Costa Rica Coffee Terrain: Central Valley

Organikos, the enterprise and its first regenerative agriculture project, is located in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Also, one of the two Authentica shops is located on a Central Valley coffee hacienda, so we have multiple reasons to favor this region over others. But, no. It is just one more important part of the mix that makes up this country’s remarkably diverse coffee terrain:

CentralValleyCoffeeIn general, Central Valley beans produce well-balanced cups, with flavors such as chocolate and fruits and aromas including honey , among others. Its intensity varies depending on the altitude where the crop is established and may be medium to strong.

The Central Valley is composed of the provinces of San José, Heredia and Alajuela. It is the most highly populated region of Costa Rica, where the capital, San José, is located. Here, coffee plantations were first established and were then taken to the other seven coffee growing regions. Continue reading

Costa Rica Coffee Terrain: West Valley

When we talk of shade-grown coffee terrain, the Western Valley of Costa Rica has the classic look that would come to mind for many, as per the video above. The Costa Rica Coffee Institute describes the coffee from this region, which recently has been the “hot stuff” among coffee specialists, in this way:

WestValleyCoffeeFlavors range from traditional and beloved chocolate notes to a more complex selection, where good tasters can find citrus-like flavors such as orange, in addition to peach, honey and vanilla, among others. This is all in line with good fruit harvesting and processing practices.

Inhabitants of San Ramón, Palmares, Naranjo, Grecia, Atenas, Valverde Vega and Alfaro Ruiz in the province of Alajuela, in the Western Valley, enjoy a pleasant climate throughout the year, with well-defined dry and rainy seasons. Continue reading

Costa Rica Coffee Terrain: Guanacaste

The Costa Rica Coffee Institute, we believe, is a very important factor in the success of the country’s coffee sector, with the Tarrazu region leveraging the Institute’s resources more effectively than most. This, in turn, has played a role in Tarrazu’s exceptional success with its own regional cooperatives. Good growing conditions, of course, are the most important factor. But why else do some regions do so much better than other regions? What explains our neglect of the Orosi region during the first year of Organikos operations?

We have also neglected Guanacaste coffee region, but this seems more obviously based on its geography. If you have been to Costa Rica, as a statistical fact it is very likely you spent some of your time in the northwest of the country. Most visitors spend at least part of their vacation in this zone due to the exceptional beauty of the Pacific coast, especially as contrasted to the arid conditions just inland. It does not sound like coffee country. Read the Institute’s own description, where the bold section might throw off anyone, but the nuances that follow help understand why a closer look makes sense:

GuanacasteCoffeeHigh temperatures and a dry climate result in a bean that is long and soft when roasting. The drink is soft, full-bodied and lightly acid, with well-defined salty and bitter notes.

The Guanacaste region is characterized by the exploitation of coffee crops in small areas, distributed in the provinces of Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Alajuela (Sarapiquí and San Carlos). Coffee plantations are located between mountainous areas with the cool temperatures of the Central Volcanic and Guanacaste mountain ranges. Continue reading

Platform Name Change

La Paz Group, having sponsored and administered this site since its inception, was the name up top until yesterday. Now the name Organikos makes more sense up there. For those of you who have been following us for any length of time, this probably does not come as a surprise. We have been talking about Organikos more and more frequently in the last two years. In late August, 2019 La Paz Group opened two Authentica shops in Costa Rica and that is when and where Organikos started selling coffee. As Organikos prepares to sell coffee in both the USA and Costa Rica with its own virtual shop, sponsorship of this platform makes sense. The themes–entrepreneurial conservation especially, and you can see the others on the right column–remain the same. Thanks for visiting.

Costa Rica Coffee Terrain: Orosi

One year ago, when we had completed all the cupping sessions, farm visits and decision-making about the 12 coffees we would start with, a couple regions were left out of our mix. One of them was Orosi, and there was no good reason other than our shelf space considerations. We will resume our search and find a coffee to represent Orosi in our offering soon.

