Note: Our DLM Coffee Bar leaders traveled to Costa Rica in January, 2020.
We don’t just sell coffee at the DLM Coffee Bar. I mean, we do sell coffee, but there’s more at play with each pour. And this past January, myself and the three DLM Coffee Bar managers, Holli Kiser, Chris Hatfield, and Amy Bodish, traveled to the mountainous terrain of the Tarrazú region in central Costa Rica. It’s here that Hacienda La Minita is nestled. Along with some friends from Dayton’s Boston Stoker Coffee Company, including owner Henry Dean, we got to take our understanding of coffee to a new level. We not only soaked in knowledge during our five day stay, but we experienced it: we picked, we sorted, we smelled, we tasted, and we came back with a deeper understanding and appreciation for each sip, each bean, and the fine people who make it possible. —Scott Fox, VP of Bakery & Coffee Bar
“It’s one thing to sit in a room learning about coffee,” says Chris, DLM Springboro Coffee Bar manager, recalling his time in barista school. “But, it’s another seeing it in person.” The trek to where the coffee cherries grow at Hacienda La Minita is rugged terrain and the work is hard. On the first day the DLM team arrived, they strapped the picking baskets to their waists and got started alongside the pickers. They learned what to look for (red and yellow cherries) and that if you pick them too soon or too late, they won’t meet the La Minita grade. “They only pick what is ripe, so that means that they are picking four to five times from the same tree—it’s like a typewriter,” says Scott.
After the allotted picking time was up, everyone took their haul and circled around a large truck where two men stood in the bed. One would be handed a picking basket full of coffee cherries. He’d weigh the contents, shout a number, and the next man would throw money into the emptied basket before handing it back to its picker. As a Fair Trade coffee, the workers are compensated fairly, are permitted to live on the plantation, and have access to a clinic and dentist for free.
Same is true for migrant workers who come seasonally to work. After all that was harvested that day was gathered and paid out, time was ticking. It’s important for the processing of the coffee cherries to happen 24 hours from being picked before quality diminishes. First, the haul must make its way to recibidores, or receiving stations, before continuing through the mountains to the mill. To get there, Chris, Scott, Holli, Amy, and friends rode in the back of the truck among the cherries,
“hanging on for dear life,” Scott jokes.
At the receiving station, they are weighed again—making sure what was paid out matches what is coming in. A much larger truck then picks up everything that needs to make it the mill where it is all weighed again. From there, a tedious multi-step process begins resulting in only about 20-22% of what was picked meeting the La Minita grade. The rest will be sold under a different banner.
There are layers to the coffee cherry that encase the bean within: the skin, fruit, a sticky layer called mucilage, and a thin parchment-like covering on the bean. At the mill, the beans undergo cleaning, de-pulping, sorting, fermentation, washing, and drying. Nothing is wasted along the way as the removed parchment feeds a fire that aids in the drying process. The travelers from DLM are witness to this all.
At the sorting stage, DLM Oakwood Coffee Bar manager Amy recalls a phrase that “every bean has a home,” even the ones that do not make the cut for La Minita. About 50-60 inspectors await, knowing just what to look for. “They are pulling out anything that is damaged, not the right color,” says Holli, DLM Washington Square Coffee Bar manager. “The biggest and most dense beans are what becomes La Minita.”
This is just one of the coffee varieties roasted locally at Boston Stoker, which we feature at the DLM Coffee Bar. The same care in finding a high quality and ethical source is taken with other varieties as well that make their way to Boston Stoker and then to DLM. “At the end of the day, La Minita is a top notch company, from their ethics and the way they do things to the quality of their coffee,” Scott says, “And Henry Dean (Boston Stoker) is incredibly well respected in the industry and knowledgeable.”