Costa Rica Miguel Rojas & MISO micro-lots, Direct Trade Coffee

Miguel Rojas

In February 2012 we visited Costa Rica to see our friends at Exclusive Coffee as well as our producer partners to choose this years offerings.  For the second year we will be offering Miguel Rojas coffee which are grown in the West Valley, more specifically in the micro region Llano Bonito of Naranjo.  This year we will have 2 offerings from Miguel, both micro-lots grown on Finca La Palmita, but one in particular is very special.

Miguel and Nelson Rojas with Russ

As always, Costa Rica impresses me with their Micro-Mill revolution which continues to expand and improve.  I am seeing better organization, at farm level as well as more dedication to improve quality.  These producers have been getting premiums for their coffee for a few years now and are typically re-investing into their mills for efficiency’s and consistency.  This is going to be a very good year for the Costa Rican coffees available from Fratello.

Miguel Rojas MISO micro lot

Miguel, his son Nelson and their 20 staff harvested a plot of his farm for us at 1700-1750 meters.  This plot of land is located in a lower bowl shaped part of his farm which is protected from all sides from the Pacific & Atlantic winds. This plot of land has been called MISO and produced 15 sacks (2280 lbs) of amazing coffee.  On all of Finca La Palmita is a mixture of 70% Caturra and 30% Villalobos Typica.   A total of 120 sacks are produced on their farm and Fratello Coffee has the top 55 coming to Calgary (exclusive in Canada).

Miguel Rojas harvesters

The most interesting geographical attribute, is that this farm is located on a calcareous deposit, which contains high levels of calcium, magnesium and other minerals.  What you notice right away is how the soil had a "sandy-like" texture.  These high levels of calcium aid in producing a very hard bean density.  Miguel introduced experimental potassium fertilization into this plot of land, which boosted the sweetness of flavor profiles found the cup as well.  What was most noticeable was the extreme consistency of red cherries amongst all the trees in this small plot.

Miguel Rojas delivering cherry to Helsar

Miguel brought in an extra crew of harvesters to pick this entire MISO lot over a 2 day period.   After harvesting, Miguel has all of his coffee brought to the famous Helsar Micro Mill.   The owner of Helsar, Ricardo Perez has won many awards for the quality of coffee they produce.  The pride of his work is noticed at every step from cherry separation, the cleanliness of the mill, the organization/separation of special lots and the brand new dry mill being installed while we were there.

Helsar Micro Mill Parabolic dryers

Both lots we have purchased are fully washed and sun dried under parabolic protection for 8 days.  Ricardo has done density sorting in the parchment stage as well as after hulling the green coffee.  All coffee has been shipped in Grain Pro packaging to ensure the moisture content of this green stays consistent.  A LOT of work has gone into this coffee and it really shows in the cup.

Both lots are now in Calgary and will be available mid August 2012.  MISO won’t last long…..sorry.

El Salvador, Finca Malacara B - Direct Trade Coffee

This past February I toured a very exciting farm by the Santa Ana Volcano.  One, which showed me some coffee cherry sorting & tree pruning practices that I have not seen in any other farm/country.   This pruning practice is called Agobio Para (tree bending) which results in big yields and HUGE flavor.    This was amazing to see, but what blew me away even more was the picking and sorting of the coffee cherries.

View from El Salvador Malacara B

Coffee Cherry Sorting

Typically at the best farms we visit and buy from it is common to see that coffee harvesters will pick only the ripest cherries.  Once this is complete they will deliver these cherries to the wet mill to be washed and processed.  During these processes, the green beans will have different float tanks and screeners which separate bean density.

At Malacara B I witnessed more work done with sorting the coffee cherries before the wet mill then any other farm in the planet I have been to.   The extra steps outlined below result in a cup which is naturally sweet and very consistent.

El Salvador Malacara B Red coffee cherries

Step 1 – The workers are paid very well (50% above the legal minimum wage) to ensure they are selectively picking the ripest cherries.

El Salvador Malacara B sorting red cherries

Step 2 – Once these cherries are brought to the daily pick up point, they will screen the cherries to remove any smaller cherries which don’t match the other sized cherries they are looking for this day.

El Salvador Malacara B sorting red cherries

Step 3 – They then hand sort the cherries to pull out any debries or off coloured cherries which aren’t perfect.   All of the cherries which have been sorted out will be sold as a lower grade.

El Salvador Malacara B sorting red cherries

Step 4 – Cherries are then delivered to the wet mill that night to be processed.

Coffee Tree Pruining

At Finca Malacara B, I was shown the best example of the original old way of tree pruning called Agobio Para, which translates to “tree bending”.  Typically producers will “stump” a tree, cutting at the base, to allow for a new coffee tree to sprout.  I’ve been told that a lot of the health, nutrition and character of the coffee tree is in the trunk.  Agobio Para treats the trunk like a “spine”.    The art of Agobio Para is bending the trunk and tying it to the ground.  This will allow for many new sprouting coffee trees to grow from a single root system with out damaging the original trunk of the coffee tree.

