Farm: Finca Juan Carlos Valerio
Varietal: Catuai, Caturra, Villa Sarchi
Processing: Semi Honey
Altitude: 1,500 metres above sea level
Owner: Juan Carlos Valerio
Town / City: San Luis de Grecia, Grecia
Region: West Valley
Finca Juan Carlos Valerio Semi Honey - Costa Rica
Juan Carlos Valerio is the owner and manager of this 49 hectare farm, spread picturesquely over the crest of the mountain ridge in San Luis de Grecia located in Costa Rica’s West Valley. The farm sits at around 1,500 metres above sea level and benefits from rich volcanic soil and a perfect, natural climate for coffee farming. With Poas Volcano looming overhead, Juan’s coffee farm grows with one side facing east, the other west, then continues down the ridge towards the valley towards the town of San Jose. Juan Carlos jokingly calls his most picturesque lot, named ‘La Jimena’ after his daughter, his ‘office’. With a few old tree stumps for seats, it offers sumptuous views of the region and a great space for planning future improvements to his parcels of Catuaí, Caturra and Villa Sarchi.
In 2010, without any prior coffee experience, Juan Carlos agreed to take on the responsibility of running the farm that belonged to his father-in-law, which had been in the family for 70 years. No one else in the family was much interested in continuing to farm coffee, and the land had sadly fallen into neglect. Rehabilitating the farm required careful consideration and a pragmatic approach if Juan Carlos were to turn things around. Teaming up with Marco Corrales Bolaños, Juan Carlos’ right hand man and something of an operations manager of the farm, the pair has drawn on technical advice from all sides to approach the challenge of renovating a section of the farm each year, ‘poco-a-poco’ (little by little) returning the farm to its former glory.
Walking through the farm in January 2015, it is fascinating to compare the renovated plots of uniform, healthy trees of 1 to 5 years of age with those few plots that are yet to be renovated; these latter parcels of land remain unused and heavily overgrown with weeds. This vision is a marker of how far Juan Carlos and Marco have come.
Looking towards the future, Juan Carlos recognises the changing market conditions and the growing demand for specialty coffee. He not only plans to continue to improving his cultivation techniques and practices, he also has big plans to build a micromill in the years to come.
On days that this microlot coffee is picked, the pickers are given a higher wage per cajuela (basket) to pick only the maduro puro (pure ripe) cherries. The day’s picking is then delivered to the on-site receiving station, where it is checked for quality, sorted and measured by volume. A truck sits at the bottom of the chute, ready to carry the fruit directly to the micro mill.
This lot was processed at the nearby Micromill Sonora using the semi-honey/semi-washed method. The two terms are more or less interchangeable and refer to a situation where, after pulping, 50% of the mucilate/honey is left on/washed off before the coffee is delivered to patios to dry.
Located at the foot of the Poas Volcano, Hacienda Sonora is both a coffee farm and micro-mill. Owner Alberto Guardia has 40 years experience of producing coffee, and 17 years ago took the plunge in opening up his very own micromill alongside his farm. With the help of his son Diego, who returned home 3 years ago after studying and working in the USA, the mill continuously builds on their already impressive 17 years of experience processing fine coffees.
The micromill is built in the heart of Hacienda Sonora next to a traditional 150-year-old sugar cane mill that is preserved intact. All of the machines in the mill are tuned to perform in the most efficient manner, using only energy harvested within the farm. In fact, all energy consumed by the farm is 100% renewable energy harvested from a natural water stream with a special turbine, known as a Pelton Wheel. This energy supplies power to the coffee mill and provides a portion of free electricity for some of the people who live and work at the farm.
The mill specialises in honey and natural processing, both of which require more work and care than the traditional fully washed but are much more energy and water efficient. Over the years, Alberto has played with and tried different techniques, constantly honing his craft in order to achieve consistent results through processing time after time.
Another important advantage is that the farm is able conserve vast amounts of water by using only honey and the natural processes. Using the honey method saves more than 3 gallons of water per pound of coffee. Natural processed coffee doesn’t require any water at all.