little more, and scored it the highest. I was excited to learn afterwards that this was a coffee that we offered at Blue State Coffee last year! The name of the farm is "Los Tuneles". Was this simply by chance or were the coffee stars aligning me with this coffee? The story gets even better...
That same evening, we had a rooftop dinner in the city of Marcala. While we were eating, there was a live band playing, and I noticed that there was one man giving it his all out on the dance floor. I remember it very distinctly because he had the biggest smile on his face and seemed to be the having the time of his life. When I asked who this man was, I learned his name was Juan David Chavez, and that he was the owner of the farm Los Tuneles, whose coffee I had tasted earlier that day! I had to meet him.
While everyone else continued eating, we stepped aside for a conversation. I complimented his coffee and told him how much I'd enjoyed it. I expressed my thanks for his hard work, and our commitment to carry that hard work all the way to our customers. He said that knowing we enjoy his coffee inspires him to work harder to make it even better. Throughout our conversation, he was continuously laughing and so full of joy. Because he was smiling so hard, my cheeks actually started hurting because I couldn't help but smile back. His joy was infectious!
Tasting a coffee blind and determining it to be something special, then to learn it was one you'd known and enjoyed in the past is super inspiring! Further, to see a happy man dancing, and then learn that he is the one responsible for that same coffee makes it feel even more special. I'm encouraged and inspired by our friendship with Juan and his farm Los Tuneles and I cannot wait to share this coffee!
Trip to Origin 2015
From our Coffee Director Nathan Hann - Visiting Las Palomas for the first time
I have been with Blue State Coffee for almost four years now and one of the first microlots I tasted was Las Palomas. The first time I went to origin, I heard all about how Las Palomas produced award winning coffees year after year. Tasting it the three years I have been to origin just cemented in my head that Jorge, the owner of Las Palomas, could possibly be one of the best coffee farmers in existence.
I visited many farms the last two years I went to origin but never was able to go to Las Palomas. Oh how happy I was to hear that this year we would be able to visit! On our third day we sat in a small 1968 rustic orange jeep heading up the mountains to see the one farm that had eluded me.
When I stumbled out of the back of the jeep, I looked to my left and saw the most amazing thing. Las Palomas wraps around rolling hills with perfectly manicured rows of coffee trees. As we got closer, the trees were still filled with coffee cherries. This may seem normal but when we visited in March all of the other farms had long been through with harvesting their lots, yet Jorge was still going strong. I had heard from the ASOPROAA mill owner that Jorge has a special way of harvesting his coffee by meticulously only grabbing the most ripe and juicy cherries. Most farmers have a range of time to harvest but Jorge makes sure he is consistent throughout the harvest season.
I can say, his farm was the most stunning farm I have ever laid eyes on, which makes this Las Palomas cup of coffee I am currently drinking taste that much better.
From our Head Roaster Ben Toalston - Las Palomas: coffee of the clouds
As the roaster for Blue State Coffee, I hold the responsibility to help maximize the potential found in each of our coffees, especially our selection of Costa Rica microlots. Through the application of heat, airflow, attention to detail, and rigorous tasting, each coffee is roasted to exhibit all of its unique character and flavor. Being as familiar as friends with these coffees, I was more than excited for the opportunity to travel to their source, meet the farmers, and help select our offerings for the next year.
One of the biggest highlights for me was being able to visit and meet farmers like brothers Carlos Monge and Jorge Monge, owners of the farms Las Palomas and El Alto, respectively. On the way to their farms, riding on the bench seat in the back of a vintage Toyota Land Cruiser, the road sharply curved around the mountainside. Each turn revealed a view surpassing the last one, reminiscent of a scene from the movie Jurassic Park, but it was like being on a wooden roller coaster off its track on a one lane loose dirt road. With no guard rail to keep us from the steep mountainside below we had no choice but to trust our captain at the helm, Carlos Monge. Part elevation, part excitement, and perhaps part fear of death, my breath was taken away.