Costa Rica Coffee Terrain: Tarrazu

Costa Rica has a remarkably diverse landscape for such a small country. And that diversity translates into an excellent variety of high quality coffees, each unique according to the region of origin, and the particular farms within those regions. We have chosen twelve coffees from the regions that international tasting competitions have consistently prized the most, including four single estate coffees that stand out for their quality. Continue reading

Curvy Berms, Seedlings & Fertile Earth

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Curvy berm

What looks like an elongated haystack curving downslope in this photo we call a berm. No hay there, just a mix of cut grass covering branches, logs, and such. The purpose of a berm, diagonally traversing this hill, is explained better by others. When we prune trees and bushes, cut grass, and find old logs on the land their biomass help build this berm. Recently we trimmed all our vetiver grass, a soil retention ally that grows waist-high in rows throughout our hills. We cut it back twice a year, and added it to the  top of the curvy berm.

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Poro seedlings

To the left of that berm are re-plantings of a type of palm that we had growing on the property already, which birds love for the orange fruit it provides and for nesting. Those 20 palms join the 30 banana and plantain trees on the flat area below, and the dozen or so citrus trees recently planted. The shade-providing and nitrogen-fixing tree called poro will be planted during the next waning moon cycle.

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Poro trees, parents of the seedlings, with vetiver grass downslope

We have collected hundreds of seedlings from the poro trees originally planted when this land was part of a coffee farm.

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This rainbow reminded me to document the work on the land where the bees are, and where the coffee will be. For now, just a quick note. On the lower left of the photo above you can see where I have been using a pickax to loosen soil, dark and rich and teeming with earthworms, for planting in between the rows of bananas. I last cleared this space before we moved to Croatia in 2006. The grasses and vines that occupied this space for the intervening years until recent months, now our enemy for growing plants we favor, have performed an amazing ecosystem service. The earthworms and smell of the soil tell me that.

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End of day, sunset time, back on the terrace of our home, an unexpected spectacle. In the photo below, which is looking due east, the sun is coming from the west, hitting Irazu volcano and lighting it up in such a way that it almost looks like golden lava is flowing down its cone. I’ll take that view, with thanks to whatever caused it.

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Sunset-illuminated Irazu volcano in the distance

Wasp Surprises

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Nearly a month ago Cara Giaimo surprised me with a primer on bee vomit, and today she has done it again with an appreciation of wasps, whose ranking on the favored insect list is somewhere more tolerated than mosquitoes and less creepy than cockroaches. The bees we provided a new home for are doing well, and while their honey is something we look forward to, pollination is our primary motivator. I have been watching wasps build a home in the tree closest to our home–see it in the upper center of the tree in the photo above–and wondering whether to leave them in peace. Maybe so, for reasons outlined here:

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Paul Hobson/Nature Picture Library/Alamy

There Are Wasps in the Yard. You’d Better Get to Know Them.

They buzz. They hover. Sometimes they sting. But how much do you really know about these insects that can menace our summers?

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Uwe Grün/Alamy

Wasps get a bad rap. And sometimes, they deserve it. Bumblebees don’t swarm your barbecue the moment you pour the lemonade. Butterflies won’t nest by the hundreds in your rafters, then sting you for the crime of walking by.

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Mark Lehigh/Alamy

But they’re not all “murder hornets,” and there’s another side to these so-called pests. Wasps have a place in the whirl of summer life. They raise families, stage complex battle royals and make paper with their own spit. Some even help us by hunting caterpillars and other crop-munching bugs.

They’re also your neighbors. As you’re mowing, gardening or dining al fresco this summer, you’ll probably meet some of them. Here’s how to appreciate — and not tick off — these creatures we share the season with.

