2019 Costa Rica Origin Trip

By Seth Chapman (Roast Master)

Once again, on Water Street’s behalf, I set out for the coffeelands of Costa Rica, this time to expand and strengthen my relationships with both the coffee and the producers who put so much love and attention into their crop. This was my second time visiting, although this year’s visit began a few weeks earlier in the year which would allow me to experience some things I had not in years past, such as a wet mill in operation and parts of some coffee farms with trees still loaded with coffee cherries. The trip was full of adventure, friendships both new and old, and plenty of opportunity to dive in and immerse myself in all the details and subtleties of Costa Rican coffee, including how the harvest is going this year, what varieties and coffee processing methods are favored by each producer, what this year’s coffees are tasting like and what scores they are achieving, one-on-one time with roasters and coffee producers, and of course, cuppings of coffee from a handful of Costa Rica’s finest producers.

Video by Josiah Holroyd

Although I visited West Valley and Tarrazu, two of Costa Rica’s growing regions, the theme of lower yields is country-wide. This is not unexpected, though. The Arabica coffee plant, coffea arabica, goes through natural cycles of production where every two years there is an increase in production, followed by lower yields the next season. The 2018/2019 crop was one of more modest proportions, down about 20%, but that does not mean a decrease in quality. In fact, quality can be increased during low production years as the plant puts its nutrients into fewer cherries, allowing them to mature with more full, bigger flavor. During my time there I cupped 34 different coffees. A rather wide range of coffees were evaluated, some great for blending, others superb examples of the full potential of Costa Rican coffee. I visited a number of farms and producers during the week of March 3, 2019, as well as Cafe Imports’ new office located in the capitol of San Jose. What I found interesting is that each producer and each farm is, in essence, working toward the same goal: producing quality coffee for export. That being said, there are so many steps and opportunities along the way for each producer to implement their own techniques and practices that they employ on their farm which they believe will result in the best coffee they can produce. This yields more income, a healthier and happier life for both the producers and the surrounding environment, and more freedom to continue to excel, experiment and explore.

Tarrazú, Costa Rica

Edgar and Martin of El Pilon and La Chumeca instantly recognized me as I arrived at their farm, and approached me with open arms. The amount of appreciation and level of genuine care they show toward myself and others in the group is palpable. They are truly happy to share their work with others and take you in as one of their own. They also strongly believe in producing naturally processed coffee. So much so that they utilize the process for 100% of their crop. This process uses much less water than other processing methods, and is what makes their setup so simple and effective. This time around was fun because not only did I get to witness the process firsthand, but I was actually asked to help! The two are also heavily experimenting with alternative processing methods such as anaerobic fermentation and extended drying times.

Carlos, Anna, and their son Gabriel run La Pira de Dota in Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region. They are serious about coffee, but are always smiling and poking fun at each other, keeping the mood light and joyful. Their approach to coffee processing involves farming without any pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides, controlling pests naturally. Carlos utilizes local microorganisms to create a liquid fertilizer that can be applied to coffee plants to control pests and accelerate growth. The solution is an environmentally friendly alternative to agrochemicals, reducing environmental contamination, production costs, and improving social relations in the farming community.

I also spent some time with Daniela Guttirez of La Montana de Tarrazu, and Marcia and Hugo Naranjo of La Candelilla. Truly inspirational producers. Cupping and evaluation of coffees happened at Oxcart Coffee, an extension of Cafe Imports, based in San Jose. This trip would not have been possible without my coffee family there, in particular Matt, Francine, and Luis. Their new Oxcart office greatly increases their presence in Costa Rica, and also serves as a “place to process and evaluate samples, meet with producers, and file all the necessary paperwork involved in shipping green coffee internationally, but it also gives us a hummingbird’s-eye view of the year’s crop and the producers’ triumphs and tribulations all year long.” Being able to take part in this year’s evaluation of coffees is an honor, and also gives me the opportunity to book or purchase coffee on the spot. A truly humbling opportunity.

West Valley, Costa Rica

La Perla del Cafe, located in Costa Rica’s West Valley, is operated by Don Carlos, a third-generation producer. Carlos strongly believes in maintaining a pure line of coffee variety so as not to mix varietals, and thus flavor and coffee characteristics. He does this by paying close attention to pruning and plot renovation, and not wasting time with old coffee plants. Carlos draws the analogy of production between coffee plants and cows; calves are much better producers of milk than an old cow, and the same applies to coffee plants.

Perhaps the crowning jewel was my return and reuniting with the Aguilera Brothers. I am greeted by Felipe and Juan, two of the brothers. Instantly Felipe recognized me from last year’s trip, and he gave me a big thumbs up and a big, friendly smile. Felipe speaks a little bit of English, so I was able to chat with him for a bit. He showed me his new coffee roaster that he acquired a few months back, and explained how he roasts coffee for his neighbors and sells it at a local market. Before departing I presented him with a bag of his coffee from Finca Angelina that Water Street purchased and roasted from last harvest. The highest quality green coffee is sold for export, so it isn’t often that the Aguilera Brothers are able to drink their own coffee. This makes for a very special opportunity. Bringing things full circle for both roaster and producer is a beautiful and unique experience, and I am happy to give back.

This is our fourth consecutive year working with the Aguilera brothers. Cupping out the coffees from the farms we visited and engaging in impactful conversations with fellow coffee industry professionals and the producers themselves brings things full circle, and makes real relationships evolve and grow. It is truly how we make our decision in purchasing our Costa Rican coffee for our special Fresh Crop program. It is our goal to serve these coffees to you in the most honest, transparent fun way, so you can get as authentic an experience as I did in Costa Rica, right here in Kalamazoo.

Visit the Shop for Costa Rica Honey Finca Angelina

To read about Costa Rica Origin Trip from 2018, CLICK HERE.

