Written by Christine Herman
Top to bottom: Yellow Honey, Red Honey, Black Honey, and Perla Negra coffees from Las Lajas, Costa Rica.
I am so excited that this week marks the beginning of the Las Lajas Project at Case Study Coffee. We've featured one coffee from Las Lajas in the shops before; but it wasn't until I went to Costa Rica to meet Francisca and Oscar Chacon that I was able to bring their large line-up of coffees to the shops for a side-by-side comparison. You see, what makes these coffees so special, besides the Chacon family's meticulous organic practices, is the emphasis they are placing on how subtle differences in drying their milled coffee has a huge impact on the final characteristics of the coffee they produce.
Finca Las Lajas, Sabanilla de Alajuela, Costa Rica
The Chacon family's farm is certified organic, as is their mill. Beyond that, they use the unique weather patterns created by their location between two volcanos to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west, in making decisions about how particular lots of coffee will be processed. On overcast days they will leave the pulp on the milled coffee cherries for their honey-processed lots, and on sunny days they will utilize a more "washed" technique, where the mucilage is mostly removed from the milled coffee before drying.
For the honey-processed lots featured at Case Study, three drying methods are implemented to achieve different results in the final product. All honeyed coffee is taken to the raised drying beds (pictured below) and covered overnight. After the covers are removed in the morning, the differences in treatment begin. The Yellow Honey coffee is turned first thing in the morning, and multiple times throughout the day. The Red Honey coffee is left undisturbed until the afternoon, at which point it is turned. The Black Honey coffee is achieved by leaving the honeyed coffee all day, and another entire night without turning.
In addition to honeyed lots, Las Lajas also produced two naturally processed coffees which are featured at Case Study: Perla Negra and Alma Negra. These coffees are not run through their wet mill, but are taken to the drying beds with the fruit left intact. Similar to the honeyed coffees, the differences between the naturally processed coffees has to do with how often they are turned on the drying beds; Perla Negra is turned more often, and the Alma Negra is only turned a few times a day.
The wet mill at Las Lajas where the coffee cherries are pulped
The differences between these processing methods in the final cup are remarkable. Most notably, the less the coffees are turned on the beds, the coffees gain a heavier body, and the fruit notes resemble more candied and/or cooked fruit. Obviously the addition of the fruit skin of the naturals also contributes to these flavors and heavier body. The more the coffee is turned, as in the Yellow Honey and the Perla Negra, the more transparent the flavors become, and the more pronounced the acidity.
We are proud to feature all five of these coffees from Las Lajas side-by-side in all our shops for six weeks. Besides our Deviation Blend and our decaf, these are the ONLY coffees available in the shops. The difference produced by the processing methods used are so pronounced that I am confident that everyone will be able to find a coffee in the line-up from Las Lajas that suits their particular tastes, be it a clean, typically Latin profile, or a more wild, fruity, natural cup. Regardless of the processing method employed, all these coffees are incredibly sweet and beautifully balanced.
We look forward to continuing our relationship with Francisca and Oscar Chacon in the years to come as they are continuing to push the boundaries of coffee growing and processing. They have many more projects coming down the pipeline, such as aerobic vs. anaerobic fermentation of their honey-processed coffees, coffee variety experiments, and another natural process, among others. We will be sure to carry these coffees when they are available.
For now, please enjoy these coffees in our shops and in your home. We are offering half-sized retail bags so you can try all five coffees while they are available for these next six weeks. Also, we will be having a Las Lajas event at our Alberta location on Thursday, March 10th, at 6pm which everyone is invited to! The event will encompass a tasting of all five coffees, a happy hour mixer/Q&A featuring cocktails using the coffees of Las Lajas, and a slideshow presentation from my trip to the farm and mill.
Christine with Oscar and Francisca Chacon of Las Lajas
Here is a video I took of Francisca explaining the differences in drying her honeyed coffees (featured is Luis Arocha of Cafe Imports):