After the opening years helped us strengthen our resolve, 2022 was the year we expanded Authentica beyond the first two locations. I will feature images of the new shop, in Manuel Antonio, in a later post. For now, just a look at the signage art in front of the new shop.
Peanuts, Soil Regeneration & Coffee
I will not blame Ruby Tandoh for the link to the predatory bookseller in her essay; the magazine she writes for is responsible. Instead, I will just put a better link from the book image on the left to where you might purchase it. Bringing our attention to the book is enough of a good deed to overlook that link. Especially as I work on finding new ways to fix nitrogen in the soil we are prepping for coffee planting:
The Possibilities of the Peanut
I’ve made salads of peanut with watermelon and sumac, fries dunked in garlic-scented satay sauce, and more variations on my aunt’s Ghanaian groundnut stew than I can remember.
It would be hard to find a more devoted champion of the peanut than the agricultural scientist George Washington Carver. Born into slavery in Missouri around 1864, Carver studied at Iowa State University and then taught at the Tuskegee Institute, where he would spend much of the rest of his life learning to repair the environmental damage wrought by intensive cotton farming. Continue reading
Hacienda La Pradera, Geisha Part 3/3
The estate is beautiful but that cannot explain the quality of the coffee the way that the African beds, the drying, and the sorting can.
Combined with the concentration of sugars into the beans that results from the time on those raised beds, the way the drying takes place after the first wash is a key feature of the way these beans are processed.
Honey process, sometimes called “pulped natural,” leaves some of the fruit on the beans.
This sticky mucilage looks like honey, thus the name, and is removed during milling rather than being washed off as is typical of washed coffees. The result is greater complexity of flavor.
This is the only light roast coffee that we offer, due to that complexity. It is subtle, and the light roast allows that subtle flavor to be showcased; whereas a darker roast would hide that complexity. A final point about consistency: this beneficio employs dozens of sorters who do the final sorting of the best quality beans, work that is now done by sophisticated machinery in other beneficios. We have an agreement that next post-harvest we will come during this sorting process to film that work. Until then, we will enjoy this year’s harvest.
Hacienda La Pradera, Geisha Part 2
After the visit to Hacienda La Pradera we visited its equally important sister property down the road, the beneficio where all of La Minita’s coffees are processed after harvest. The buildings and their equipment are not as charismatic as the coffee farms, but the quality of the coffee we procure depends as much on the beneficio as the farms.
It starts with the African beds where the freshly picked coffee cherries are placed immediately after harvest. The sun “naturally” does the work that traditionally was done with water in the Costa Rica “washed” process to get the skin, the fruit and other elements of the cherries removed to reveal the beans. Not only is this a more efficient use of natural resources–it also imparts more flavor into the beans as the sun dehydrates the juices surrounding the beans, and sugars of those concentrating juices absorb into the beans. After the drying on those beds the real work begins for the people who operate the equipment inside two buildings.
The building in the photo to the right is where all those beans land after being sorted for quality. Water is still important, even though much less is used in the natural method, to clean the beans of residuals from the fruit and skin. In the foreground of the building above you can see the washing tanks that all beans pass through.
Inside the building are drying machines that get the beans to an ideal level of humidity before a final sorting prior to packing.
In a final post on this process tomorrow, I will do my best to explain how the African beds, the drying, and the sorting are so important to the exceptional coffees we receive.
Hacienda La Pradera, Geisha Part 1
I have sampled coffees from La Minita from time to time over the last two decades, and have always been impressed by their quality. Because of that consistency we recently started offering their geisha varietal from Hacienda La Pradera at our shops in Costa Rica and also for delivery in the USA. Last week I finally had the opportunity to see first hand how and why that quality is so consistent. One reason is Pedro, pictured above while we were standing on the lookout over the farm lands he is in charge of.
From that perch we surveyed the various plots, including the nursery (about 8,200 seedlings in the image below) as well as the several arabica varietals he has been growing on the 181 hectares of land.