Water Street Coffee’s Roastmaster, Seth Chapman, visited Costa Rica this past March to meet some of our suppliers and learn more about the region. Read on to hear about his trip, and the future of Water Street’s Costa Rican coffee offerings…


I arrived in sunny San Jose, Costa Rica on Monday, March 19th. I was on my second mission to a coffee-producing country, aiming to expand my knowledge in a country well-known for its exceptional coffees. During my seven days in Costa Rica’s West Valley and Tarrazu regions I learned and experienced far more than I could have hoped for, and the experience proved invaluable on both a personal and professional level.

Carlos Pira of La Pira de Dota after being given a bag of Water Street Coffee

This time around I joined forces with some great folks on the Café Imports team: Matt Brown and Omar Herrera, our sales representatives, and Luis Aroca, green buyer for Café Imports, who works out of their office located in San José. I was also joined by seven other coffee professionals from the U.S. Together we visited five individual coffee farms, met producers, cupped 40 different coffees from the surrounding area, and marked the beginning of some wonderful relationships.

The 2017/2018 harvest in Costa Rica was just wrapping up around the time of our arrival. Producers faced particularly adverse weather conditions this past January with unusually high levels of rainfall. Not only did the increased rainfall make this year’s harvest more difficult, it also increased the price of coffee from Costa Rica since less is available, and it has also cast a degree of uncertainty onto next year’s harvest. Being so close to the equator, Costa Rica does not experience the four seasons many of us in the U.S. are accustomed to. Instead, they have a dry season and a rainy season. This year the rainy season hit late and heavy, with precipitation for weeks on end. This heavy rain made production difficult in many ways.

Natural coffees drying at La Chumeca

Drying beds at La Chumeca










Drying times for natural coffees doubled in some areas, increasing from the usual 18 to 20 day period to as many as 40 days. This slow drying time not only increased the risk of possible mold and other taints, but it also took up space—space that many micromills can’t afford. Thankfully, many micromills have large mechanical dryers to dry the coffee beans when the weather does not cooperate. 

Excess rain also causes coffee cherries to swell and pop, breaking the skin of the cherry and compromising quality. Heavy rain and wind also breaks cherries free from the plant itself, causing both ripe and under-ripe fruit to fall to the ground. Lastly, the late, heavy rains also caused the coffee plants to flower much earlier than usual, creating uncertainty about next years’ harvest. An early bloom means an early harvest. How exactly the situation will play out remains yet to be seen.

Another game changer that I hear about often and actually got to experience on this trip was climate change. With quite a gloomy outlook forecasted by many scientists and coffee professionals alike, coffee farms are essentially moving up mountainsides as temperatures rise, in order to find the most suitable climate for coffee production. Our visit to one particular farm solidified this reality. Just seven short years ago Beneficio MonteBrisas was too cold to grow coffee plants. Doña María Elena used to run a pasture on this same land, but she made the switch in 2010 and hasn’t looked back. In this case, climate change has worked in favor of coffee production, but it’s not clear what the future holds. 

Doña María Elena of Beneficio MonteBrisas discussing her method of drying coffee

Although faced with challenging weather, things were clearly still in good shape, despite concerns. I had the opportunity to cup 40 different coffees from farms in the West Valley and was not disappointed. The current state of the Costa Rican coffee industry reminded me of my trip to Mexico last year, where the farmers were still recovering from coffee leaf rust. Similarly, Sumatra has been dealing with heavy rain as of late, causing drastic price hikes for Sumatran coffees. There’s always something, somewhere, that calls for innovation or adaptation in order to produce quality coffee year after year, and seeing producers in Costa Rica persevere was reassuring. 

The Wet Mill, Warehouse, and Drying Patios at Aguilera Brothers

Generally, Ticos (native Costa Ricans) are extremely environmentally conscious, and this is especially true of the country’s coffee farmers. Nothing goes to waste on a Costa Rican coffee farm and everything is done to minimize the use of water. Coffee pulp and parchment are used as fuel for cooking and for mechanical dryers, and also as a fertilizer. Water usage is minimized due to water restrictions put in effect by the government. Water that is used to wash coffees becomes toxic after removing the pulp from around the coffee beans, so in order to avoid contaminated runoff, restrictions were placed on this method of processing coffee. As a result, you will not see any fermentation tanks in Costa Rica (except for a few larger mills that have the proper water filtration equipment), a sight so common on farms around the world. 

Edgar of El Pilon



Fully washed microlots are very difficult to come by in Costa Rica; the farms almost exclusively produce natural or honey-processed coffees. This eco-friendly mindset has a huge effect on coffee production and quality. While it is fairly easy to get from place to place, especially in comparison to traveling in Mexico, there is also a wonderful sense of cohabitation between humans and nature. Noticing how each individual producer harnesses this relationship and uses it to produce finer coffees or begin new experiments was exciting!

The experimentation and innovation on the farm level leads to some very interesting, unique coffees. Each farm has a different microclimate, different varietals of coffee plants, and unique processing methods that all lend different qualities to the final cup. The Aguilera Brothers’ micromill is located just 25 kilometers from MonteBrisas, yet MonteBrisas is 300 meters higher. We were comfortable in t-shirts while visiting the Aguilera Brothers, but air got chilly up higher at MonteBrisas. The Aguilera Brothers dry their coffees on a covered patio, called a parabolic dryer, while Elena relies on a series of raised beds for drying. The folks at El Pilon and La Chumeca only produce natural coffees and are also experimenting with anaerobic fermentation in large stainless steel drums. And over at La Pira de Dota, Carlos Pira has developed a clever system that allows the mountain winds to cool the water used to carry the coffee in the wet mill. Carlos uses the analogy of peeling a mango to stripping the skin off the coffee cherries. He says that peeling a warm mango will remove some of the pulp as well, promoting quicker oxidation, whereas peeling a cool mango keeps the pulp intact, slowing oxidation. He believes keeping the fruit cool will lead to a better, sweeter cup. Pira is also experimenting with new, unique methods of processing coffee, including using anaerobic fermentation with the addition of spices such as cinnamon. 

