Roland’s other last day in Costa Rica

So Roland sneaked in an extra day before his flights home, so here it is.


I kept up the busy pace for my last day in Costa Rica. Francisco, our exporter, arranged to take a group of jury members out to the West Valley to see some of the farms and mills that had success yesterday. Luckily for me, there were some familiar names in the Cup of Excellence results!

We started with a visit to the Herbazu micromill. Antonio from Herbazu won the top spot, and of course we’ve had coffees from them for quite a few years now, so it was great to see him and the mill. From there, he took us up to the farm plot that had won – Leoncio. Named after his grandfather, it’s a very organised farm. He’s planted it with a range of different varietals – bourbon, geisha, villa sarchi, Ethiopian, Catimor and the one he used for the winning lot – SL28. This is one we think of as a Kenyan varietal, but in this case his seeds came from El Salvador.
This was also a great example of how close speciality coffee growing in Costa Rica – and especially the West Valley – is: Finca Leoncio is the plot of land directly below Cafe ARBAR, that I had visited last Saturday! As we were leaving, we stopped to say hello to Carlos there and he ended up coming with us to our next stop. Only two minutes down the road, we found ourselves at the Vista Al Valle micromill – another familiar name! As it happens, Carlos is also a cousin of the family who own the mill, so soon all of us were in the family’s front room were they’d put on a lovely spread of fresh fruit for everyone.

image3We then took a look around their mill – it really lived up to it’s name – View of the Valley. After spending time looking around, Francisco, ourselves and all the producers and their families went up to a local restaurant for some lunch. It really reinforced the sense of community within the West Valley, as more farmers turned up and everyone chatted over food, with lots of congratulations to Antonio!

All that was left was for me to head to the airport and the long journey home. Saying my goodbyes, it felt hard to imagine that I had only met everyone in the last week. Being on a Cup of Excellence jury and meeting producers was an intense experience – absolutely incredible – and one I’ll never forget.image1

Roland’s Diary. the last day ……

The last day of Cup of Excellence Costa Rica 2015 started as early as the others, but this time we only had one cupping session. By this point, we had selected the top 10, so our task for the day was to give them final scores and descriptions for use when they are put up to auction. For this cupping, we were also joined by members of the National Jury and other guests to see what we had picked. It’s a really interesting selection that made it, as they are very varied.




The end of the cupping was a bit of a mixed experience – a relief to have got the last round of cupping finished, but also sadness that it was the end of the week and time to say goodbye to new friends. Everyone who ran the event did a great job and was incredibly helpful and friendly – there’s a lot involved in getting something this big organised and they did fantastically.


Our scores were compiled and the final rankings decided, ready for the awards ceremony in the afternoon. In the end, 35 coffees have made it to auction, with the top two scoring over 90 points and getting a special Presidential Award. The awards ceremony itself was quite an experience too – the atmosphere was electric as they started announcing the winning farms.

I was sat with the family from a farm called El Quetzal, who were competing for the first time in Cup of Excellence. They were placed 35th this time, and we’re really happy to have got CoE status. It was also very positive to hear how committed they were to learning from the experience and to build on their success for next year.


Rolands Diary, Costa Rica Day 6

So the diary continues, he hasn’t been taken by bandits or tied up and held hostage, he’s still cupping


image1My time in Costa Rica has really flown, with today being my sixth day and also the end of the first round of the Cup of Excellence competition. Very much as Day 5, today we started at 8am and did three rounds of cuppings to score the remaining coffees. Our discussions after scoring are really interesting to see which coffees split opinion, and which we mostly agree on. Before tomorrow, all our scores will be averaged, allowing the round 1 coffees to be cut down to round 2 contenders, which we will cup again.
After lunch, the International Jury was taken on a trip to a farm and mill near Naranjo called Finca Santa Anita. Not far from Cafe ARBAR, I got to again see the beautiful views of the West Valley.image2
At Santa Anita we met the family who own the mill and farm – the 3rd and 4th generations since the farm was founded. The farm processes about 14,000 46kg sacks of coffee a year, both from themselves and other small farms in the area – quite a bit smaller than Beneficio La Eva that we saw yesterday. A really clean and well organised farm and mill, they’ve also invested in solar panels which provides 85% of the electricity they need to run the mill when it’s busy. In their cupping room, I had a surprise, as their cupping table and sample roaster are the same type we used at Has Bean until recently.


Ronald’s diary day 5

Rolands blog take over continues with his day 5 diary


My 5th day in Costa Rica was the start of the real work – the International Jury’s first round of cupping coffees to find the Cup of Excellence winners. The week before, the National Jury found 78 coffees that were eligible for going forward – which the rules say had to be cut to the top 60 for us to cup this week. That’s the first time the cut has had to be applied in Costa Rica, so a really good sign! There is also a record number of jury members this year, so lots of work for the back room team here, but they’re doing a great job.