Geisha is special for reasons I noted last year when introducing beans from another estate. Those beans were excellent, these are exceptional. Stay tuned. Tomorrow I will explain why.
Cold Brew Coffee, 2022
Two years ago, when the pandemic had shut down the airports in Costa Rica and we had no clue how long that would last, we wondered how the artisans and the farmers who supplied our recently opened Authentica shops would fare. We had to ask ourselves what we were going to do with the roughly 7,000 pounds of coffee beans we had contracted to buy from that year’s harvest. The most obvious move was to start roasting in the USA, so we could deliver to customers who had bought from us in Costa Rica and wanted to continue buying.
Cold brew coffee was a brief experiment at the time, but with sufficiently robust results to convince us that when travelers returned we would offer samples. The time has come.
Making Things, Giving Things & Keeping Things
Last week I read an essay explaining the allusive power that human-made objects can have. It got me thinking about St. Kilda. Reading four years ago about that place and its people spurred my imagination sufficiently that the following year I committed to a challenge. The challenge was created by the speed of change impacting travel culture, and the tendency of travel retail to homogenize over time.
Local artisans all over the world were finding their goods displaced in shops oriented to travelers by things made in faraway factories.
Specifically, the commitment was to support local artisans by creating a venue for selling their goods to travelers. Perhaps utopian is a concept too big to apply to this commitment; anyway, maybe the word quixotic is more apt. Authentica offers human-made things for travelers to take home with them, within the context of a travel-retail complex that operates with very different resources and intent.
We understand why the replicas are made, and why people buy them. We refuse to confuse understanding with acquiescence.
The scoop and the bird clip in the image above, two such things I also wrote about two years ago, are examples of local culturally relevant artifacts that we hope will not be outsourced to a factory in another part of the world. The coffee in that image is another example, with a twist. What I like about coffee as a memento is that it is at the intersection of tangible and intangible. It is quintessentially Costa Rican, but once you enjoy the entire bag you no longer possess that thing. As you consume it, it tells you something about Costa Rica. When it is finished you possess a memory of the coffee, and of Costa Rica.
Gifts That Give
How can you gift in a way that does not generate waste, that reduces waste, or that regenerates ecosystems? Sara has a fun and practical list in her Yale Climate Connections column, which I have linked to below. It got me thinking of what I would add to her list. Yesterday I reached back to a couple of posts from two years ago when we were preparing to open the Authentica shops, mentioning products we carry from artisan groups that recycle heavy plastics, in one case, and wood in the other. We have other products made from recycled materials, but our best selling product is Organikos coffee, all of the proceeds of which are invested in ecosystem regeneration. Laura’s question about gifting toward climate action is one we all should be asking:
Eco-friendly gifts for every budget in 2021
Holiday cheer that’s good for the planet, too.
I’m trying to find a gift for my mother for Christmas, and I like the idea of gifting toward climate action. Might you have recommendations?
Thank you for your time
Sure thing. Here’s a list of climate-friendly gift ideas for every budget.
A board game, puzzle, houseplant, or other item from your local “Buy Nothing” group (Price: Free)
Why it’s climate-friendly: Manufacturing stuff requires consumption of energy and natural resources, so it’s better for the climate to reuse products rather than buying new. Continue reading
Thanksgiving, Organikos & Authentica At Year 3
The base of the lamp at my desk is a ceramic bird that serves as a year-round reminder of Thanksgiving. And the ceramic coffee artifacts on my desk serve the same purpose, reminding me each time I sit to work that there are constantly plenty of reasons to give thanks.
We opened two Authentica shops in Costa Rica on Thanksgiving weekend 2019. Sophomore year for both Organikos and Authentica was mettle-testing. We passed. If flying colors were not evident enough in how we passed, here they are in the label for our newest coffee. First introduced last month to a group of students at Cornell University, whose tasting notes we have appreciated receiving, as of today it is available in our shops in Costa Rica.