Felipe of Aguilera Brothers explaining his Wet-Milling Process

While experimentation and executing new processes and ideas can be risky, especially since a mistake or an unfortunate event could seriously reduce income, Ticos continue to lead the way. Costa Rica proved to be a beautiful country with much hope for the future in terms of producing exciting, exceptional coffees. An abundance of micromills gives each producer complete control over their product from beginning to end, and all the more opportunity to innovate and experiment with processes that pique their interest.

Stay tuned for fun new offerings from this origin, including the latest edition to our Fresh Crop Series, Costa Rica Honey Finca Angelina!




Water St. Origin Trip EthiopiaAn origin trip involves traveling to a coffee producing country to gain a more comprehensive understanding of where our coffee comes from and the various processes it undergoes before it is consumed. Coffee cultivation requires high altitudes and warm weather so travel is usually necessary in order to experience and fully understand coffee at origin. In December of 2017, Water Street owner Mark Smutek traveled to Ethiopia to experience and learn firsthand how coffee in Ethiopia is grown and processed. Our acquisition of our Organic Ethiopia Natural Alaka Hambela coffee is a result of this excursion.

About Mark’s Trip

Why Ethiopia?

“Some of the best coffee in the world is coming out of Ethiopia, especially from the farms and co-op I visited.”

What was one of the best parts of the trip?

“The amount of physical hand work that is involved in getting a single coffee bean into a brewed cup of coffee was astonishing to see in person.”

What do you want Water Street customers to know about your trip to Ethiopia?

“The quality of any coffee comes down to the interaction of the human hand and the coffee bean. On the farms and co-op I visited each individual coffee bean was touched at least a dozen times before it was sent to be exported.”  

Our Organic Ethiopia Natural Alaka Hambela coffee is from Guji, Alaka District, Ethiopia. This coffee is also one of our Fresh Crop coffees! The coffee was grown on the Hambela coffee estate. The beautiful estate is operated by METAD Agricultural Development, which is a family-owned business.

Do you like a light flavorful roast?

The Organic Ethiopia Natural Alaka Hambela will be perfect for you! When you are tasting this coffee, you can look for flavors of dried cherry and cocoa. This coffee also has a tart, bright acidity. The body of this coffee is smooth and milky. This fresh crop has an elaborate aroma with hints of raisin. You can get our Organic Ethiopia Natural Alaka Hambela – Fresh Crop in one of our cafés or online here.

About Ethiopia

Ethiopia is about twice the size of Texas, and it is the world’s oldest coffee growing region. It has a rich, deep history of coffee culture and production, unlike any other coffee-producing country. It’s the birthplace of coffea arabica and home to old-growth forests. These forests are home to 40,000 varietals of the coffee plant. The people, geography and boundless flora combine to create the intriguing, complex flavors one associates with Ethiopian coffee. 

Since Ethiopia is the origin of coffee, it is different from other coffee growing regions and it was not introduced as a cash crop. Producers have a very personal relationship with coffee. It is part of their traditions and daily routine. They grow coffee not only for export, but also to enjoy! Domestic consumption of coffee in Ethiopia is very high.

Development in Ethiopia

In the16th century, Ethiopia’s old-growth forests covered nearly 40% of the country. Today, there is only 4.4% of old-growth or wild forest remaining. The change in climate is resulting in wild coffee plants disappearing and being pushed up mountainsides where the climate is slightly cooler. But there is hope for a more sustainable future. Recently there has been a focus on putting a stop to or at least slowing deforestation in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government is encouraging this movement, trying to save old-growth. Despite this, Ethiopia is still rich with diversity in their landscape, plants, and vegetation.

The most exciting recent development has to do with the coffee market in Ethiopia. The market has been cracked open thanks to sweeping changes made by the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange. This exchange regulates the sale and marketing of Ethiopian coffee. Before these changes, farmers were guaranteed stable prices at the expense of traceability and transparency. You may have noticed that we have never had a farmer-specific offer from Ethiopia, only general regional and processing identifiers as well as grade. Now the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange rules have changed. Washing stations and mills can now sell coffee directly to buyers without going through the exchange. The hope here is to increase traceability, and in turn generate higher quality coffee, resulting in a higher return for producers.

Region and Flavor Profiles

Ethiopia produces 6.5 million bags of coffee a year! They export 3.5
million bags of coffee a year, and keep the rest for local consumption.

The profile of the coffee will vary based on the variety, process, and microregion. With the natural process of producing coffee, the fruit is left on the bean during the drying process. This results in coffee that has fruit, wine, and chocolate tones with a syrupy body. This process stems from Ethiopia. Ethiopia is also well-known for producing excellent washed coffees. This process presents a cleaner character in terms of flavor, with less fruit tones and a more refined profile, sometimes reminiscent of tea. Washed beans typically have a lighter, more pronounced acidity with more floral flavors.

Fun Facts: Ethiopia is the only coffee-producing country that solely grows Arabica species. No robusta!

Water Street Coffee Roaster April 2017

coffee dry mill at origin

The Dry Mill in Indepencia

Let’s recap…What is a coffee origin trip?

Traveling to a coffee producing country is what the coffee industry refers to as an ‘origin trip’. Due to the fact that the climate and elevation in the continental United States is not conducive to coffee growth, this travel is often necessary in understanding where our coffee comes from and is an important experience from the largest importers down to the smallest micro-roasters.

