The Las Lajas micromill is located in the Sabanilla de Alajuela region of Costa Rica. Francisca and Oscar Chacon greet you in the driveway with huge smiles and a willingness to show you their stunning farms. Their pride is evident as they show you each immaculate step the coffee goes through. It all starts with their farming practices; Las Lajas is a certified organic farm. These third-generation producers focus on preserving the environment while maintaining the highest quality coffee. Their micromill is immaculately clean, keeping the processing standards they are well known for; the Chacons were some of the first to do high-quality naturals and honeys in Central America. Going into the 2020 harvest, they completed a renovation of their mill, complete with a corkscrew conveyor belt that transports depulped coffee to a custom trailer, which transports it to their drying facility. Strict size and density separation happen at the mills, even the naturals are passed through the mill to separate the less ripe and small size cherries after selective harvesting.
The last step of quality and care takes place on the drying patios and beds. This is where we believe Las Lajas is truly advancing coffee. Oscar told us that he strives to focus on drying the green coffee the same as a roaster focuses on roasting by paying close attention to curves and data. They have become so precise in their processing that they have been able to produce several offerings under various monikers; this particular coffee is their Perla Negra, a natural-process coffee by which whole cherries are turned hourly on raised beds. We love this coffee for it’s structured and fruited character, making it an all-around great example of a great naturally processed Central American coffee.
NATURALLY PROCESSED COFFEE
Natural coffees are beautiful…Okay, natural coffees are beautiful when done properly, but can be equally terrible when things go wrong. Natural processing, or dry processing, refers to the act of drying and fermenting coffee inside the cherry. Long before the age of portafilter tattoos and dual-boiler home espresso machines, coffee was picked and dried this way out of convenience. It is, to this day, still the most convenient and economically friendly way to process coffee cherries. (It’s estimated that dry-processing can use up to 90% less water than the washing process.) So why isn’t all coffee processed this way? Well, as coffee made its way across the world, it was commoditized and standardized, just like all other products spread by colonialism, but that’s a whole other story... Adding to the boom of washed processing, the natural process method can be tricky to get right, due to the delicate nature of fermentation and drying. What does all this have to do with the final cup? Well, when you leave the skin and fruit of the coffee cherry on the seed throughout fermentation and drying, that fruit begins to break down, imparting esters that influence delicate florals and big fruit notes into the seed that survive the roasting process. If it’s rushed or handled incorrectly, this fruit rot can lend off-flavors to the coffee, making the final cup dirty or ‘fermenty.’ Basically that single cherry begins to slowly decay, and controlling that delicate action through advanced technique and metrics allow us, lucky folks, to drink wonderfully floral and fruity coffees. We have long promoted natural processed coffees, and this Costa Rica is just one of the reasons we do.