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.

CSA + NGO = 100% Forward

Organikos had a life before Authentica, but when Authentica opened one year ago the context was different. The Adriatic island and the outpost in India were temporary homes where we were launching projects for clients. Costa Rica is where the entrepreneurial conservation work began, so now we were coming home to stay and build a platform of our own. The logic for Authentica? Several million visitors per year had become the norm for the country over the last couple decades. And for Organikos? On average one million bags of coffee went home in the luggage of those visitors each year, mostly to the USA. Authentica’s location in two of Costa Rica’s most successful hotels would allow Organikos coffee to increase that flow. Good logic, no question.

Until now. This year international tourism is a fraction of that norm, and next year is likely to be similar. It would be easy to see the glass as less than half full, but instead we are looking for ways to refill the glass. We want those million bags of coffee to reach all the people who have either already fallen in love with Costa Rica, or are yet to.

Particularly for those people who have come, or want to come to Costa Rica to support its conservation commitments, our goal now is to provide an alternative way to lend that support. With our coffee as a taste of place alternative while travel is on hold, we have set up a platform for roasting and delivering 4 of our 12 coffee selections in the USA. And we continue to commit that 100% of the profits from the sale of these coffees goes to bird habitat regeneration initiatives in Costa Rica. Our first such initiative is in progress, but we want to expand our conservation outreach. One way to do this might be by partnering with conservation NGOs in Costa Rica. We are starting to explore this option.

Costa Rica Coffee Terrain: Brunca

We have mentioned this region previously, showing where our organic coffee comes from. Brunca is, from my experience, the region most people would neglect to name if quizzed on listing all of Costa Rica’s coffee-growing zones. And while no one would claim it is racing to lead the pack in awareness, it is the region with the oldest certified organic coffee estate in the hemisphere, and if only for that reason, I think its future is bright:

BruncaCoffeeThe beverage’s taste ranges from the very soft, coming from the low and middle areas, to the sweet and complex citrus flavor of the higher areas of Pérez Zeledón and Coto Brus. Light aromas stand out, with fragrances similar to orange flowers and coffee jasmine.

Brunca is a region located in the south of Costa Rica and comprises the Coto Brus, Buenos Aires and Pérez Zeledón cantons. Continue reading

Costa Rica Coffee Terrain: Tres Rios

Tomorrow I will highlight a video showing one final region classified by the Costa Rica Coffee Institute. Yesterday I linked to a video of one of the lesser known regions; today, the smallest but historically most prestigious region:

TresRiosCoffeeIts green color has characteristic blue shades. A full-bodied beverage which guarantees, among other features, a pleasant long-lasting aftertaste. A fine and balanced acidity mixed with sweet notes.

Tres Ríos is located a few kilometers east of the capital of Costa Rica, San José.  Its origin dates back to 1820, with the expansion of the coffee area from the Central Valley to other provinces, which grew strongly during the 1840s and until the middle of the century. Continue reading

Costa Rica Coffee Terrain: Turrialba

From the Central Valley, go due east. You will cross into Cartago province and go through one of the most verdant agricultural zones in the country. If you are lucky to have a sunny day, the variations on green will dazzle you. Irazu volcano will be on your left, due north. When you have driven for about two hours you will arrive in Turrialba:

TurrialbaCoffeeIn this beautiful valley, the early ripening of coffee, extended by multiple flowerings resulting from constant rains, provides special conditions for the bean, which is characterized by its large size. Turrialba coffee is cherished because it supplies both the national and international markets early. The cup is characterized by a mild acidity, light body, and a delicate and soft aroma. Continue reading

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

Backyard Birding & Organikos

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Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Thanks to the folks at Short Wave for this brief tutorial on backyard birding, featuring a scientist from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For those fortunate enough to be able to use some of their time in recent months for this purpose, the tutorial may resonate. A total novice like me finds it useful so I recommend it to others.