As a coffee roaster traveling to origin, we can expand our perspective in terms of not just production but of an entire region’s growing process from fertilizer to labor to the fully milled, exportable bean. It allows for a closer relationship with both producers and importers as well as a much more transparent connection with the coffee itself. At Water Street, we  understand that our roaster is part of a larger global coffee community and the education we receive at origin is invaluable to being a responsible, contributing member of that community from knowing the issues that threaten the crops to seeing first hand the care and quality control that goes into each bag of coffee. So please, join us as we share how we tasted, hiked, and learned our way through some incredible coffee co-ops in Chiapas, Mexico.


On our final day we visited a dry-mill located in Independencia. Here we participated in a comprehensive cupping session as well as a full tour of the mill. The first cupping consisted of 20 coffees from all three co-ops we had or would visit by the end of our trip. Coffees were cupped, evaluated, and scores were compiled by our guide and translator from Cafe Imports, Piero Cristiani.

coffee cupping session scoring coffee
Left: Working our way through the cupping, Right: Compiling Scores 

The dry-mill tour was exciting because we were able to see firsthand the dry-milling that prepares the coffee for export. The only step that follows is loading the coffee bags into a container and transporting them to the the US or other countries to be roasted and finally consumed.

The mill was dusty and loud, but over the dull roar of machinery we began learning how the dry-mill process works. First, bags of parchment are dumped through a grate and any foreign material is removed by hand. The coffee then moves up an elevator where it is first cleaned of any residual debris before it falls down to the huller to remove the parchment from the bean. After hulling, the beans move through a sorter which sorts beans by density using air then moves them through a drum which separates the beans by size. As a final step, the beans are sorted one last time into different qualities (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) using oliver tables; big tables that shake and sort the beans by density once more.

filling coffee bags at origin  full coffee bags

Left: Emptying the Hulled and Sorted Coffee Into Bags, Right: Forming a Row of Filled Coffee Bags

The second cupping consisted of 19 more coffees and another scoring session. Much of the coffees tasted here and at the first table were amazing. In particular, there were 5 from the first round and 6 from the second round that really got my attention. This was a unique opportunity for all of us to score these coffees and see how we each scored the coffees comparatively. This was definitely the most coffee I have ever cupped in one day (each coffee had 4 cups, and there were 39 coffees total). It was pretty incredible!

coffee samples coffee cupping selfie

Left: Piero Pouring Water on Our Samples, Right: Obligatory Origin Cupping Selfie. Hi!

Thoroughly caffeinated, we now made our way to Comon Yaj Noptic where we were treated to lunch before the tour of the co-op. Comon Yaj Noptic was formed in May of 1985 and composed originally of 201 members. The literal translation is “We Are All Thinking About It.” It was founded as a way to gain access to social and environmental projects and in 2001 sold its first 2 containers to Starbucks. The money from that helped them grow and develop into what they have become today. Comon is extremely environmentally conscious and, in addition to coffee, they also monitor birds and their migration patterns in order to work in harmony with their surroundings. This year Comon plans on producing 4 containers with 100 bags being microlots.

Comon Yaj Noptic  Comon Yaj Noptic alt view

Left: Comon Yaj Noptic, Right: Another View of Comon Yaj Noptic

Comon also maintains an impressive array of certifications such as Organic, Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, and JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standard). It’s values encompass maintaining trust with clients, being socially responsible, and being honest with producers.

Structure was similar to that of the other co-ops we visited, but it was clear that Comon was the smallest in membership of them all. They also have many social projects including nurseries for coffee and shade trees; a fertilizer plant; food safety; raising chickens, pigs, and fish; renewing plantations; and maintaining a vegetable garden.

Comon also seemed to be composed of younger members in general, so the presence of technology had made its way into the co-op. They are the first co-op in the area to have tablets and the ability to record data digitally. In the future, they hope to make this information available to buyers which will continue to help with efforts in traceability.

The co-op was also very invested in ecotourism with a restaurant on site and brand new cabins for students or travelers to come study.

cabins for ecotourism at coffee co-op in mexico

New Cabins for Ecotourism

Newer co-op principles include opening up health clinics with help from Grounds for Health, opening a primary school with the help of the money received from selling their first two containers of coffee to Starbucks, and sustainability and environmental programs where they tend to honey, chickens, mushrooms, and more. Part of their Fair Trade minimums go towards health projects and savings funds, which ended up helping with the outbreak of rust.

We were able to tour their warehouse and nursery as well, as seen below.

  coffee soldiers coffees in transition  young coffee plants, known as 'butterflies'

Left: Soldiers at Comon Yaj Noptic, Center: Coffees in Transition, Right: Sprouting Soldiers, Referred to as “Butterflies”

After Comon, we made the trip back to Tuxtla for a stay at a hotel and departures began the following morning.

This was a hugely successful trip and I have gained so much from it. Going to origin really puts perspective on the coffee industry and truly brings things full-circle for me. On the ride to Tuxtla, we all shared our favorite memories which included tasting a coffee cherry for the first time, the coffee nurseries, nobody getting sick, and one of the producers calling President Trump a mummy. I am so blessed to have spent this time with such great, like-minded individuals. It is something I will never forget. Thanks goes to all for making this trip so pleasurable!

Until next time…

Note: Keep an eye out for a very special coffee from the Campesinos Ecologicos de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas, or CESMACH cooperative, to hit our shelves before the end of summer – the Fair Trade Organic Mexico Chiapas CESMACH. This washed coffee is distinctly sweet, exceptionally smooth, and the soft notes of cocoa and almond make it an all-day easy-drinker. This isn’t a coffee you want to miss so stay tuned for a launch announcement so you can be sure to get your own little taste of Chiapas, Mexico.

Comon Yaj Noptic

Go back to Day 1

Go back to Day 2

At Water Street, we understand that our roaster is part of a larger global coffee community and the education we receive at origin is invaluable to being a responsible, contributing member of that community from knowing the issues that threaten the crops to seeing first hand the care and quality control that goes into each bag of coffee. So please, join us as we share how we tasted, hiked, and learned our way through some incredible coffee co-ops in Chiapas, Mexico.  We took some time to talk with our Roastmaster Seth Chapman, after he returned.