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A German yellowjacket with a chunk of salmon to bring back to the nest. Ernest Cooper/Alamy

Uninvited guests have arrived at your picnic. They’re striped and kind of stocky, with black dots on their faces. They’re German yellowjackets, and they will not leave you alone. Continue reading

Swifts Here & There

Knight-Swifts

Watching a flock of swifts power and zoom all over the sky in Cornwall, I realized that the feeling of being trapped by the coronavirus is not just about wanting to be somewhere else—it is about wanting to escape this time entirely. Photograph from Alamy

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Costa Rican Swift. Chaetura fumosa. Smallest swift in most of range. All dark gray with contrasting pale rump and paler throat, both of which can be difficult to see in many viewing conditions. A good look at the rump is necessary for a firm visual identification, otherwise Vaux’s Swift can look very similar. However, in some parts of its range (the Osa Peninsula, for example) this is the only small Chaetura swift. Makes twittering calls similar to many other swifts. Usually found in flocks over forests and more open areas.

I am not even the second birdiest member of our family. I enjoy birding events and join the fun from time to time. Apart from such events I do not travel specifically for birds, even the one to the right.  We see it on occasion and it is a particular pleasure. Not as thrillingly colorful as a scarlet macaw, nor as resplendent as a quetzal, but it is part of a famed family of birds. The essay below explains why. In Costa Rica the airports will be opening up again on August 1. Until then, and still for the foreseeable future, tourism is primarily locals going on weekend outings. Birding is usually thought of as a motivator for foreigners visiting Costa Rica–especially those from the UK–but now is an activity appreciated by more locals than usual. Sam Knight‘s perspective from the UK, where tourism is also primarily local currently, can be especially well appreciated from our vantage point in Costa Rica:

Letter from the U.K.

Swifts and the Fantasy of Escape

On July 17th, I drove out of London for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The last time I had seen a field or sensed a broad horizon was four months earlier, when we escaped the city in the early days of the coronavirus, feeling faintly ridiculous, to celebrate my daughter’s third birthday with an Easter-egg hunt on a quiet country lane. Last week, I was taking my daughters to stay with their grandparents for a few days, in the town of Helston, in Cornwall. It’s about three hundred miles from London—no great shakes by U.S. standards but about as far as you can drive in England without crossing into Scotland or falling into the sea. We left at 5:30 a.m., heading west, and arrived in Helston in the early afternoon. It’s hard to describe the effect of movement after being confined in a dense urban neighborhood for so long. The monotonous walks to the shitty park. I felt like I was being unpeeled. As we stood in my mother-in-law’s garden, in the bright July sun, a party of swifts, tipping from right to left, their long wings like blades, came over our heads and spiralled higher and higher into the sky, screaming. Continue reading

Hats, History, Heritage

Mr. Espinal, 52, is widely regarded as the greatest living Panama hat weaver. All photographs by Roff Smith

Having lived and worked in Central America and South India, weaving with palms for shelter and adornment has been part of cultural norms. But in most cases, the craftsmanship has been simplified versions that lacked permanence – for the sake of festivals, traditional artesania , or with the knowledge that the woven shelter would last several seasons of rain before requiring replacement.

The artisan ethos described here mirrors both the fine work and collaborative efforts of Kerala sari weaving communities like Chendamangalam. In all cases, the “stuff of royalty.”

A Glimpse Inside the Workshops of the World’s Finest Panama Hat Makers

Creamy as silk and costlier than gold, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion.

Creamy as silk, costlier by weight than gold, the color of fine old ivory, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion. The finest specimens have more than 4,000 weaves per square inch, a weave so fine it takes a jeweler’s loupe to count the rows. And every single one of those weaves is done by hand. No loom is used — only dexterous fingers, sharp eyes and Zen-like concentration.

“You cannot allow your mind to wander even for a second,” says Simón Espinal, a modest, soft-spoken man who is regarded by his peers as the greatest living weaver of Panama hats, possibly the greatest ever. “When you are weaving it is just you and the straw.”

Mr. Espinal’s hats average around 3,000 weaves per square inch — a fineness few weavers have ever even approached. His best has just over 4,200 weaves per square inch and took him five months to weave.

The 52-year-old Ecuadorean is one of a dwindling number of elite Panama hat weavers, nearly all of whom live in Pile, an obscure village tucked away in the foothills behind Montecristi, a low-slung town about 100 miles up the coast from Guayaquil.

Continue reading