SETarrazuLabelI especially appreciated the advice of paying attention to the coffee that you purchase, because it can have significant impact on migratory birds. The new series of Organikos labels are almost ready for print-testing. One of the final decisions made in the last month was to let the label on the bag focus on the coffee and keep the bird-habitat mission messaging on the website and in places like this. A key part of that message is that the particular coffee offered matters most. We believe that if we start with the highest quality green beans, apply the perfect level of heat, and deliver them at the fairest price we will get what we need to plant more trees. So, the Tarrazu single estate is the second label I will share here. Along with the Hacienda la Amistad single estate organic, this is some of the most spectacular coffee grown in Costa Rica. And for every bag sold, the difference between what we pay to get this to you, and what you pay to Organikos, goes to bird habitat regeneration.

My Backstory With Coffee

SethMombachoThe image to the right is from twenty years ago, during my first foray into the world of coffee. It is not the most flattering photo, but it will do. I was eight, on location with my brother and parents at a worksite in Nicaragua. One part of the project was the development of a coffee tour, and my brother and I were tasked with testing how a young person might react to that experience. The expression on my face was, I suppose, a slightly embarrassed result of how little coffee I had managed to pick relative to the basket’s capacity. There was plenty of coffee to be picked, but these 20 years later I still remember how hard that work was.

SethGalapThe second foray was in 2011, back in the same region of Nicaragua, but as an intern documenting the coffee growing and maintenance process, as well as having the pleasure of zooming over a coffee plantation on a canopy tour zip line.

Just a year later, my third foray came when I spent the summer living on an organic farm freshly planted with coffee. What made it special, even spectacular, was that the farm was one of the rare private properties in the Galapagos Islands and was situated in the vicinity of the forests where the giant tortoises roam.

The fourth foray, which I wrote about in these pages, was between 2014 and 2016. I participated in each step from germination, to planting, harvesting, processing, roasting and cupping. I created a coffee tour on property that was an echo of the work done 15 years earlier in Nicaragua.

My fifth and most recent foray, over the last few years, has been the start up of Organikos. During the months leading up to starting graduate school I developed a plan with my parents to launch the coffee business as part of their Authentica venture. That brick and mortar retail approach worked out very well, until the world changed a few months ago. So now online and onward…

Organikos Coffee

OrganikosNewLabelAmistadSince mentioning the new Organikos labeling and upcoming delivery of coffee in the USA we have progressed enough to predict that by sometime in August we will be shipping. The label to the left is mostly the same as three weeks ago, but now highlights the two general categories of coffee we offer. We knew one year ago that we would be featuring single estate and single region coffees from Costa Rica, but our labels did not focus attention on that as clearly as we now will. Organic, as well as Fair Trade and Decaffeinated were treated as their own categories, even though our organic is at least as special because it is a single estate. The same can be said for the two single region coffees–special for that reason but also due to their fair trade practices and decaffeination processing–so we decided to simplify the format as you see here, and can also see in the example below.

OrganikosNewLabelWhile we wait for our coffee to germinate, and for our graphic designer to complete the remaining sketches that accompany the twelve coffees, we are also finishing the structure of the e-commerce platform where the coffee can be purchased.

We started receiving requests last year from people who had bought our coffee while in Costa Rica about how to buy more and have it delivered to them. Not all of those queries were from the USA but under current circumstances it happens that fulfilling the requests in the USA is most feasible. So, we will be roasting weekly and coffee will arrive to those who order it within a few days.

If you are in the USA and you are interested in learning more about this option, please leave a message in the comment section here, or send an email to me at crist@organikos.com

If You Drink Organic Coffee, Consider 100% Forward

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The 12 selections of Organikos specialty coffees had enough time on display at the Authentica shops, prior to current circumstances in Costa Rica and everywhere else, to establish the organic selection as a top seller.

AmistadNewDuring those months–the shops fully opened in late November and until early March were nonstop full of guests–I had hundreds of conversations with travelers.

I got excellent feedback on our original coffee packaging. Briefly stated, the recurring message was that people wanted to “see more Costa Rica” on the package. They also wanted to know more about what our 100% Forward commitment meant. We have used the time since travel halted to work with our graphic designer to begin addressing that feedback.

