San Diego's Finest Organic Coffee & Tea

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Reflections from the Roasting Table

Do you ever have those moments when there is no doubt in your mind that you are in the right industry?  I had one of those moments this week, upon the arrival of an excellent new coffee from a small farm in Costa Rica.  My excitement was akin to that of a kid on Christmas morning, ascending the stairs in rapid motion to piles of presents and cookies.   I think the delivery driver was wondering why I was pacing back and forth in front of the door while he loaded up the bags. 

Alma Negra Farm Owners

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The coffee is called Costa Rica Alma Negra (Black Soul) and it is grown and processed by Oscar and Francisca Chacon in Costa Rica’s Central Valley.  I am excited about this coffee for many reasons; it is incredibly unique from seed to cup.  The Chacons are known for being one of the first to produce high-quality organic and naturally processed coffee in Costa Rica.  They inherited the farm from Oscar’s grandparents’ and it is steeped with family history.  One of the main reasons that the Chacons decided to take the leap and only produce organic coffee is a tragic one.  Oscar lost his father to a battle with cancer and it is suspected to have been due to his frequent encounters with pesticides.  Other reasons included environmental and quality benefits.

Lasjas Estate

Not only did the Chacons take an expensive chance at getting organic certification, they built their own mill, known as Las Lajas.  This is exceptional for a variety of reasons. When a farmer sends their coffee off to a mill, they have no control over what happens next.  The coffee could be blended with other coffees or processed in a way that may not benefit the flavor of the coffee in the best way.  With owning their own mill, the Chacons take great care in using a wide range of processing methods to find optimum flavor profiles.  In turn, this makes the coffee highly traceable, even down to the day it was harvested.  The Chacons use mostly natural (dry) processes, using much less water than a standard farm.

Las Lajas Estate 3

After taking copious amounts of pictures of the beautiful bags, I opened one and the fresh, green coffee smells so much like chocolate, you would have thought it had been stored in a Hershey’s warehouse.   No time was wasted in getting the coffee into the roaster.  The flavors of the brewed coffee are complex, ranging from mandarin oranges to cocoa nibs.  The acidity is exciting and lively and the mouthfeel is silky smooth.  We will have this coffee for only a short amount of time and I invite everyone to come down to our café and try a cup.  You may end up loving it as much as I do!

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Before walking into Café Virtuoso for the first time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Yes, I had worked in coffee for years, but the term “specialty coffee” had never been in my vernacular. What I’ve slowly come to understand over the past year is how unbelievably meaningful specialty coffee is to me. This may sound extreme, but hear me out.

Last month, a few of us from Café Virtuoso took part in an amazing event up in Seattle. Hosted by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the affair is so impressive; it is known solely as “The Event.” We took classes, attended lectures, and had lengthy conversations about the latest and greatest coffee innovations (trust me, there are many).

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I learned a great deal of information about my profession and my industry and for that I am very thankful. However, what I took away the most was the incredible feeling of being at home, all the while being in an unfamiliar city, surrounded by strangers and foreign machinery. It is an incredible thing when you put coffee producers, exporters, importers and brokers, roasters, baristas, manufacturers, and so many others, under one roof. I met a woman who runs a facility that roasts 60,000 pounds of coffee A DAY! I met another fellow, a physical therapy professor, whose love for coffee has inspired him to set aside his career and start his own roasting business. I am certain that I started some lifelong friendships this weekend with people who have a similar understanding of just how comforting coffee can be.

It all makes me very thankful. To our customers: without whom we could not put our passion into practice. To my bosses:  who realize the value of education and have created an environment that pushes you to grow as an individual and a team member. To the coffee community, especially SCAA: for producing a home for all of us coffee nerds.

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