As told by Roastmaster, Seth Chapman.

What was the most interesting thing you learned on the trip?

This is a tough question as I learned so much from my first origin trip. I suppose the most interesting thing I learned was the enormous role that co-ops played in the industry. I knew that co-ops were important in that they act as a hub for local producers to sell their coffee to but I learned that they are much more than just that. Aside from providing producers with resources such as fertilizer, coffee plants, and advice, the co-ops we visited were very structured, proactive, and held very important values at their core, such as being honest with producers, remaining environmentally responsible, and ensuring trust with their clients. It was also impressive to learn that their success not only affects producers but also the surrounding communities as the co-ops also invest in clinics, eco-tourism, schools, and other economically and socially important areas.


Who was the most impactful person you met on the trip?

I would have to give credit to Calixto Guillen, head of quality control and physical analysis at Triunfo Verde. Calixto was very detail oriented and meticulous when it came to the coffee he received at his co-op, and his attention to detail didn’t end there. He follows his coffee all the way to the dry mill. His values also struck me as very real and important; a strong focus on cupping, as well as strong relations with his buyers, meaning he and his team are putting a lot of effort into meeting the needs of their buyers and providing quality specialty coffee. Calixto is very thorough and cups a sample of every single bag of coffee that enters his warehouse. This sort of dedication I feel is rare yet strikingly important in the industry.


What was your favorite part of the trip?

Visiting Ojo de Agua, the farm located at 1500m above sea level (4921ft), was my favorite part of the trip for many reasons. The first notable sensation after reaching the farm was the heavenly smell of whole coffee cherries drying on the patios of the farm. The smell of dark chocolate with deep red fruit notes was absolutely amazing. The plantation where the coffee plants were located was up a mountainside another 50m, and this is where I bit into my first ripe coffee cherry. After locating a ripe cherry (although we arrived just after harvest, there was still a spattering of coffee cherries to be found) I popped it into my mouth. It was of the Maragogype varietal. I could tell because of the unusually large size of the beans. The taste was reminiscent of a mixture of cranberries and grapes, with ample sweetness. This alone was something I’ve desired to do for years, and finally I had my opportunity! Although the experience is rather short, it’s like nothing you’ve tasted before. Aside from tasting my first coffee cherry, the whole farm experience was really enriching in regards to my perspective of life on a coffee farm.


Do you think it’s important for coffee professionals to go to origin?  If so, why?

Absolutely. I think it lends a lot to credibility and shows a level of seriousness in your profession. Origin trips will never be forgotten; the lessons and experiences are invaluable to not only you as the individual but for the company as a whole. There is only so much reading and listening you can do before going to origin to connect the dots yourself. Going to origin brings everything full circle and helps put into perspective what actually happens on the other side of the supply chain of coffee.


What do you want Water Street customers to know about your trip to Mexico?

I would love to communicate to our customers how much the co-ops and producers truly care about their product and our needs. The amount of pride and joy they take in producing a quality specialty coffee definitely shows in all of their faces and permeates its way into the final cup of coffee you drink. Their passion and willingness to constantly experiment and improve their methods is both refreshing and innovating, and it’s truly exciting to see what the future holds in terms of growing quality and new, exciting coffees coming from Chiapas.


Want to learn more about Water Street’s origin trip?

Follow us through Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3!

Water Street Coffee Roaster April 2017

Church near coffee farm

The Church Located at Ojo de Agua

Let’s recap…What is a coffee origin trip?

Traveling to a coffee producing country is what the coffee industry refers to as an ‘origin trip’. Due to the fact that the climate and elevation in the continental United States is not conducive to coffee growth, this travel is often necessary in understanding where our coffee comes from and is an important experience from the largest importers down to the smallest micro-roasters.

As a coffee roaster traveling to origin, we can expand our perspective in terms of not just production but of an entire region’s growing process from fertilizer to labor to the fully milled, exportable bean. It allows for a closer relationship with both producers and importers as well as a much more transparent connection with the coffee itself. At Water Street, we  understand that our roaster is part of a larger global coffee community and the education we receive at origin is invaluable to being a responsible, contributing member of that community from knowing the issues that threaten the crops to seeing first hand the care and quality control that goes into each bag of coffee. So please, join us as we share how we tasted, hiked, and learned our way through some incredible coffee co-ops in Chiapas, Mexico.

DAY 2 – April 4, 2017 

The drive to the first destination on our second day was a trying one. Following twisty, winding, bumpy roads up the mountains for about an hour and a half, we finally arrived at Ojo de Agua in the early afternoon. Located in the municipality of Montecristo, this farm (or finca) has been a member of CESMACH for 3 years, certified organic for 14 years, covers 9 hectares, and consists of 9 members, who all live on the farm.

The drying patios and wet mill, pictured below, lie about 50m below the plantation at 1500m above sea level.

Naturally processed coffee drying

The Patios at Ojo de Agua Drying a Naturally Processed Coffee

Coffee fermentation tank

The Main Fermentation Tank

The hike up the mountain to the plantation was exciting and exhausting at an altitude of 1550m. We followed extremely narrow paths up the mountainside and first stopped at one of the nurseries the farm had on the path to the plantation.

Coffee nursery

Ojo de Agua’s Nursery

Just past the nursery was the plantation with coffee plants scattered about the mountainside in such a way that if you didn’t know what to look for it was hard to distinguish them from the local flora. This, in particular, is where the devastating effects that rust has had began to truly sink in for us. Although the farm was producing well, there were still many trees that needed to be renovated and were completely unable to bear any fruit. It was sad to see but, despite the hardship, each and every person we had met thus far showed such hope and determination. And even better, their inspiring efforts to recover were starting to make a noticeable difference. Last year the farm produced 5,700kg of green coffee, this year it produced 11,000kg.

