By Trish Skeie, Zoka's Director of Coffee
It took only a few hours to fly from the Dominican Republic to San Jose, Costa Rica via Panama. As I stepped into the airport, I immediately recognized a different vibe. While the Santo Domingo airport was busy and bustling, this airport was crazy! Visitors with backpacks or briefcases pushed and maneuvered their way through immigration and baggage claim, eager to get on with their plans in Costa Rica. Business and eco-tourism are booming in Costa Rica. I had come to meet some of my friends from the Roasters Guild, a trade guild of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
Our tour was arranged by ICAFE (www.icafe.go.cr), the coffee institute of Costa Rica. The itinerary had us visiting a handful of Costa Rica's most productive coffee growing regions. Education is a cornerstone of the guild; this trip was planned as part of a larger accreditation program for RG members. By participating in this trip, members would be able to fulfill the "farming" and "processing" classes in the Roasters Accreditation Program. There is no better classroom than the real world, especially when it comes to coffee.
I had really been looking forward to the first day of the tour. We got up early and made our way to Coopedota. Costa Rica Tarrazu from the Dota cooperative mill and its surrounding farms is a Zoka staple and one that never disappoints on the cupping table. The region is known for high-grown strictly hard bean coffee. Strictly Hard Bean, or SHB, is the highest grade of Costa Rican coffee. The beans are dense and heavy for their size and possess a bright and caramel-like sweetness. Set at almost the dead center of Costa Rica in the heart of the Tarrazu region, Dota continues to thrive and set quality standards. Since its inception in 1960, the farms and mills of Coopedota have, in many ways, become the model for all others in Central America. Through its work in the community, the galvanizing of members, and the pursuit of quality and sustainable solutions, Dota has been at the forefront of Costa Rica's specialty market.
The Dota Coop boasts more than 750 active members, (small family farms with an average production of 100 bags a year) and the involvement of roughly 85% of the overall community. The coop is able to return more than a half a million dollars to the growers every year in dividends, and on average, the producer will put 2.5% of that back into the development of his/her farm. The quality standard is, consequently, high enough to illicit claims from other coffees that are a "Dota Style" or "from the Dota region". It's the combination of shade and sun, as well as altitude and variety, that are responsible for the superior flavor of Dota, and steps taken toward sustainability here are integral to Dota's overall mission. For instance, any coffee pulp that isn't composted, is either dried by eco-efficient Bioflame systems and used for fuel, or metabolized in an experimental biodigester to create methane gas. Fertilizers are used sparingly and the crops seem to thrive under natural conditions. Surrounding shade trees are hosts to a wide array of delicate orchids- a sure sign that the environment is in balance here.
The Roasters Guild visited the regions of Tarrazu, Central Valley, Orosi and Turrialba. A cupping of the region concluded each day of tours, with an informal contest of "finalists" to be cupped on the last day. Guild members were not surprised to find Dota's coffee at the very top of the list in that final round. Vowing to return to Costa Rica amid all their other more adventurous travels, the Roasters Guild has adopted this trip as necessary business.
Back in Seattle, Zoka staff and friends eagerly awaited the new crop Costa Rica Dota. Our first sips of this year's Costa Rica fulfilled all of our expectations. It's in the house now, and it's as fresh and as lively as it gets!
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Costa Rica, Santa Maria de Dota
Bright acidity, displaying a fresh snap, sweet aftertaste, with a lingering cocoa note.