So, thanks for all that.
Geisha’s Got Game
Today we are introducing a Geisha varietal produced by the Candelilla estate, a family farm in Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region, into the Organikos lineup of specialty coffees. Just in time, a friend from Panama who gifted us a bag of Hacienda la Esmeralda beans in late 2019, sent me a link yesterday to this film:
What goes into your daily cup of coffee? And what is that worth? The Republic of Panama, one of the tiniest countries and coffee exporters in the world, now produces the most sought-after beans on earth. They can sell for over $1,000 a pound, while commodity coffee prices hover around $1. HIGHER GROUNDS tells the story of how Panama is reimagining coffee…and of the inspiring passion and collaborative spirit behind it all.
Organikos, 2021 New Growth
In the center of this picture is a poro tree, the tallest on the land where Organikos is replanting coffee. For nearly a century the coffee growing on this hillside was shaded by this type of tree. In the year 2000 we started planting fruit trees around the poro trees, to provide additional shade to the coffee that was still growing here. In 2020, we planted saplings from this tree. Continue reading
Post-Harvest Coffee Processing
Processing coffee after harvest refers to getting the beans out of the cherry, with fruity pulp removed. How that happens, and what follows, is partly a function of tradition, which is itself a function of geography.
In Costa Rica, due to the abundance of water, the tradition historically was to wash the beans. Since I am in Costa Rica I will give a simple illustration of this process using a small quantity of beans. These are from a handful of trees as mentioned in yesterday’s post.
In the photo above, where the coffee is in a round sink basin, you can see some beans in the middle that have been removed from the cherries. You can also see a couple green beans, which get sorted out. The goal of the “washed” method of processing coffee post-harvest is to get all the beans out of all the cherries, with as much residual pulp removed as possible. Water makes this process easier. The skins and other residual material does not historically have much, if any, value. In recent years farms are taking greater care to compost this material and use the result to fertilize the soil where the coffee grows.
The wet weight of the washed coffee is irrelevant, but for comparison purposes I will note it here and then weigh the coffee again once dried. Although many coffee processing mills dry coffee on large patios with direct exposure to the sun, there is some belief that drying without direct exposure to the sun conveys some advantages to the final taste of the coffee. So, that is what we will do with this coffee. When it is fully dried, I will post again to explain the differences in the coffees process this way, and those processed the other most common way.
From Farm To Yard And Back Again
It is time to harvest these cherries from the several coffee trees that held their ground for more than two decades since this land was converted from farm to yard. In our conversion of yard to farm, these ripe cherries will provide the seeds for replanting the land after processing them in the simplest manner. Tomorrow I will show that process.
Beans, Birds & Business
Last month a magazine article was published about the origins of Organikos. We have told bits and pieces of the story in these pages, but Carol Latter was the first person to tell the story from a perspective outside of our family. The online version of the story has two photos, whereas the tangibly published version has ten; in both cases we were happy that a magazine from the state I grew up in, and where Seth has been living since 2018, was interested in sharing this founding story.
Today, reading Marella Gayla’s story about founders trending younger (and why), plenty to ponder. My takeaway is that for whatever reason ambitious young people see an important link between entrepreneurship and positive social outcomes, we can count that as a good thing:
Is Every Ambitious Teen-ager a “Founder and C.E.O.”?
Forget Model U.N. and the SATs. Kids today want to tell college admissions officers all about the companies they’ve started to save the world.
One striking innovation of modern meritocracy is the teen-age executive. High-school students used to spiff up their college applications with extracurriculars like Model U.N. and student council. Today’s overachievers want to grace their résumés with the words “founder and C.E.O.” When schools in Fremont, California, shut down in March, Jagannath Prabhakaran, a sixteen-year-old, seized the opportunity to join the ranks. Continue reading
Regeneration, Cecropia & Sugarcane
Yesterday, while working on the land we are preparing to plant coffee a few months from now, I noticed that the cecropia trees suddenly have abundant fruit. I knew that sloths love these trees, but while looking for more information to understand this fruit I learned that bats and birds and other animals also appreciate them for food and nesting material; plus, the leaves and roots of the trees have many uses among indigenous communities in the American tropics.