Another important aid in fighting the coffee rust, outside of the overwhelmingly positive morale, is the fact that Ojo de Agua uses the fertilizer and plants produced by CESMACH. This is a great example of how co-ops are essential to the success and survival of many coffee farms in Mexico. Without these invaluable resources many farms would have taken much longer to reach these levels of recovery on their own – if they were ever able to recover at all. 

Although harvesting had finished at the time we visited, there were still some ripe cherries on a few trees which was one of the most exciting parts of the trip for me. Holding and tasting fresh coffee cherries was a delightful experience you can only get at origin. I popped one in my mouth and could tell from the size of the bean that it was the Maragogype varietal, a varietal on the farm that tends to yield larger beans. The taste was not too sweet and reminiscent of a cranberry or a grape.

A healthy coffee plant A handful of coffee cherries

(Picture above from left to right: A healthy coffee plant, a coffee plant effected by coffee rust, and a handful of coffee cherries.) 

To end our exploration of the farm, we were given a tour on how the farm wet-mills it’s coffee. After the coffee is brought down from the mountainside, it enters a washing tank, where floaters (any coffee beans that float) are removed as they are of lesser quality. After the initial soak, the coffee runs through a de-pulper which removes the skin and pulp of the coffee cherries. Once the pulp is removed, the coffee enters a fermentation tank where the beans are rinsed twice over a 24 hour period. This is where the remaining mucilage is washed off. Lastly, there is one more section of the washing station where the coffee is checked again for floating beans, which are removed, and then the coffee is channeled down to the patios for drying.

Holding coffee cherries

The Water Street Duo With Fresh Coffee Cherries in Hand

The lasting impression from Ojo de Agua was that the farm had a very impressive, efficient setup. It’s clear how much care is taken in producing their coffee and that care shows through in the strides they have made to overcome the rust outbreak as well as the hospitality we were shown everywhere we went. Before our departure we were treated to lunch and a cup of coffee, a natural Maragogype grown right there on the farm. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!

Our second day ended back with CESMACH who shared their thanks and hospitality with us through a fantastic meal, cooked on site at the co-op, live music and all, for a true origin life experience.

Go back to Day 1

Read on for Day 3 at the dry-mill in Independencia…

Now available, in our cafes and online!

Fair Trade Organic Mexico Chiapas “Alonso Martinez”


This one-of-a-kind microlot is a direct result of our Roastmaster Seth’s trip to Chiapas, Mexico in April of 2017. Alonso Martinez, a member of the Triunfo Verde Co-op, produced this coffee with care, passion, and skill, yielding roughly 760 pounds of green coffee. After selecting this coffee among 38 others during a cupping at origin for its outstanding characteristics, Water Street decided to work closely with Cafe Imports to import his entire microlot. That’s right, Water Street is truly the only place in the world offering this particular coffee!

While visiting the Triunfo Verde Co-op we had the pleasure of meeting Calixto Guillen, head of quality control, physical analysis, and cupping. His thoroughness and attention to detail definitely played a part in making this a solid offering. And although Alonso produced more coffee than the 5 bags we received, this is his only microlot produced this year. The rest of his crop became blended with coffees from other producers in the area.

Triunfo Verde has just over 500 active producers, and the surrounding area has great conditions for producing quality coffee. This includes heirloom coffee varities, great altitude, and passionate growers who want to produce high quality lots. This farm is on the fringe of the Biosphere Reserve, which is in the highlands of the Sierra Madre, and is one of the most diverse forest reserve areas in the world. It contains Meso-America’s largest cloud forest, as well as a protected natural environment for thousands of plant and animal species. All of the coffee produced here is shade-grown.

Tasting notes:

Aroma: vanilla, milk chocolate

Flavor: refined, mild, tobacco

Acidity: bright, tangy

Body: sweet cream thickness, smooth


Pick up a bag at our cafes, or order online here!

Read more about our origin trip below!

Skip to Day 2

Skip to Day 3


Water Street Coffee Roaster April 2017

What is a coffee origin trip?

Traveling to a coffee producing country is what the coffee industry refers to as an ‘origin trip’. Due to the fact that the climate and elevation in the continental United States is not conducive to coffee growth, this travel is often necessary in understanding where our coffee comes from and is an important experience from the largest importers down to the smallest micro-roasters.

As a coffee roaster traveling to origin, we can expand our perspective in terms of not just production but of an entire region’s growing process from fertilizer to labor to the fully milled, exportable bean. It allows for a closer relationship with both producers and importers as well as a much more transparent connection with the coffee itself. At Water Street, we  understand that our roaster is part of a larger global coffee community and the education we receive at origin is invaluable to being a responsible, contributing member of that community from knowing the issues that threaten the crops to seeing first hand the care and quality control that goes into each bag of coffee. So please, join us as we share how we tasted, hiked, and learned our way through some incredible coffee co-ops in Chiapas, Mexico.

Day 1 – April 3rd 

Our first full day in Jaltenango, a municipality in the State of Chiapas, was filled with firsts for both myself and Liz, Water Street Coffee’s Director of Operations.

Breakfast was at a place just around the corner from our hotel, where a nice woman offered to cook us breakfast and make us coffee. The food was delightful, authentic, and filling, and the coffee a bit (and by a bit, I mean a LOT) heavy on the sugar. I don’t think any one of us had more than a sip. Bellies full, albeit sans coffee, we made our way to CESMACH, 1 of the 3 co-ops we would be visiting on our trip. This particular co-op has been working with Cafe Imports, one of our main importers, for 10 years.


