Costa Rica ARBAR La Isla Red Honey Villa Sarchi

This week's coffee is an In My Mug exclusive! This means you're a very special bunch, but sadly it does mean you won't be able to buy more of it :(

We've been working with Carlos and his family since way back in 2013 and this is a cracking example of the sort of long-term relationship that we are proud of developing with our producing partners. If you read through our Coffee Archive (and my rather excellent book Coffeeography) you can see just how far we've come together since our initial meeting - back when I first bought from his group of farms they didn't even have an official name! All I knew was that it was grown by a nice chap called Carlos Arietta and it was really, really delicious. In the years since that initial purchase we've learned so much, so now we're able to share all the fun deets with you folks!

The name of their mill ARBAR comes from the combined family names: Carlos ARietta + Maria BARboza = ARBAR. Their children are Yessica, Karen, Esteban & Jose Ignacio. They run everything together, the micromill and 4 small farms, with 1 permanent worker and a few temporary staff during harvest season. This might sound like an awful lot of work to be shared between such a select team but Costa Rican farms tend to be on the smaller side compared to other producing countries. The four farms in the group are: La Casa, El Manatial, El Oasis, and La Isla. This year we have been fortunate enough to purchase coffee from all of the above.

Carlos has been growing coffee for about 40 years (La Casa being his oldest farm) with El Manatial and El Oasis coming next around 20 years later, followed by La Isla which is the latest project and still very early in it's production life. He only started processing his coffee himself at their mill from 2014 (while still paying someone else to pulp it for him... more on that in a mo) which meant he hadn't been able to present his coffee to a single buyer previously, this was fortuitous for us as this was how we happened to meet - via our mutual exporter in Costa Rica!

All of their farms are located in the Western Valley region near to the town of Lourdes de Naranjo. Carlos is very active in the local community and they have close relationships with their neighbours - which includes CoE winning producers like Herbazu, Vista Al Valle and Sumava. They operate mostly Organic processes, but aren’t Organic certified. They believe in the value of biodiversity on the farms and plants like fruit trees are positioned amid the coffee plants for shade and to help the soil - as well as providing food for the family. Activity from the Poas volcano at the start of 2019 has impacted a good deal of the Western Valley region, really quite badly in some areas, however ARBAR have been incredibly lucky to not be affected by this and have produced a good crop.

This coffee hails from Finca La Isla, which is located at 1400 metres above sea level. The farm is roughly 1.4 hectares in size and is planted with a mixture of Villa Sarchi, Kenya, Geisha, and Ethiopia. Overall this area produces about 3500kg of coffee cherries, which translates to around 700kg of green coffee once processed or ~570kg of roasted coffee once your friendly neighbourhood Roasterman gets their mitts on it! This is their latest project and actually belongs to Maria’s niece. Carlos and Maria have agreed an arrangement with her where they will plant and farm the plot and share the profits with her, but it's only just starting to see production in the last couple of years.

Both myself and Roland (Head Roaster / Production Manager / Daft Fact Provider) have been lucky enough to visit Carlos and his family multiple times over the years that we've been working together and they are always guaranteed to be wonderful hosts. I'm not entirely sure I should even be paying Roland to travel to Costa Rica and go hang out with them... does it still count as work when he enjoys it so much? Our last visit was in 2019 and I tried to teach Carlos about Sunderland and how to shout “Ha’way the lads” (https://www.safc.com/news/club-news/2018/october/haway-the-lads) and promised to take him to a game if he ever visits the UK - according to Roland this might put Carlos off ever visiting the UK but I disagree!

This coffee has been processed at the ARBAR micromill using the Red Honey process. Honey processing is somewhat similar to a Pulped Natural (but uses less water), falling somewhere in between a Washed and a Natural coffee both in terms of contact between the cherry mucilage and the bean during drying time and in the resulting flavour profile. The outer skin and fruit pulp is removed from the seed (bean) of the coffee inside, and it's left to dry. The colour in the name refers to the amount of sticky fruit that's left on the surface of the seed after depulping - darker indicates more / lighter indicates less. This method can present some risk of over fermentation during processing but water is a precious commodity in this area of Costa Rica, so this method suits the location very well. Carlos definitely has the skills to pay the bills though so no worries about mucking up the Honeys at ARBAR!

Processing technique and equipment is one way that our long term relationship has benefitted us as buyers as well as Carlos and his family. Back when we first met, Carlos was taking his cherry to a local Co-op to use their depulper and then back to the house to process - this was obviously a lot of extra effort and meant that he couldn't have as much control over the details as he would have liked. That's where we joined the fun! In 2014 after chats with the family I stumped up the funds for their very own depulper - which was paid back by you lovely lot through a special price per bag on that year's coffee from ARBAR. (http://www.hasblog.co.uk/carlos-gets-a-new-depulper-thanks-to-you) Since then the mill has constantly been updated with additions and changes as they learn how to pulp better every season. The techniques and the skills they are developing are improving their coffee year on year, and it was already a dream when I first encountered it on that fateful cupping table in 2013, so that's really saying something.

There's a delicate orange at the start, but it moves quickly into a sweetness of digestive biscuit and caramel. On the finish it's cocoa powder, for a clean & well balanced easy drinker. 

  • Country: Costa Rica
  • Region: Western Valley
  • Town: Lourdes de Naranjo
  • Farm: La Isla
  • Farmer: Carlos Arrieta
  • Micro mill: ARBAR
  • Altitude: 1,400 m.a.s.l.
  • Processing system: Red Honey
  • Varietals: Villa Sarchi 

Tasting notes: Orange, digestive biscuit, cocoa powder.

Clean cup: (1–8): 6
Sweetness: (1–8): 6
Acidity: (1–8): 6.5
Mouthfeel: (1–8): 6
Flavour: (1–8): 6.5
Aftertaste: (1–8): 6
Balance: (1–8): 6.5
Overall: (1–8): 6.5
Correction: (+36): +36

Total: (max. 100): 86

Roast information:
Medium - give it some time to develop, dropping it at the end of the gap, just before 2nd gets going.