Picking Coffee in Costa Rica

Nic's pickings.

Nic's pickings.

Last week we had the opportunity to return to Hacienda La Minita in Costa Rica to visit a remarkable operation run by one of the coffee producers with whom we have worked closely over the years. Our goal was to experience, first hand, the effort required to grow and harvest La Minita coffee on the steep slopes of the Tarrazu Valley, to learn about their milling systems and processes, and to cup their newest offerings in order to purchase the high quality beans that we roast and serve here in Ann Arbor. Several changes have been made since we last visited including the purchase of an adjoining farm, La Pradera, where several micro lot coffees are being developed as well as facilities at the mill to manage these smaller, more exclusive coffees.

For the lowly coffee bean, this journey is relatively simple. For the many people involved in its journey from plantation to cup, it’s a tremendous amount of work.

The journey begins at the end of the rainy season in early Spring, when the coffee trees flower and the fruit begins to form. Bathed in sunlight, nurtured by the crisp clear mountain air which is warm in the day and cool at night, the dense green fruit appears at the buds the fallen flowers have left behind. Farm workers are busy during this time, weeding the spaces between the trees by hand and pruning branches that may have been damaged in the off season.

As Fall approaches, the coffee cherries ripen and turn a deep shade of red, signifying it’s time to pick. Many of the coffee pickers and their families travel throughout the region, moving from south to north as coffee ripens. At the peak of harvest, from early January to mid-February, more than 500 people will comb the farm, moving from the lower elevation at the Tarrazu river working their way up the mountain, picking only the ripe fruit. This process is repeated daily and weekly, from the bottom to the top of the hills and mountains, following the ever-ripening fruit, ensuring each is picked at the prime time and all branches are left bare.

La Minita felt it was important for us to live a moment in the life of a harvester. We were each given the traditional basket to wear around our waist and we were taught to pick coffee for an hour straight - the fastest of us only picked a half basket. We took our harvest to the pick up area where the coffee was measured by volume and we were paid for our efforts. After we were paid, the rest of the real workers unloaded their efforts, easily 10-15 times as much fruit as we had picked. We boarded the coffee truck and drove a short way to another collection station where all the smaller trucks were unloading into a semi-trailer. Later that evening, we went to the mill to witness the unloading and initial processing.

After milling, washing and sorting the fruit by density, sometime between 7 pm and midnight, the coffee goes into large outdoor tanks to ferment for up to 24 hours. This allows the remaining pulp to decompose and be washed away, leaving only the parchment which will be allowed to dry on the beans before the the final milling, sorting, and bagging.

While all milled coffee goes through a final sort for imperfections just prior to bagging using a machine that scans a stream of beans moving at the speed of light, the most select coffees are sorted once more by a room full of women, who literally evaluate every single bean by hand.

Currently, the coffee we picked is somewhere in the fermenting process, and if we did a good job of picking, those beans will makes their way into one of the most select coffees offered from the farm and we'll be drinking it sometime this spring.

What do Coffee, Wine, Beer and Chocolate Have in Common?

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Last week I had the opportunity to spend several days at a Sensory Summit for coffee roasters held at the Robert Mondavi Center for Wine and Food Science on the UC Davis campus. About 120 people gathered, primarily coffee roasters. Also attending were food science sensory professionals, malt roasters, craft chocolate makers, organic chemists and chemical engineers.

The goal of this Summit was to explore the ways that we use sensory information to describe and evaluate different but similar food and beverage products. Wine, spices, cacao, malt and even the acids common to all of these foods were explored. And on the coffee side of things, we explored our sensory response to subtle changes in the roasting process, discussed the effects of various fermentation methods, and heard about new research into the field of water activity and food safety.

Of the 10 or so sessions we participated in, exploring the environmental influences (terroir) on wine, cacao and spices was the most fascinating to me personally. While we generally accept that the unique environment where grapes or coffee are grown greatly affects their flavors, digging into this subject was very eye opening. How can cinnamon from two different regions have such wildly different aromas? Why does cacao taste so different in each of the many types of craft chocolate bars? How can we really identify a specific coffee origin given the multitude of processes currently in use around the world, that were once unique to a particular region?

It would take several more pages for me to fully explain the entirety of the experience, I will share just a few of my key takeaways.

