Expect nothing less than mind-blowing with La Lia. We aren’t overselling this truly unique coffee when we say that. This cutting-edge style of coffee processing with whole cinnamon sticks has created one of the most delicious and distinctive coffees we’ve ever tried!
Costa Rican Coffee
When our VP of Coffee Operations, Sam Mirto, was in Costa Rica cupping fresh beans from various producers, one particular coffee was snuck onto the table that had him questioning his entire process. From our previous blog about cupping, you know that the method of tasting, measuring, and scoring coffees is an intense undertaking.
“Why did you put flavored coffee on the table?” Mirto asked.
La Lia Coffee was born into fruition from a mill in the Tarrazu (Tar-ah-zoo) region built in 2007. Tarrazu is known worldwide for its high-quality beans and beautiful country vistas that bless the landscape with a natural beauty. Lush, green hills rolls across the region and are ripe for coffee production with is ideal altitude and weather patterns. An estimated 780,000 bushels of coffee are produced here each year by a number of small farms, often not exceeding more than 6 acres.
The producer’s name is Luis Alberto Monge. The mill (named Lia after Monge’s grandmother) is somewhat of an experimental undertaking. Monge’s other farms are award-winning and well-known throughout the coffee culture, notably winning 5th place in 2011 Cup of Excellence. They produce an incredible number of coffee varieties including Villasarchi, Caturra, Catuai, Typica & Red Bourbon. In the nursery, they have Geisha, SL28, Ethiopia 49, Yellow & Red Pacamara, Orange & Pink Bourbon, and Ovata. With this many varietals, Monge has experimented and achieved many different processing methods in his never-ending search for creating a new coffee with elegance and sophistication.
Although the mill started in 2007, the family has been producing coffee since Monge's grandmother. The typical formula in Costa Rica at the time was to harvest their coffee and then bring the cherries to a megamill (a large-scale washing station) to be processed. "Continuing that way would have made it hard to support my family and send my kids to school," he explained. Megamills often mix cherries from multiple farms into the same batch, resulting in inconsistent quality. Thankfully, now the family can process their own product without sacrificing time, quality, or profits.
Their high-quality coffee starts at the roots of their coffee trees, beginning with proper fertilization. With technology and information, Monge is able to dial in the correct amount of Calcium to result in better coffee cherries. By increasing Potassium levels, you will begin getting harder beans and also boost flavor and overall bean development. In Costa Rica, the grade of coffee is determined by the hardness of the bean and is labeled Strictly Hard Bean. Nearly 95% of all beans in this region fall under that category. The success of the farms hasn't been without setbacks or difficulties. The efforts Monge strives to make in both quality and evolution of coffee products results in high-praise. “I might follow the same basic process year in and year out to keep the quality consistent, but nature doesn’t,” Monge says. “If the trees bloom earlier than normal, you have to adjust the whole production sequence. Things are never exactly the same." Once the cherries are deemed ripe, they are picked and head to the mill for processing- this is where the real fun begins!
Cinnamon Sticks, What?
For 72 hours, the coffee cherries are anaerobic fermented with water, depulping the cherries in the process (this step removes the cherry around the coffee bean.) Not a lot of the mucilage is left when the coffee beans are then put out to dry and this is the step where Monge adds the whole cinnamon sticks to the drying beds, imparting some wild cinnamon flavor to the coffee.
What to Expect from this Coffee
While the La Lia mill can produce 600-700 bags of coffee per year, this particular experimental coffee only produced about ten bags- and we got one! With only about 132 lbs. to offer, this coffee will move fast! Tasting notes of cinnamon graham cracker and smooth strawberry malt meld together to form a creamy and shockingly distinct profile.