Most of my work recently, now that the poro saplings are planted, is removing unwanted grasses to make way for wanted grasses that help retain soil. One of the grasses planted this year, sugarcane, also surprised me. This plant above, now about one year old, suddenly shot up an extra five feet without my noticing, until yesterday. And the furry, flowery top of the stalks, now visible nearly 20 feet above ground, presumably mean something I will need to read up on. This first stand of sugarcane, which is at the highest point of the land on this property, provided us offspring that we planted along the lowest portion of land, neighboring bananas and plantains that will shade one section of coffee saplings.
Does Planting A Trillion Trees Sound Implausible?
Here in Iota-drenched Costa Rica there is damage from this hurricane and from the one that just ended a week earlier, but it is minuscule compared to what Nicaragua and Honduras have sustained. If you are scientifically inclined, then two complementary ideas are easy to digest: 1) the people suffering most from the effects of climate change are among the least responsible for causing it; and 2) they live in places that may be best-suited for mitigating it. For our part, planting trees when coffee is purchased is a drop in the ocean of need. A story we missed from a few months ago gives some hope that this particular idea has a future:
Two-Thirds of Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate
Bipartisan backing for carbon capture tax credits, extensive tree-planting efforts
A majority of Americans continue to say they see the effects of climate change in their own communities and believe that the federal government falls short in its efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.
At a time when partisanship colors most views of policy, broad majorities of the public – including more than half of Republicans and overwhelming shares of Democrats – say they would favor a range of initiatives to reduce the impacts of climate change, including large-scale tree planting efforts, tax credits for businesses that capture carbon emissions and tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Continue reading
Authentica & Sense Of Place
After completing our work in India and transitioning home to Costa Rica in late 2018, two properties came back to the forefront of my attention. The property above is set on a coffee estate in the Central Valley and the one below is set on a Pacific beachfront property that is 90 minutes from the Central Valley property. I knew both properties during their original construction and opening phases and ever since then believed that these were among the most special Marriott properties in the world.
They were going through renovations that started in 2018 and were to be completed in late 2019. My attention was drawn by a creative new focus on sustainability, the tiniest of examples being this one. Another example was that they invited proposals for how the gift shops in both hotels might be managed differently going forward. We submitted a proposal–with a focus on locally produced and design-forward products–and it was chosen for implementation. The rest is history that I have written about plenty in the last year.
Authentica has started its second year of operation, and Costa Rica has just re-opened its borders to receive international visitors again. These two Marriott properties have transformed operations to ensure maximum safety in response to the global health concerns. Our shops have transformed accordingly, and yet our original intent is as strong as ever: come in and sense the place.
Organikos coffee, our best-selling “taste of place” product, was joined in both shops last week by another way to sense the terrain of Costa Rica’s various regions. Pollen Keepers is a small family business whose bee colonies are placed to capture unique characteristics of a location. One of those is a coffee farm, and the honey produced there is unlike any I have had before. I am still learning the vocabulary for tasting notes for honey, which we have been sampling in recent weeks at home, so will keep it simple: Cafetal is my favorite, so far.
From Seedlings To Saplings in 90 Days
Last mention of poro tree seedlings was three months ago. We are regenerating bird habitat by restoring a portion of an erstwhile coffee estate.
Those six-inch seedlings have become two-foot saplings over the three months since that post. Yesterday we started planting those. 60 so far.
Authentica, Sophomore Year
At the end of my freshman year I quit college and went to work as a blacksmith’s apprentice. By the time I realized I did want formal education after all, I had left the smithy behind, spent the next year in Greece studying the language of my mother, and finally was ready to apply myself. Sophomore year was not the year I returned to school, but the year I left it behind, to recalibrate. And it was important, to say the least.
