Santa Elena: Beyond the Cup

It’s easy to think all coffee farming is done on a very small scale by subsistence farmers in third world countries. While that scenario may be true in some parts of the world, it is becoming more common in the specialty sector that successful and quality-oriented farms are becoming valuable businesses passed from one generation to the next. Not only do these farms gain reputations overseas where their coffees fetch higher-than-market prices, but they become resources and employers for many native workers.

Over our first year in business, we have been requesting our importers identify farms or cooperatives in many regions that can offer us sustained quality in exchange for our lasting business. Atlas Coffee Importers connected us with Finca Santa Elena in Costa Rica early last winter. Since then, we’ve been excited about offering their fresh-crop coffee, paying cafeful attention to their offerings and harvest.

Santa Elena is a large, proactive farm run by Luz Marina Trujillo. She grew up in a family of producers and favored playing with coffee beans over dolls and traditional toys. Her large farm in the famous Tarrazú region produces over 875,000 pounds of coffee. It is all processed and dried on the farm using either the washed or the honey process.

Trujillo has a progressive approach to the ecological impact of her farm. She uses spent coffee cherry pulp and red wiggler worms as a natural pesticide, minimizing her use of synthetic products. She also treats the water used in washing coffees to meet Costa Rica’s high environmental standards. Even more telling of her commitment to her craft is her care for her seasonal employees. She houses them in outstanding facilities and provides them with health care and clean drinking water.

This year, we selected Santa Elena’s honey-processed offering. In this processing method, the fruit of the coffee cherry is removed immediately after picking. It is then placed directly onto drying patios and is allowed to dry in the sun for a couple of weeks. This method is sort of a hybrid between washed and natural processes. Often, it is referred to as “pulped natural.”

We found the deep cocoa & graham sweetness of Santa Elena’s honey-process irresistible. The balanced acidity in the cup offers notes of Red Delicious apple and honey. Look for Santa Elena to make its way into the third version of Penrose.