Curating Our Collection
Friends, as you continue to entrust and journey with us, you would begin to realize that our coffee selection has never been about nominally representing a specialty coffee origin country on our shelves or in our offer lists.
Our sourcing decisions have always been driven by a connoisseur's fervor and a collector's rigor, with the heartfelt intention of finding the most distinctive and exemplary expressions of what we love and sharing them with you. And it is an intention that carries through to our roasting approach.
That is a great part of why some of the specialty coffee-origin countries currently in our collection are represented by more than one producer, like Ethiopia, Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica.
We continue to tirelessly scour our network to discover and build relationships with producing partners that do not only have the expertise and infrastructure to provide the consistently high levels of quality our fellow specialty coffee lovers like you rightfully expect and genuinely deserve.
They are also the producers that make way for our preferences, welcome our feedback, see our vision, and share our passion for creating resonant and unforgettable experiences through extraordinary cups of specialty coffee.
Our partnership with the Ureña Rojas Family of Café Rivense del Chirripó is one example of how we wholeheartedly commit to keeping such precious connections warm and mutually fulfilling.
Rewards for Risk-Taking
Café Rivense del Chirripó is a pioneering micro-mill in Costa Rica’s Brunca coffee-growing region, one of the eight identified by Costa Rica’s national coffee institute, ICafé. It is dubbed the last frontier in the ICafé publication Café de Costa Rica: Spirit of a Nation, being the most remote and emergent.
Regulo Ureña and Isabel Rojas established the micro-mill in the early 2000s to break away from the conventional and previously dominant mega-mill system in a game-changing move that gave their family control over higher-quality production and a newfound capacity to be creative in post-harvest processing.
Years' worth of their family's efforts were finally recognized in the 2019 Costa Rica Cup of Excellence when a honey-processed Caturra they produced won the 5th spot. It was an accolade that put the Chirripó micro-region in the limelight as a strong albeit nascent contender in the country's specialty coffee scene and abroad.
Located between the country's two highest mountains which are protected ecological zones being national, natural parks, Cerro de la Muerte (3.491m.) and Cerro Chirripó (3.820m.), coffee farms in this area sit at high altitudes from 1,300 to 2,000 masl and benefit from the rich soils and biodiverse natural environment. All of these contribute to the unique microclimate that allows coffee trees to grow well and produce healthy cherries that capture the myriad flavors of the land.
Toward the Sweet Spot
We had the pleasure of hosting Regulo and Isabel’s sons, the Ureña Rojas brothers Ricardo and Esteban at our fifth Producer’s Talk, towards the end of February. It was just before the desert winter season started to segue into summer, a flurry of monumental firsts at Archers Academy (TCRC and Michael de Renouard’s Roasting Masterclass and the Ethiopia Private Cupping feat. 1 variety processed 20 ways), and a series of new coffee releases (single origins Rwanda, Burundi, our Bespoke Blends, and then Ethiopia, and Colombia).
Like the rest of our producing partners, the Ureña Rojas family chases excellence across their operations and aims to cater to the taste preferences of specialty coffee lovers everywhere while bringing more value back to the the farming communities they work with and raising the profile of their hometown Chirripó and their homeland Costa Rica.
While it had been one of our more intimate Producer’s Talks to date, the learning was just as substantial, and the energy uplifting. We gained a better appreciation of the Chirripó micro-region as a distinct specialty coffee origin within the context of Costa Rica’s quality-focused, consumer-oriented, and closely regulated coffee industry.
In conversation, Frederick Bejo, Ricardo, and Esteban elaborated on the harvest cycle and how it feeds into sourcing and the coffees' availability. They also spoke about cultivation and processing activities that allow Café Rivense to continuously produce high-quality coffees that express an appealing balance between familiar sweetness and comfortable, mellow acidity in the cup.
Because the sweet spot of Café Rivense coffees, particularly El Jardin Black Honey, is so readily present in our cups, we decided it would be one of the four featured origins in our inaugural capsule collection. It's perfect for our friends who use capsule machines, like the cutting-edge Morning machine, and prioritize the utmost convenience coupled with top-notch flavor quality.