When we arrived at the farms, it was easy to see why these coffees stand with the best. While much of the harvest was over in other areas we’d visited, the coffee trees of Las Palomas seemed to be in full production! They were full of ripe red coffee cherries. The farm is practically in harvest year round - it receives ample amounts of warmth and sunlight during the day and the clouds descend to cool the coffee at night. This causes a slower, more complex maturation of the coffee cherries which ultimately leads to a more distinguished cup. I like to think that the clouds have infiltrated the coffee and show themselves in its cotton candy-like sweetness!
One experience I won’t forget was meeting the owner of Las Palomas, Jorge Monge. I’ve been roasting his coffee for the past year and now I got to meet the man himself! Through the translation of our guide and exporter, Sebastien, I expressed my praise and gratitude to Jorge. His sincere humility was expressed with tears in his eyes as I spoke with him. I now feel a greater responsibility to continue the hard work and humility of Jorge Monge, and I cannot encourage you enough to get excited to try this coffee for yourself.
Trip to Origin 2014
From our Coffee Director Nathan Hann - Two stories
This is my second year going to origin, so I thought I was ready for whatever was put in my path and that new experiences were going to be few and far between. I was dead wrong. From the moment I landed to the moment I boarded my plane to come home I was reminded just how special and amazing coffee, and the industry itself, really are. There was one day in particular I wish to share with you, the day I met Maureen.
On this particular day, the group of us were scheduled to play soccer. It was the Americans vs. the Farmers. Before we played soccer we cupped the remaining 20 coffees that were left over from the previous day. I think this helped in boosting our energy levels and preparing us for the beating that was to come. We then gathered for lunch where we handed out soccer jerseys for all the farmers, their children, and their spouses.
Soccer was the next step but that is not the part I want to focus on. Sorry, no embarrassing stories here. It was what happened post soccer game. A farmer named Maureen drove myself and three other companions back to our hotel. Halfway down the mountain, en-route to our destination, she asked, "Are you all thirsty?". Naturally, after playing a soccer game for over an hour, we said "Yes". Within 2 minutes we had veered off the main road, parked the car, and were sitting at a restaurant that overlooked San Jose. Stunning barely covers the description of our view.
Here we got to know Maureen. We talked about her life, how she lived in the states for a few years up in Minnesota, and how her farming life came to fruition. She obtained her farm from her father, who owned three plots of land and split them up between her and her two brothers. Her brothers did not continue the family tradition of growing coffee but she did. The name of her farm is Alto Encino. Her coffee scored an 88.5/100 which gave it one of the best ratings amongst the 100+ coffees we cupped while in Costa Rica! She was proud of all she had accomplished at her farm and dedicated to continuing the family tradition.
This gave me a lasting memory that was unlike any from the previous trip, summing up the kind of experience I had as a whole. The farms were more picturesque, the bond with the farmers felt stronger, and the quality of the coffee was better than I could have ever dreamed.
Another wonderful experience was visiting the farm Bello Horizonte. Driving up to this farm was nothing short of jaw dropping. Orange trees lined the road and as we parked the car and looked out onto the horizon, you could see miles and miles of a mountainous skyline stretching out into the distance. The farmer, Adrian Quesada Mora, and his wife and two kids greeted us the moment we stepped out onto the dusty driveway. The youngest child began speaking at record speed in Spanish, a language I still know very little of. He didn’t mind though, just as long as I listened and looked at everything he pointed at.
The orange trees were only one of many plants that Adrian Quesada Mora maintained year round outside of his prize crop, coffee. We tried oranges, blackberries, peaches, lemons, and a fruit that I have never seen before, maracuya. Adrian Quesada Mora took us around his farm, showing us how well maintained he keeps it. Every plant, every tree, and every garden bed is taken care of daily giving each one of his crops the best quality someone could hope for.
Having all of these plants helps give nutrients to the soil that would not normally be there, along with adding some extra flavor to the bean itself. When we cupped his coffee, the flavor notes we decided on were cherry, cocoa, citrus, and lemon. It is always a treat to see that the fruits on the farm come through in the coffee!
We ended the time spent at the farm with lunch in their house where they served us orange juice and lemonade, all made from their farm. A beautiful view, an amazing family, pristine farm, and nothing but the best tasting fruits and coffee really made this farm visit a memorable one.