Starting at 8am, we began 3 rounds of cuppings, each with 10 coffees in – that puts us now half way through the first round of the competition. Each cupping is followed by a discussion time, where the head judge makes sure we’re all happy with things and nothing is getting missed.

After lunch, we were taken on a trip to visit Beneficio La Eva, a wet mill and dry mill in the West Valley. They deal in both speciality coffee and commodity grade, and are an example of a traditional coffee mill in Costa Rica, which was very interesting. The mill is a mix of old and new, as they retain all their original buildings and much of their original kit, but have had to invest to meet the strict environmental criteria that the Costa Rican government demands.


They also kindly put on dinner for us and some other farmers and mills – a great chance to meet people and learn more! Speciality coffee is quite a small world, so I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover I had had coffee from the family I was sat with at dinner – put it was a pleasant surprise to discover they ran Las Lajas, from whom we had their delicious Perla Negra Natural back in 2011.


Rolands Diary day 3

In this Roland Glew take over of has blog he tell us (very briefly) whats going on. I think he is having to much fun to share with us but heres his short paragraph from day 3


After spending day 2 at Cafe ARBAR, I got day 3 pretty much to myself – it was mostly spent getting myself sorted ready for the week long Cup of Excellence competition beginning the next day. I also got to meet some of my fellow judges and catch up on my e-mail!

I’m writing this at the end of day 4, which is the end of the first day of the International Jury of the Costa Rica Cup of Excellence 2015. The competition started with an Inauguration meeting – which was a chance to hear from and meet some of the people running the Speciality Coffee Association of Costa Rica. After that we moved onto the real business of cupping, with three rounds of cupping to get the judges calibrated. Each round included 9 or 10 coffees, which we cupped and scored independently before sitting down to discuss our scores. This also included a chance to try various acids in solution and understand how these acids interacted with each other and with other things.

It’s been a really interesting day, with the other judges giving me lots to think about and lots learnt! Tomorrow we start tasting the 60 coffees that have made it through to the International Jury week of Cup of Excellence Costa Rica 2015.


Roland day 2 continued

The Roland Glew takeover continues with more fun and frolics in Costa Rica


After an enlightening and beautiful drive, Weiner and I arrived at Cafe ARBAR – the farm of Carlos Arrieta and his family. Carlos, his wife and their children Karen & Jose Ignacio came out to welcome us and he began to show us around the farm. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Spanish so we had to rely on Weiner to translate between us – but that didn’t delay us long before we were all laughing and walking through the coffee plants.


This was Manantial – the farm area around their home. Carlos started by showing me the raised drying beds he uses – each with a plastic cover that they have to run and and put up if a sudden downpour appears. We went on to see plants at every stage of their growth – seeds buried under a pile of leaves which were just germinating, then planted into little pots, 1 year old plants nearly ready for planting out, and then 2 year old and full grown plants in the soil.

Everything on the farm is used efficiently – the pulp and skin from the processed cherries is made into compost, rainwater fills a tank where they keep fish for their dinner and shade comes from mangos, oranges and other fruit trees. It was great to hear all the family speak very passionately about how important it was that the farm worked with nature. Later, walking between matured trees that were just beginning to blossom, Carlos showed me how they let the space around the coffee plants grow wild – and that this was good for the soil, good for nature and good for the taste of the coffee.

image1After walking around Manatial, I was invited in to the house were they had brewed some of their coffee and cooked a selection of homemade tortillas and cakes for my visit. The care and generosity they showed was truly moving and I can say that sitting at their table with them, talking about everything from farming to roasting, from food to the English weather, is something I will never forget.

We then went down to their second farm, Oasis, and a new plot, Israel. As we looked at the matured trees, Carlos pointed out some Geisha varietal plants amid the Caturra – one of several new varietals they are trying out.

image4It was getting dark by now, so we headed back to the house – but not before Carlos climbed a tree and got some green mangos for me to try with salt – a classic Costa Rican combination. With the sun set, we ventured out one last time into Manantial, where they had saved me a couple of coffee cherries on the tree to taste. As we said our goodbyes, they taught me Costa Rica’s favourite phrase – pura vida, roughly “This is the life!”

I could keep talking about ARBAR forever – I’m sure it will feel like that to all my friends and family when I get back – but I will stop for now. I’ll finish with the most important thing to the Arrieta family. What they all said to me, was how much they loved growing the coffee and how pleased they were that they could see I felt the same way about it as they did – that I shared their passion. My reply was that not only did I love their coffee, but I told them how many of our customers we sent their coffee to and how many lovely things I had heard back. So if you have drunk coffee from Cafe ARBAR and enjoyed it, thank you – you helped put huge smiles on the faces of a wonderful family.

image5Pura Vida!