CESMACH Coffee Warehouse

CESMACH Warehouse

Each co-op provides coffee growers in the area with the resources and knowledge they need to be a successful member of that co-op. Assistance is provided in the form of fertilizer, coffee plants, financial support, and an infrastructure that includes storage warehouses, facilities, meeting rooms, and roasters.  All of these opportunities guarantee higher premiums for coffee when it is sold to the co-op as well as providing integral support for the international purchasing process.

To begin, we were given a tour of the warehouse that receives coffee from producers in the area.

Coffee milling

Jeremias milling a sample of coffee

CESMACH receives coffee from 4 municipalities, and is made up of 666 members. Since we arrived in Mexico toward the end of the harvest, we were able to witness coffee being received at the cooperative from one of the local growers. Jeremias, head of quality control and physical analysis at CESMACH, walked us through exactly what happens when the coffee is received.

First, Jeremias ensures that the producer is actually a member of CESMACH as they cannot purchase coffee from non-members. Producers can either transport the coffee to the co-op themselves or they can rent a truck from the co-op to bring in the coffee. Jeremias also verifies if the producer is certified organic. Each and every bag received is labelled and stored in the warehouse properly and not mixed with coffees not yet certified.

Upon arrival, Jeremias has the producer place his coffee on a scale to see how much coffee he is delivering. At this point, the coffee is still in parchment, or pergamino in Spanish. He then pulls a 350 gram sample from the bags, mills the coffee to remove the parchment, and then weighs it again. This will give him a yield factor from which he can extrapolate how much actual green coffee will come from the coffee received. A typical yield for washed coffee is 83–84%, and 50–52% for a natural processed coffee. During this process Jeremias also checks the moisture content of the bean both with his teeth and a machine. He is looking for a percentage between 10–12%.

Coffee producer

Small producer waits for his coffee to be received

After the warehouse tour we attended a presentation given by CESMACH. The co-op has been operating for the past 22 years near the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, and is aimed at protecting the flora, some of which is dinosaur-age, fauna, birds, forests, and animals of the central portion of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Overall it encompasses 35 communities, and covers in total 2,535 hectares of land. This is a place in Mexico with wonderful biodiversity and it is utterly important to farm and produce responsibly in this area – and that’s exactly what CESMACH does.

During the presentation it was made clear that the biggest struggle producers have been facing in recent years is coffee rust.

Coffee rust is a fungus that attacks the coffee plant and creates rust-colored spots on the leaves of susceptible plants. The fungus will eventually kill the coffee plant, resulting in no coffee production from that plant. In 2011, Mexico took a devastating blow from this fungus with the darkest of days for producers between 2013–2014 when coffee rust had a presence in 95% of the coffee plantations and created a decrease in production of 40%. Some producers even abandoned coffee altogether and resorted to other means of income. This crop year, however, the region is seeing a rebound as the co-op has been learning more about rust, seeking out rust-resistant varietals, and improving soil fertility. Yields per hectare are double that of last year – up from 600 to 1,200.

Coffee Rust

Coffee Leaves: On the Left, a Leaf with Rust (Roya), on the Right, a Healthy Leaf

A great example of CESMACH’s rust mitigation effort was the discovery of a local Bourbon hybrid varietal named Rancho Bonito and a Geisha varietal that has been in the area for over 30 years, both of which are promising as rust resistant varietals. CESMACH also uses a bio-fertilizer to aid in sustaining a healthier plant and is in the process of certifying their own locally made fertilizer as organic which will then be distributed to producers moving forward. Due to these practices, and help from outside universities in identifying rust-resistant varietals, CESMACH estimates that they will export 30 containers of coffee this year (each container holds 275,152 pound bags). In total this means CESMACH is on track to export around 1.25 million pounds of coffee.

Another significant part of this trip and presentation was the discussion on women producers. In the past, women would tend to vegetable gardens or chickens and their children while the men owned and worked on the coffee farm. Due to cultural factors, it has historically been difficult for women to go to workshops and acquire the education and means necessary to produce coffee. However, women’s integration into the coffee industry has recently become more prevalent often due to the fact that many of the women’s husbands have migrated to the US.

Changes in land inheritance laws have helped as well, and if a woman becomes a widow she may choose to run the farm. Also some men have begun to let their wives administer part of the farm. Women producers sell their coffee as Café Femenino with proceeds going to health programs for women and other projects aimed at empowering women. Membership has grown from 6 members during its formation to 224 today. There is also 1 woman on the board of CESMACH for the first time which is a huge step in a country like Mexico. Women are seeing progress, and their daughters now have more opportunity for education as a result of this shift. Many health clinics have been established as well as social programs to benefit women and the community as a whole. The women in these communities are in charge of all processes of the coffee, from tree to dry-mill, and are held to the same standards as other producers. They have also noticed that the money is better managed as in many cases the husband may drink all the money made.

From Left to Right, Elizabeth Comrie (Water Street Coffee Roaster Director of Operations), Silvia (a board member for CESMACH), Magdalena (a fellow roaster).

Our last peek into CESMACH was a visit to the nursery. The nursery is critical in propagating new coffee plants to be distributed to producers, especially in times of recovery from rust. Manuel manages the nursery at CESMACH and offered much insight into selecting proper “soldiers” or “matchsticks” as the young coffee plants are referred to (see image below).

(Above) Each One of These Beds Contains 20,000 Soldiers, All of Which Have to Later Be Hand-Picked One-by-One and Transplanted, (Bottom Left) The Coffee Bean is Also the Seed of the Plant, (Bottom Center) Young Coffee Plants, or Soldiers at CESMACH’s Nursery, (Bottom Right) Fertilizer Produced by the co-op. Manuel Gomez Santiz, pictured here, is the nursery manager for CESMACH.

Coffee soldiers Young Coffee plants Coffee fertilizer

A very special fertilizer, and point of pride for CESMACH, is used in the nursery that is composed of manure, California red worm, compost, and worm urine. Other fertilizers are used by collecting soil from the mountains and reproducing organisms that would naturally occur. This helps the plant absorb nutrients and is applied to the foliage and given to producers.

