Don Alfonso took over farm management in 1992, and at the time he was new(ish) to coffee. There are many ‘pre- Aquiares’ stories, too many for this info sheet, but enough to fill a book for sure (forthcoming we hope!). However, one thread throughout his life has been a commitment to social justice. From the beginning, Don Alfonso made the social welfare of farm workers and the wider community one of his main priorities. His dedication has transformed the farm and the region.
The community of Aquiares – originally built to house workers on the estate – sits in the midst of the farm. Originally, the farm owned the houses where employees lived, creating home-insecurity amongst working families. In 1992, under Don Alfonso’s management, the farm started a project to enable people to own their own houses. Each worker was given a bonus for his or her years of service, lots were priced at a fraction of the local rate, and assistance was given to apply for the government house fund. At the beginning, workers thought it was too good to be true, but as the first families obtained their own homes, everyone followed suit. In a matter of three years, the town was brought to life. It was enriched with a deep feeling of security and achievement. Today, only around 15% of Aquiares residents work on the farm (many have gone on to become school teachers, doctors, etc) and 96% of these own their own home, giving them the option to take a path for their future that they, themselves, choose. Aquiares has become a place where many want to live, as evidenced in the value of land, which is comparable to that of San José, Costa Rica ́s capital. The town has its own school, youth sports program, recycling committee, early childhood nutrition center, and a church built in 1925, which is a National Architectural Historic Monument. The entire town and the Estate consider themselves to be of the same community rather than one ‘belonging’ to the other!
The farm manages the entire coffee production chain, from seedling production to plant cultivation, harvesting and milling. This ensures that they are able to meet the highest standards of quality assurance and can guarantee a traceable product. Caturra is the main varietal grown on the farm, but climate change and pests require constant experimentation with new varieties that can adapt better to future conditions. Diego Robelo, who has developed this quality-focused line, has led much of the new ‘charge’ towards new variety experimentation; he began his post as ‘innovation manager’ in 2013 and has developed collaborations with World Coffee Research (WCR) and the Costa Rican Coffee Institute (ICAFE), including a experimental garden for Central American Coffee varieties for WCR. Throughout the season, workers from the community care for the trees: pruning, fertilizing, weeding, and protecting them.
About the coffee (Harvest & Processing):
This lot is 100% ‘Caturra’ variety – the variety that composes the majority of the farm’s plantings. Aquiares has found the ‘traditional’ variety very well-suited to the farm’s high elevation (grown above 1,200 meters in most cases) and as consistently yielding a quality cup.
All Aquiares coffee is picked by hand to ensure consistent high quality. Microlots, such as this one, are picked by a special team of skilled harvesters who are paid well above the daily rate for their exceptional skill in picking the ripest cherries at each pass. Each tree is visited up to seven times during the harvest to ensure that only fully red ripe cherries are picked. The skilled hands of the pickers represent the farm’s most valuable asset. Pickers hail from the community of Aquiares, nearby towns, and even from the neighbouring country of Nicaragua. The farm ensures that all workers have a safe work environment and a comfortable place to live. Workers coming from further away can live in on-site housing and use a children’s day-care. The farm sponsors doctors’ visits for pickers and their families twice a week where nutritional health advice is also given. To take better care of its field workers, Aquiares has established first-of-its- kind physical therapy sessions and also a daily warm-up routine of exercise before work. Many pickers return each year, confirming success in providing a secure home in Aquiares.