We also have used this time to prepare a virtual approach to the business, focused on coffee at the outset. We will start with the organic, due to its performance during the shops’ peak operations. We will offer this for home delivery in the USA soon…

Creative Conservation, All For Artisans

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Authentica opened the first of its two shops last week, and this post is a quick statement of what occurred to me while looking across the shop once all the displays were set up. Back in early June I thought that two words simultaneously riffing off the concept of creative destruction, and our two decades of practicing entrepreneurial conservation, was enough of a tag line for saying what we are doing.

But now three more words seem worthy of adding to the mix. Because across this room it is clear that the pursuit of creative conservation is contextual and very specific; we are doing this all for artisans. I do not mean that just in the sense that we are completely motivated to do what Authentica is doing, for the sake of artisans, though that is true. The variety of items on display–colorful totems of Costa Rica’s culture, design-forward textiles, sensuous ceramics and turned wood objects, specialty coffees and artisanal chocolates–made clear now that Authentica should be more explicit. Say clearly that all proceeds from every sale in Authentica get reinvested back into building a better economy for artisans.  Maybe it can be said in fewer than five words, the way 100% Forward says all that Organikos needs to say. Brevity is the soul of wit, and wit is a powerful currency. I will work on it in the days to come.

Authentica, Organikos & Escazu

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In the photo above, the view is from our home up to the home of a friend who grows coffee in the upper reaches of Escazu. He is an agronomist whose foremost specialty is bananas, which he has helped farmers grow more effectively throughout Latin America. AuthnticaLogoI mentioned his coffee at the start of this year when we were meeting farmers, chocolatiers, and local artisans, knowing we would launch Authentica, and its sibling Organikos logoventure Organikos sometime this year.

We ended up not choosing that particular coffee as one of our 12 offerings, but every tasting, every artisan meeting, every event we have attended to find things that offer “taste of place” and that look and feel like the essence of Costa Rica–all have been helpful in establishing our product line.

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Escazu, where we live, where the idea for Authentica started and also where Organikos is situated is an ideal location for what we do. The festival of masks, organized by the community, is an example of why: local pride, sense of place, sharing with others.

Organikos Single Estate & Single Origin Coffees

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When we introduced Organikos coffees early last month at the two Authentica shops in Costa Rica, we were conscious that single estate coffees, highly prized among aficionados around the world, have not been visible in the country where they are grown. The names of regions are more recognizable thanks to big coffee retailers like Starbucks who have promoted them. So we included the region of origin on the single estate labels. We offer three estates now, and will add more after the next harvest.

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We also offer three single origin coffees. These three were chosen because the regions are widely considered by coffee experts to have the most consistent quality, year after year. The beans chosen for these single origin blends are from a mix of farms that, taken together, are best representative of the characteristics the region is known for.

Brunca.jpgCupping notes on all these later. For now, a puzzle. The name of the coffee company, Organikos, harkens to an older and broader set of meanings related to the word organic. Not strictly the certification for all-natural food production, but a wider selection of good outcomes. We chose only one certified-organic coffee among our twelve coffee offerings. It happens to be from one of the less well known regions, Brunca, in the south bordering Panama. To our surprise, this has been our top-selling coffee so far. We promoted it only as organic, but it is also a single estate (Hacienda La Amistad).

FairTradeIt is not surprising that organic coffee sells well, but it is puzzling to me that it outsells by such a large margin a certified fair trade coffee from Costa Rica’s most recognizable region of origin. Not to mention that this fair trade coffee is produced by one of the country’s most respected cooperatives.

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First and foremost, we have been developing Organikos to offer “taste of place” coffees so that you can sense the amazing diversity of Costa Rica on the palate.

hand-organikos.jpgThe commitment of Organikos to invest 100% of its profits in conservation is no less important, but this is clearly going to be a bi-product of offering the best taste of place options. This is the puzzle I will be working on going in to the holiday season, which coincides with coffee harvest in Costa Rica, which also coincides with the time when more travelers will be visiting the country. So sales data will be one element in the puzzle-solving.