Yesterday was the last day of Authentica’s freshman year. Today, as we start sophomore year, another recalibration. It is not obvious what the new better will be for Authentica. The photo above shows where I have spent time in recent months, planting trees and prepping for coffee planting to get Organikos ready for sophomore year. We know that freshman year is over, and that for both Organikos and Authentica sophomore year is the time of recalibration. Apart from that we know that the sun still rises in the east. That is something.
Coffee, A Matter Of Taste, Subject To Experience
A friend sent an email asking for a recommendation. Among the four coffees we now offer in the USA, which two would represent the greatest variation in taste? On a rotating basis I taste one of these coffees every morning, while corresponding and reading news. I have tasted each of these four coffees dozens of times in recent months, with time to reflect on their differences. It is a matter of taste. Reading that email, I was also watching the sunrise, and I snapped the picture above. It helped me, in a very specific way, to respond.
Edited for clarity, here is what I told my friend. The single estate coffee we offer from the West Valley region of Costa Rica, called Villa Triunfo, is to my taste the most distinctive flavor of the four. When I say “my taste” I mean something influenced by four decades of drinking coffee. In the first few years of those four decades I drank what most Americans drank, which was mediocre quality coffee. I could drink it again, if needed, but I hope not to. Yet, it must have influenced how I taste coffee. When I first tasted an alternative, it was espresso. That was in 1983, and “my taste” in coffee shifted dramatically. It shifted again when I started tasting arabica specialty coffees over the next couple of years while working as a waiter.
That West Valley single estate coffee offers a small surprise, so pairing it with any of the other three gives good range. The surprise is partly a function of the estate, but also of the red honey process used to prepare the green bean to be roast-ready. This process is not unique to Costa Rica but is a signature of some of the country’s standout coffees. To my palate it adds a little bit of brightness to the rich, deep flavor. That is the sunrise reference to the photo. Surprise.
Most people, whether they know it or not, either prefer the taste of the coffee itself, in which case medium roasts are usually the best bet; or they have a strong preference for the taste of a darker roast, in which case the Italian roast of our Tarrazú coffee might be the best bet, and would be the most unlike the West Valley. Method of preparation is key to this discussion.
I have observed from conversations over the last year with people visiting our shops that it is more common for people who normally drink medium roast to also occasionally enjoy dark roast, whereas people who normally drink darker roasts do not enjoy coffee that is roasted anything less than dark. The Tarrazú single region coffee we offer, roasted to Italian level darkness, works well, either in an espresso machine or brewed in any standard manner, e.g. pour-over, French press, drip coffee maker, etc. That would be the flavor profile most unlike the West Valley coffee.
Another option is simply to pair the two Tarrazú coffees, one roasted at medium to emphasize the character of the bean and the Italian roast for those who know they prefer the taste of the roast as much or more than the taste of the coffee itself. Tarrazú is featured twice among our four selections because, in consideration of taste, we know that most people who have become aware of coffee from Costa Rica have most likely had the opportunity to taste coffee from this region. And that has developed into a preference, we believe. I do not think that one single coffee region, or one single estate from any of Costa Rica’s growing regions, could claim to be the quintessential flavor of coffee.
Neither generally speaking do I think that, nor even for this one small coffee-producing country do I think that there is one coffee to beat all other coffees as best representing “what coffee is at its best.” But, get me talking about the organic coffee we offer, which has a flavor profile that appeals to most coffee drinkers except those who only drink dark roast, and I would say there is something ideal in Hacienda La Amistad.
In the few decades since they got certified as an organic producer, they have stood out as a model for what is possible both in terms of coffee quality and in terms of ecological responsibility. So, if pressed, I might hint that this coffee is representative of Costa Rica due to the country’s longstanding leadership in sustainable development and conservation. But I would not for that or any one other reason say this coffee is the best. It is a matter of personal taste.