When the brothers transparently shared their experiences around unsuccessful experiments to promote better productivity of their coffee trees, specifically their geishas, we gained a deeper appreciation of our partnership, as well as insight into the risk and cost dedicated producers like them assume, as they constantly balance their passion for providing us the best coffees possible with the resources it entails.
Asked about the popularity of Black Honey processing in the country, Ricardo explained that this method enabled the creation of more interesting yet still approachable flavor profiles that led to their coffees scoring higher and to be differentiated and better valued compared to conventional coffee.
Cupping: El Jardin Micro-lots
We love how Producer’s Talk always turns out to be a chance to enjoy several delicious coffees in the company of kindred spirits, similarly lighthearted and passionate coffee enthusiasts and professionals who are, at the same time, serious about taking every opportunity to learn more about specialty coffee.
For this session, we tasted three coffees in our collection from the Ureña Rojas family’s El Jardin farm, after Ricardo briefly discussed the processing methods’ impact on their flavor profiles.
Two of the coffees were of the Catuai variety processed in two different ways, which gave us the chance to taste and compare how the two methods influenced the cup.
El Jardin Black Honey is a black honey-processed Catuai variety with tasting notes of strawberry, red grapes, raw honey, and golden raisins.
El Jardin Anaerobic is a natural anaerobic Catuai variety with tasting notes of mangosteen, purple grapes, black licorice, and cacao nibs.
The third coffee featured was El Jardin Geisha — a black honey-processed Costa Rica Geisha — whose tasting notes are floral, red grapes, honey, and caramelized dates.
This trio of micro-lots embodies their family’s vision of becoming known as a producer of high quality coffees that can be enjoyed by everyone, from those who don’t see themselves as coffee people yet to the endearingly self-avowed coffee geeks.
A Family Moving Ever Forward
After cupping, Ricardo and Esteban sat down with us a while longer, allowing us to see closer into their family's uphill climb — and the continuing efforts — for Café Rivense del Chirripó to be where it is today.
The family spent the first five years understanding how post-harvest processing could create lots with flavor profiles unmistakably set apart from the standard, washed commodity coffees. Experiments with honey and natural processing took three more years before they felt ready to submit an entry to the Cup of Excellence in 2014.
As Ricardo related, that coffee almost qualifying for the international auction that year validated that the risks they had taken, diverging from the mega-mill system, indeed set them on the right track.
From there, and with sound advice from coffee friends worldwide they were making along the way, they gradually transformed their production to remove all processing steps requiring water, prompting an exclusive focus and increasing expertise on honey and natural processing — which led to their 2019 COE breakthrough, where they ranked 5th.
While a place at the COE is a perennial aspiration, the lifeblood of Café Rivense del Chirripó is a portfolio of coffees comprising different varieties — the more traditional Caturra and Catuai, hybrids, and exotics like Geisha — that are simultaneously remarkable and accessible. Sustaining and enriching their repertoire, and the infrastructure that enables it, is an endeavor their entire family has taken to heart and actively takes part in.
Ricardo candidly disclosed that each one of them has, even by way of mistakes, come to a fuller appreciation of their respective responsibilities over the years. Their father, Regulo, is the General Manager and head of processing, while their mother Isabel — a teacher — is indispensible in decision-making.
Their brother Mario, the lead administrator, supports their father in processing and takes care of their relationships with other producers. Ricardo handles marketing, sales, and all matters related to exports, while Esteban is in charge of the nitty gritty work at their farms. Luis and Tatiana, their younger siblings still pursuing their studies, help out during the holidays. Tatiana, for instance, assists with Quality Control and roasting, while Luis is learning the ropes on the strategic side of the business.
Ricardo then went on to say that as a family company, their dynamics have taken shape such that all members can openly discuss and decide on business matters jointly. As a result, even when issues arise, they are able to simply regroup, keep moving forward in the same direction and — smiling — he continued, have dinner and enjoy the weekends together.
Written by: Nadine Onate | Photos by: Cafe Rivense Team, Fred Bejo, Pauline Disuanco