El Salvador Malacara B tree bending  pruning Agobio Para

What you end up with are MANY coffee trees, all of different ages, growing from one root. This root will require MUCH more fertilization than a typical root, however, over all you use less per farm.  Each tree takes up WAY more space than a normal tree, however, it will produce much more coffee compared to a regular tree.   The goal is a more stable harvest, year over year.   Its hard to describe, but was truly mind blowing.  Why is no other region doing this?

The MALACARA brand has been recognized by the coffee world as being one of the best coffees produced in El Salvador.  It’s not a surprise that they won the #3 and #4 spot in the 2011 Presidential Award at the Cup of Excellence® event, obtaining 90.83 points.  Below is some further information on Roberto Dumont, the owner of Malacara B, and our newest Direct Trade partner.

El Salvador Malacara B Roberto Dumont

Malacara, is the three-generation legacy of coffee lovers who have poured their hearts into the rich land of El Salvador. Roberto Dumont practices sustainable farming and produces some of the best coffee in El Salvador. Malacara B is located on the world famous slopes of the Santa Ana volcano in western El Salvador. The weather, soil and altitude is perfect for growing exceptional coffee. This farm kicks coffee butt every year. With Roberto at the helm quality has gone even higher over the last decade.

El Salvador Malacara B red bourbon cherries


MALACARA was the main farm among the various farms in the Santa Ana Volcano owned by Alvarez family. Its unusual name (BAD FACE) comes after a popular man whose family name was MALACARA. History tells that this man was so popular that after acquiring the farm, Don Rafael Alvarez named it “Medellín” after his own place of birth; however, people continued to refer to the place as “MALACARA” disregarding the owners will.

Good treatment of the employees has been an important factor of the business ethics for the Alvarez family, in every coffee plantation owned by the Alvarez family existed a school, a clinic and a sports facility for the free used of the employees.

To continue with the legacy, MALACARA has a school where 90 children from the surrounding areas attend up to the ninth grade. There is also a soccer field used by the community. Good housing is also provided for the employees, five families live permanently on the farm which provides employment for 20 permanent workers and about 100 people during harvesting. To pick to best cherries, pickers are compensated with wages that are 50% above the legal minimum wage.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES:  Many local species of trees still exists and are kept and diversified in the farm to maintain the rich flora and fauna of the area intact. There are community talks to promote environmental and health issues for the inhabitants and a program to for the disposal of the solid waste.

2012 Prairie Coffee Show and Barista Competition

We are very proud to announce the 2012 Prairie Coffee Show - July 13th to 16th.  This year, Fratello Coffee Roasters, Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters and Transcend Coffee are taking the event to the next level.   We listened to the feedback from last year and will be expanding on the very popular customer workshops.  We also took a big step and will be taking the opportunity to bring industry folks from across the prairies and creating a forum for sharing of ideas and collaboration.

We are proud to announce that Steve Leighton of Hasbean Coffee (all the way from Stafford, UK) will be leading our industry forum.  Steve is one of the most respected coffee guys, and besides running a successful coffee roasting business, he also has a great blog (, a fun and informative video coffee tasting blog called “In my mug” ( and is one of the co-creators of Tamper Tantrum - a series of on-going talks by various industry members - recorded and made public for everyone’s benefit, see more  We are extremely grateful that Steve made time out of his busy schedule to come and lead our industry forum.   The details of the Forum are as follows:

Brent Fortune, Coffee Common
Discussion on Coffee Common's approach to reaching customers, what's worked, what hasn't.
Focus on connecting with customers and engaging them on an approachable level.

Steve Leighton, Hasbean Coffee
Presentation on how the modern day coffee shop has forgotten to listen to its most valuable assets..

Phil Robertson, Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters
Russ Prefontaine, Fratello Coffee Roasters
Poul Mark, Transcend Coffee
Discuss various perspectives of what works and what doesn't.  Try to answer the question: can it be done?

Steve Leighton, Hasbean Coffee
A presentation on what "real" innovation is in the specialty industry, and not the elephants in the room.

Steve Leighton, Hasbean Coffee
Sebastian Sztabzyb, Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters
David Crosby, Caffe Rosso
Chris Prefontaine, Fratello Coffee Roasters
Pricing retail can be tricky: incumbents have setup price barriers and the cost of top quality green is increasing, so how to we create sustainability?

Finally, in an effort to build and strengthen the prairie region barista community, we will be hosting barista workshops led our past two Canadian Barista Champions: Rob Kettner 2010 and Josh Hockin 2011.

We are also honored to be welcoming back Brent Fortune of Coffee Common for the very popular coffee workshops, except they will not be workshops.  Instead of class-style demonstrations, we are going to have hands-on brewing and tasting stations, allowing you to brew your coffee alongside an experienced barista.  This interactive hands-on style worked very well in the Coffee Common NYC Pop-up this past January.