We have been to Costa Rica so often that it is almost a second home to CoffeeTalk. I certainly would not say that we are jaded by the place, there is always something new waiting to transport your mind or spirit into this amazing tropical paradise.
When we had the opportunity to lead a group of 56 industry leaders and their families to Costa Rica for an intensive introduction to specialty coffee, we were confident that we could pull it off. Little did we know that as we led this group we would also be transformed.
The group was the board of NAMA (The National Automated Merchandising Association) and their families as well as NAMA members and OCS operators. Most of the participants on the trip had never been to a coffee growing country and some knew nothing at all about coffee. (They focus on the Vending side of the business.) Those of us who have been to a country of origin remember that first time we discovered coffee. For many of us it was a life-changing event! Now consider what it would be like to have 56 highly intelligent, enthusiastic, corporate leaders from some of the largest food and beverage companies in North America on the bus. Truly amazing and in the end a rich and empowering experience for Kerri and I as we saw coffee for the first time once again through their eyes and questions and excitement.
For our part of the itinerary, we knew that less would be more. So rather than visiting several farms, we decided to visit one farm and deeply immerse ourselves in the farming operation as well as the processing and business side. We chose the beautiful single estate farm operated and family-owned by Luz Marina Trujillo Stewart – the Finca Santa Elena in Tarrazu. Beautifully situated above 1500 meters with 750 ares in coffee cultivation, Santa Elena is one of the oldest estate farms still operating in Costa Rica. Purchased by Luz Marina’s father and Uncle, who also owned farms in Colombia, Luzma took over the operation while in her twenties and has been solely responsible for the farm management and operation of Santa Elena for longer than I should say.
This farm also includes a large beneficio primarily for processing the farms coffees as well as a dry mill. Santa Elena is vertically integrated so that the cherries grown on the farm are processed on the farm; dried and rested on the farm; and ultimately bagged and containerized at the farm’s loading dock. When the locking seal is applied to the full container the buyer knows that the entire container only holds Santa Elena’s prized specialty estate coffee.
Because of the complex and varied operations of the farm and beneficio, this was the perfect place to bring a bus of 56 folks and provide a detailed coffee farm experience. Beside the farm and processing facility, Santa Elena also has an extensive nursery operation, a large vermiculture (worms) composting operation, active social responsibility programs, and community health, education, and social outreach programs.
The tour participants from NAMA where able to totally immerse themselves in the farm operation under the sparkling and energetic direction of Luz Marina Trujillo Stewart and her farm staff.
The following day we travelled to CICAFE, the national coffee research and experimentation facility just outside of San Jose in Heredia. Operated by ICAFE (The Institute of Coffee) was founded in May 1997 in order to consolidate agricultural and agro-business research into a single facility. ICAFE and CICAFE are responsible not only for research in the coffee sector but also maintenance and enforcement of Costa Rica’s unique method of ensuring fair and ethical transparency and compensation for all parties throughout the supply chain.
CICAFE tests new technologies utilizing the latest farm and processing equipment and scientific methods from all industries and then provides information to growers in all eight key growing regions of Costa Rica. In addition, CICAFE operates a 10-acre farm for new varietal development as well as certified seed stock cultivation for farmers.
By focusing on these two venues, we were able to provide a great deal of depth without a great deal of travel. Upon returning to the Los Suenos Resort outside of Jaco, Costa Rica, the participants had a solid base of knowledge of coffee cultivation and the romance and challenges of coffee life in countries of origin.
We would like to thank all of the wonderful participants, the staff of NAMA, Luz Marina Trujillo Stewart and her husband Jim Stewart (founder of Seattle’s Best Coffee) and the staff of ICAFE and CICAFE without whom none of this would have been possible.