Firstly, there are craft professionals at both ends of the spectrum of the food industry – from micro batch purveyors AND macro industrial food developers.  At each level, these folks invest a significant amount of time and energy into creating their products. We discussed and reviewed samples from Coors (macro) to Sudwerk (micro) beers, and from Hershey kisses (macro) to Dick Taylor (micro) craft chocolate.

Secondly, there is so much to learn by examining products outside of my industry, and looking for ways to apply those findings and experiences to coffee. Continually learning is important!

Lastly, I am grateful for having the ability to participate in these types of events and I take pride and joy in being responsible for bringing this experience back home to the wonderful people roasting, bagging, brewing, and serving our coffee. I look forward to conducting some in depth sensory experiments at Mighty Good Coffee and to continue to develop and create the best-trained and informed staff possible.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your coffee!

David

Resolutions in Coffee, #1

Here we go into the New Year and time to reflect on what worked for you, our customers, and what we can improve on to make your experience at Mighty Good even better.

The latter half of 2016 seemed to be an ongoing battle with Comcast and getting our network to be more reliable at our Main St. location. Many phone calls, visits from various techs, monitoring of our incoming lines, new modems and all new lines run to our building had some effect. We learned a few thing along the way. First of all, Comcast is a company run by people who may, or may not, have all the information they need to do their jobs well. No one person is the fountain of digital knowledge and their systems aren't really good at supporting the person on the other end of the line. The second most important thing is that getting mad at them is pointless. The third thing, and probably the most important, is to find someone who understands all of this. In our case, that proved to be Alex, a computer science professor at the U, and Joe, who works 2 floors above us and manages the IT systems for his company's offices in Ann Arbor, Detroit, DC and Madison. He even manages to monitor our system while sitting at his own desk eating lunch.

So, through a combination of all parties involved, some new equipment from Comcast as well as all new internal networking hardware, things seem to be humming along much better making everyone just a little happier at the Main St. cafe.

So what's our resolution? Remember that our digital environment matters just as much as the coffee we serve and how we serve it. We continuously strive to be better at making coffee and hope we that the good folks at Comcast can come along for the ride in delivering exceptional service for you as well.

Fall Colors, Fall Flavors

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There is a strange dichotomy to fall weather. The changing of the seasons reminds us that winter is fast approaching while at the same time, revealing so many warm and brilliant colors in the trees, fruits and vegetables that are harvested this time of year. Orange pumpkins, golden apples, trees ablaze with fiery leaves that will soon need to be raked into pile. 

Our thoughts turn to food and drink that will keep us warm during the cold months, and the abundance of warm spices, sweet treats and savory offerings that are common this time of year.

As such, we are pleased to release our two new offerings to entice your senses.

At the cafes, the Cardamom - Ginger is subtly spicy and sweet and full of the flavors of the fall harvest. Created by our staff of talented baristas and made from scratch from simple ingredients, it's the perfect warm-up treat on a cool fall day.

From the roaster, we have the 2016 release of our Holiday Blend. This year, we've created something that represents all of the flavors we love this time of year and that pairs well with the fall harvest. A blend of Kenya, Ethiopia and Sumatra yields a cup with a maple syrup body, fruity notes of cranberries and a clear and defined finish. It's the perfect thing to enjoy as you sit around the dinner table after a wonderful meal, or to sip by the side of the hearth. Holiday Blend is available at all our cafes and select grocery partners around the area.

New Website and Online Store Launch

New Website and Online Store Launch

Launch Date - New Website and Online Store Launch October 1st, 2016. New options for ordering coffee and simplified checkout process.

Baby Season at Mighty Good

Baby Season at Mighty Good

It’s a happy time of year for several Mighty Good staff who are becoming new fathers.

Arrival of the Colombians

Arrival of the Colombians

Sometimes, you just have to wait for good things to come. That’s certainly the case with the new crop of Colombian coffees that just arrived at our Main St. roasting facility. Back track almost 6 months when we visited the town of Jardin in the Antioquia region of Colombia in December of 2015. We toured, tasted and selected two coffees that we would bring in this year. 

Columbian Origin Trip - Notes from the Farm

Columbian Origin Trip - Notes from the Farm

This past week, I had the opportunity to travel to Jardin, Colombia to visit several farms in the region where we buy much of our coffee, and to see the mill in town where most of these farmers sell their coffee and where it’s prepared for export.