Fulcrum’s VP of Coffee, Blas Alfaro, met brothers and coffee producers Ignacio & Martin Ceciliano at the Specialty Coffee Expo five years ago. He had no idea that he was encountering pioneering micro-mill coffee farmers that would lead to a wonderful relationship and long-term partnership.
Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region is nestled among the Talamanca Sierra mountains. It is true that Costa Rica produces a smaller amount of coffee than other larger coffee growing countries, but its quality far outweighs its size. Tarrazu is known for its unique climate and soil composition, which produces coffees with excellent acidity and complex flavor profiles. This is why Costa Rica’s coffee is so highly sought after by specialty coffee lovers.
The region is dotted with small towns named after saints. Known locally as Los Santos (Saints in Spanish), the area consists of steep hillside paths and lush vegetation. In the surrounding area, you’ll find many coffee farms and mills, but one special one is the Rio Conejo Estate, owned and operated by the Ceciliano Solano Family.
Having grown up just feet from where their farm begins and milling equipment literally outside their kitchen window, Ignacio and Martin are no strangers to coffee. The family’s father, Don Rolando, invested a lot of time and resources into education and updating machinery, to improve the quality and sustainability of their crop. Generations of knowledge were passed down to Rolando by his father and uncles.
Ignacio and Martin had no choice but to carry on their father’s legacy when Don Ronaldo suddenly passed away a few years ago. The brothers jumped right in, learning along the way parts of the processes they weren’t familiar with and going even further with their father’s dream of a more sustainably grown coffee.
During our visit to the mill, our first impression of Rio Conejo could be described as a jungle, rather than a coffee plantation. The brothers intentionally leave lots of natural vegetation growing throughout their coffee trees, a practice common to Costa Rican coffee farmers. This helps to preserve native flora and fauna, while providing adequate shade for coffee plants. It also helps to enrich their soil, which produces better quality coffee with more complexity. The results are some of the finest coffees in the world. Martin, Ignacio, and Marta, their mother, welcomed us with open arms. Our trip around the farm ended with a home-cooked meal served in their house.
During our tour of the farm, Ignacio showed us the Centroamericano trees, the coffee we buy from Rio Conejo year after year. It was several years ago that Blas recommended Ignacio replant his farm with this crop on his 10-acre farm. After explaining the benefits of this hybrid variety, he promised to buy it after three years, when the first harvest was ready. This coffee variety, Centroamericano, is a cross breed from a Sarchimore, and an arabica variety from Ethiopia, called Rume Sudan. This is one of the first experimental coffee varieties that were created from the initial cross-pollination method. They are now called H1 Hybrids. The coffee was designed to be more efficient to pick, more cherries on a single branch, and significantly more resistant to plant diseases like La Roya. In light of these reasons, Ignacio took a leap of faith and planted the new variety on this farm.
The decision to plant new, and experimental varieties is a risky one for a farmer. It takes three years for coffee trees to bloom. This means no cash flow for three years, and no way to tell if the newly planted coffee plant will succeed. Farmers must weigh the risks of failure against the potential rewards of a successful crop. With support, they can diversify and increase their income. Nevertheless, without support, the decision can be too risky. It was clear to Blas when he met Ignacio at the SCA booth in 2018 that he had the same passion for sustainability that Blas has. Like this one, we strive to build relationships and partnerships with our coffee farmers and producers. It is our pleasure to share with you the story of Ignacio and Rio Conejo, as well as the impact they have had on the world of coffee.