La Minita - a gift from a fellow barista
The other day my friend Nic Borneman gave me a small bag of coffee with the promise that I would thoroughly enjoy its contents. Nic is the head honcho and barista at the fine Red Bank Coffee in Two Rivers. He has been in the coffee business for some time now, which is to say that he knows his coffee. So I was expecting his little gift to be something special, and it certainly was.
Nic had pre-ground the coffee to a courser grind for French press brewing, a method we both agree reveals more of the desirable qualities and nuances of high quality arabicas.
The coffee came from the well-known Hacienda La Minita plantation in Costa Rica. Last month I wrote about another wonderful Costa Rican coffee from the same central Tarrazu region. The quality of the La Minita was further proof that this region produces exceptionally fine coffees. La Minita means “little mine” or, to be specific to this plantation, “little gold mine.” It is thought pre-Colombian peoples once mined for gold on the land that now grows coffee.
Hacienda La Minita cares for approximately 1,700,000 coffee trees on 680 acres. That’s around 2,500 trees per acre. The farmers lovingly tend to each tree, employing a system of pruning 350,000 trees and transplanting 150,000 trees each year. It is inspiring to imagine all of the work that goes into an operation like Hacienda La Minita, especially when you realize that everything is done by 80 individual, full-time workers with hand tools.
That core group of workers and their families live directly on the farm. 150 additional workers are brought in periodically to perform weeding. That number grows to over 600 workers employed during the harvest. Cap the image of all of those trees and all of the work that goes into caring for them with the fact that they produce only a single crop of coffee each year. It’s an amazing undertaking.
La Minita Coffee Farm. Don't recall what website I got this image from.
The plantation resembles in many ways “company towns” of days gone by, but perhaps with greater concern for their workers. Hacienda La Minita workers take advantage of community vegetable and citrus gardens; on site housing, dental care and a medical clinic provided by the plantation; a worker’s association that assists with savings plans (Hacienda La Minita contributes matching funds to workers’ savings); and even a plantation soccer team and other social groups. The story of this farm, their history, how they run their business and treat their people is very appealing.
And their coffee ain’t too shabby either. La Minita is considered by many to be the world’s finest estate coffee. According to Nic, “La Minita uses only ‘first-quality’ classified coffee seeds from each step in the production process and finishes with a unique hand cleaning. This final step takes a virtually perfect product and, with over 30,000 worker hours of effort, transforms it into the very special coffee that is bagged for export as La Minita.”
La Minita coffee has been discussed in virtually every contemporary coffee reference work and feature articles about the coffee have appeared in magazines such as Financial World, The Wine Spectator, and Saveur. There is a wonderfully interesting article Jim Daniels on La Minita that appeared in Cigar Aficionado magazine (titled “A Passion for Taste,” Autumn 1995) that you can access online at the Cigar Aficionado website. (Click here to go to that article)
As I prepared and tasted my own French press pot of La Minita I jotted down words that came to mind as I drank. My first impression was of butterscotch, hints of those little butterscotch candies I loved as a child. It had a delightfully luxurious and oily mouthfeel. Hints of nuts and buttered toast, and even a little plum-like fruitiness caught my attention. There was a nice lingering aftertaste, not at all bitter and acidic. Nic was right, this was a truly delightful coffee.