Las Lajas, the name rolls off the tongue. I remember seeing it on the menu boards of coffee shops I respected from coast to coast. It seemed very exotic. Las Lajas, Costa Rica. Wow. The tasting notes always seemed exuberant. Cherry, lime, chocolate. Honey process. What does that even mean? The farm logo was a pot of honey. Did they add honey to the coffee before or after it was brewed? The flavors were indeed exuberant. Floral, sweet, juicy, tart. The mouthfeel was huge. These coffee flavors were so much more different than the typical nutty flavors I associated with Costa Ricas in those days.
As we started travelling to coffee farms, I got to meet the power couple behind these powerfully good coffees, Oscar and Francisca Chacon. Las Lajas is a small family farm but it punches above its weight in its attention to detail in agriculture, honey processing and drying.
Las Lajas practices organic farming. They do not use chemical sprays or fertilizers on their beans. Oscar is meticulous in taking what the farm provides him and reusing it in a beneficial way. Leaves are plowed under. The skins of the coffee cherries are returned to the soil. Costa Rica has been under drought for many years but when I visited Las Lajas the soil always friable, so moist when the soil on other farms was baked.
The honey process was employed by Oscar in 2008 after an earthquake cut off Las Lajas' access to water. Borrowing techniques used in Brazil and Ethiopia, Oscar removed the skins of the coffees and let the mucilage (where much of the sweetness is) dry up like sticky caramel corn. The mucilage resembles honey, viscous and sweet. The flavors created were so unique to Costa Rica that most buyers blanched. Fortunately, the owner of Café Imports visited and found the coffees compelling. With the constant threat of drought this low water processing method has been adopted on many farms.
Continuing to move forward with their forward thinking, Las Lajas has begun experimenting with slowing down drying times for the coffees by placing them on raised beds of various heights. The beds can be moved from lower to higher to get more or less sun exposure, more or less wind. By extending drying periods, the coffees remain fresh longer. We have seen coffees from Las Lajas almost fully intact after a year which is rare if not downright impossible.
This year we have purchased coffee from Finca Sabanilla, a small lot within Las Lajas farm. It is natural process where the pickers pick ripe cherries and they are dried in a large pile at night and spread out during the day. This technique helps the coffees maintain the heat from the day and increases the sweetness of the coffee. This coffee is incredibly sweet. One of the most fruity, concentrated yet balanced cups we've tasted. It has notes of watermelon, citrus and sweet coffee pulp. The acidity is balanced. The finish is smooth and juicy. This coffee tastes like plucking a ripe coffee cherry directly off the tree and popping it into your mouth and if you've never done that, you should.