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Article: Costa Rica Origin Trip with My Daughter | Matt's Recap

Coffee Sourcing

Costa Rica Origin Trip with My Daughter | Matt's Recap

I went to Costa Rica in March with my 15-year-old daughter, Eden, for a split coffee sourcing and father-daughter spring break trip. Every time I travel to origin, I feel like it is a life-changing experience and this trip is yet another example of that. About 25 years ago, when I was in my early days at Intel, I took my first trip to Costa Rica. I was blown away by the coffee, but back then I had no idea how much better it could get. I was also impressed with the scenery and fell in love with the people during my first visit. I traveled there about five times over a five-year period and had some of the best business trips of my life in that country. However, those trips stopped when I left Intel 17 years ago. I missed Costa Rica and had yet to travel there for coffee. So, as I was planning my trips to origin for 2023, I made sure Costa Rica was at the top of my list.

I had a few goals going into this trip. First, I wanted to re-establish some relationships that I had with producers from this beautiful country. Second, I wanted to build a new coffee relationship with an old acquaintance. And third, I wanted to have a great spring break trip with my daughter by showing her the country I fell in love with when I wasn’t much older than she is now. Given those goals, this trip could not have gone better. 

My first goal was accomplished by meeting up with a farmer that I had bought from a couple of times pre-COVID, Jonathan Comacho. In the aftermath of the pandemic, our relationship with him had fallen off and I was excited to finally meet him face-to-face and tour his farms. Jonathan is a local doctor who is now pursuing his dream of becoming a full-time coffee producer.  We met up with our export partner, Oxcart Coffee, and then drove off to find Jonathan.

Our first stop was the Aguilera Brother Micromill. One of the twelve brothers toured us through the mill and taught us about the unique Costa Rican wet and dry mill processes. This information came from an esteemed fifth-generation coffee-producing family and felt like a master class in coffee production. What an unexpected treat to see their hard work and passion firsthand. Jonathan had already spent the morning at the mill working on his lots and was tired from all his hard work. We met up with him later for lunch at Restaurant El Mirador and were awestruck by the views. After lunch, we started an off-road trek through each of his seven small farms. Jonathan’s introduction to coffee is very different than many producers. He was not raised in coffee, but was best friends with one of the Aguilera brothers and fell in love with coffee a little later in life. He and I have a lot in common in that sense.

After he started his first career he realized it was not his passion, so nearly ten years ago he started working towards buying and setting up farms. He spends his days in a public hospital, many times handing off coffee samples during breaks, and nights working on his coffee business. He thinks he’s about five years away from being able to completely financially support himself through his coffee business. We were lucky enough to see his enthusiasm for the industry on full display that afternoon. He’s excited to be able to build a home, a wet and dry mill, and several coffee-producing farms all over the West Valley of Costa Rica. We were blessed to see each one.

As we drove through an empty field, he pointed out the place he wants to build his home, right next to his mill. We drove through a shared farm that is not producing high enough quality coffee to sell as a specialty, and he talked about how once he gets his mill, he’ll be able to work with those producers to elevate their coffee and eventually double or triple their annual income. I couldn’t help but feel an instant camaraderie with Jonathan, as someone who started his career on another path but used the resources of that initial career to build a dream job and business. Jonathan is doing this the right way and putting together an operation that will help so many in his area. He has the perfect mentors in his close friends, the Aguilera brothers. I’m so glad we spent that day with him and am eager to partner with him as this dream becomes a reality.

My next goal was to build a new coffee relationship, or a “kind of new” coffee relationship. Early in the life of Sagebrush, I researched local Arizona coffee experts in an effort to grow as a business owner and gain a better understanding of the industry. I found a barista trainer named Perry Czopp and invited him out to lunch. I wanted to hear from him about the industry and hopefully gain a bit of information from someone who knew a lot more than I did. We had a great lunch where I was able to hear about coffee production from someone with firsthand experience. He had just returned from the Don Eli farm in Costa Rica where he processed coffees in preparation for a barista competition. In fact, Nela Montero also joined us at that lunch, the daughter of Carlos and part of the family that owns the Don Eli farm. Although Perry and Nela were not dating at the time, they are now married, which brings us to this trip.

Now, eight years later, Perry and Nela run Selva Coffee - a great exporting company that works with many producers throughout Tarrazu Costa Rica. Having not talked to him at all in those last eight years, I reached out online. He was gracious and welcomed us for a visit. They even let Eden and I stay on the Don Eli farm for a night and enjoy breakfast with the family. There is no one more welcoming and hospitable than this family and it was a blessing for us to partake in. On the first day there, we visited a farm of one of the producers they work with and got to see one of the most beautiful sunsets at Cafeteria Don Cayito, a coffee shop that was so good we went back the next afternoon. That night, Eden and I got the authentic Costa Rican experience of sleeping with insects on the farm.

On day two, we went to the Selva office and spent most of the morning cupping coffees. We started by cupping a bunch from a specific farm - there were some amazing coffees on that table. Our next table included coffees that were specifically chosen for us. This really helped us calibrate our palate with theirs, so they knew what we liked and disliked. After that, they had to narrow about 20 coffees to a top 15 for a very important customer, so we got to try them, provide our input, and watch how they made prioritization decisions. This made me gain a lot of respect for what they’re doing. From there, we grabbed lunch and had easily the best meal of the trip. After lunch, Perry and I talked about coffee-buying strategies and picked out 13 coffee samples for us to bring home. I brought home so many amazing coffees and, just last week, got to cup them with my team. I recently placed an order for our favorites and cannot wait for these coffees to come in so my customers can enjoy the fruit of this trip! Our trip to meet up with Perry and Nela was so sweet and they were incredibly welcoming. It meant a lot to us for them to welcome us into their home during the busiest week of their year. I was so grateful to turn a lunch from 2015 into a friendship during our time together and cannot wait to work with Selva for years to come.

The trip wasn’t all work. I mean it was mostly work, but Eden and I got a couple of days to just enjoy the views and each other. Not a lot of dads get a chance to spend this much time with their 15-year-old daughter and this was truly a treat. We drove all over Costa Rica, spending hours in the SUV. Eden was the Waze navigator, taking us through crazy roads in remote parts of the country. At one point, Waze took us down a road that was missing the bridge, and another time it took us down a one-way dead-end street, which apparently is a thing in Costa Rica. Since Eden is learning to drive, we were able to learn some tricks that don’t fly in the US.  Like if you want, you can stop in the middle of any road for any reason as long as you put your flashers on. One day we hit a wildlife preserve and waterfall garden. The waterfalls were impressive, we saw a sleeping sloth, and at one point a toucan divebombed Eden. But, the most memorable part of that day was the food… the waterfall gardens had a buffet that made me glad buffets aren’t a thing anymore!

Our last tourist day was spent on a walking tour in San Jose. It was crazy to walk in a busy metropolitan area and still see wildlife just live amongst the droves of people. At one point, we were able to watch a sloth come out of a tree for his biweekly restroom break. The times with Eden were pretty fun, but what stands out to me is how comfortable we were on this trip. It never seemed like we forced any conversation. We spent hours in the car and hours just talking and joking around.

When I started this business in 2012, I had no idea that it would be a conduit for me to build such incredible and lasting memories with my kids. I have now had the opportunity to take all three of my children on coffee origin trips, and each trip was an amazingly unique experience. Our mission as a business is to display the hard work of producers in our coffees and we got a chance to see that hard work firsthand. A by-product of this experience was to build lifelong memories with each other while we do it. I’m grateful for this trip and excited to see how it helps us in sourcing amazing new coffees while strengthening the relationships with the producers of the coffees we already carry.

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