All in all, CESMACH was very impressive in terms of organization care, passion, and attention to detail. Their determination to push through the outbreak of rust has shown through the smiles on their faces and the hope and positive outlook towards the future was very heartwarming. They seemed the most family-oriented of the co-ops and were extremely hospitable to all of us during our visit.

The next stop on our first day was the co-op of Triunfo Verde where Calixto Guillen, head of quality control, physical analysis, and cupping, led us through their process in receiving coffee.

Triunfo Verde Coffee Co-op

Triunfo Verde Co-op

The process is much like that of CESMACH with some similarities but a few noticeable differences in the way they do things. For example, much care is taken to ensure the trucks bringing in the coffee are free of contaminants and are clean; they also monitor the coffee during every stage of processing including the dry-milling.

Also, since producers in the past used to fill coffee bags with foreign material intentionally to receive more money, Triunfo Verde empties each bag it receives into their own bags to check for foreign material at the point of arrival. One interesting thing I learned from Calixto is that it takes 3 years of organic farming practice to earn the organic certificate. For this reason, just like Jeremias at CESMACH, Calixto has a list to separate organic coffee from ‘coffee in transition’ .

Organic coffee producer list

Calixto Guillen Displaying His Log of Organic Coffees vs. Coffees in Transition

Triunfo Verde is made up of 513 members and estimates that they will process 22 containers this year (that’s a little over 900,000 pounds of green coffee). The co-op was formed in the late 1990’s from small groups in the area looking for resources and financing as prices were bad for producers due to a lot of competition from multinationals. Triunfo Verde shows producers best practices in pruning, pest control, harvesting, and more, all to help increase coffee quality and earn a higher premium.

Triunfo Verde’s producers were also hit hard not only by rust, but by a hurricane and low coffee prices all at the same time. They referred to it as “the perfect storm”. Coffee production dropped from 684kg per hectare to just 285kg per hectare with cup quality decreasing as well. In response to this devastating blow, the co-op developed a strategy to combat the rust which includes renewing and replanting, soil analysis, a brand new nursery, production of their own fertilizer, a new cupping lab, and workshops to teach producers.

What really struck me at Triunfo Verde was how thorough Calixto is, pulling and saving samples from every single bag, and cupping each and every sample. It makes everything incredibly traceable. And because of this emphasis on cupping and continued effort towards experimentation and micro-lots, these coffees will fetch an even higher premium. Higher premiums in turn result in faster progress towards growing methods, equipment replacement and upkeep, faster recovery in case of disaster, improved quality of life for members of the co-op, and finally improved quality of the coffee that eventually makes it’s way to our own shops. To maintain this traceability, every bag is labelled with a tag detailing everything about that coffee including the producer, lot number, and organic certification and is then stacked in the warehouse in stacks of 275 bags, the amount for a single container. While stacking, a sample is pulled from each bag and put into a separate bag which will represent what that lot will taste like since all of that coffee will eventually be blended together. If there is an issue during cupping of that coffee, it can easily be traced back to the individual bag.

Coffee Cupping Lab at Triunfo Verde

The New Cupping Lab at Triunfo Verde

The co-op also has a few nurseries which we toured. One of the nurseries alone could hold up to 500,000 plants which are given to producers. Like CESMACH, they have discovered other rust resistant varietals such as Pache Colin and a Dwarf Typica.

Coffee plants

Here are roughly 500,000 Coffee Plants

As a final note on our first day in Mexico, I think it’s important to mention how smart and wonderful it is that each co-op is not only concerned with coffee and preserving the environment but also experimenting with other methods of income and sustainability. My favorite example of this is CESMACH’s new beekeeping project. Honey is being produced with the bees using the nectar from the coffee plant, producing a coffee blossom honey. The honey is only available locally in Mexico but all of us were lucky enough to have a taste of the honeycomb.

Read on for Day 2 at Ojo de Agua…



Tea varies as much in appearance as the different faces of men. ~Hui-tsung, The Chinese Emperor (1082-1135) 

Chinese Empero, Hui-tsung, had the right of it. With all the different types of tea out there and with all their different packaging and brewing styles, it’s difficult sometimes to know what’s what. Is a black tea significantly different than a green tea? Why is chamomile tea full of flowers? Knowing the answer to these questions can ultimately help you decide which teas are best for you and with a little help from us you can brew it perfectly every time!

1) Every type of tea comes from the same plant.

Yes, that’s right! Whether it’s black, green, white, or oolong each variety is made from the Camellia sinensis plant. The differences in taste, look, and smell come from the way that the teas are processed. Black tea, for example, undergoes a complex process during which the tea leaves are fully oxidized. This creates the dark color that is reflected in both the leaf and your cup as it steeps.

2) Herbal teas are not, in fact, tea.

The proper term for these “teas” is herbal infusion or tisane, pronounced tih-zan.  Typically tisanes are made by combining water with fruits, leaves, seeds, grains, flowers or roots and depending on the blend of plants used they can have stimulant, relaxant, or sedative properties. Chamomile blossoms are a classic example of a tisane that people have been using for centuries to calm upset stomachs or aid in sleep.

3) Iced Tea and Tea Bags were both American inventions.

While iced tea had been consumed in America since just after the Civil War, it wasn’t until 1904 during the St. Louis World Fair that it became an American staple. A heat wave ruined the plan to give away free samples of hot tea to fair goers and so, to satisfy the need for cold beverages, the fair put their tea on ice. Then, in 1908, a New York tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan began bagging his tea for delivery to restaurants as samples. However, he soon realized the restaurants were brewing his samples still inside the bags to avoid the messy tea leaves and he suddenly found himself the accidental inventor of the modern tea bag.

4) Tea has more caffeine than coffee.

Compared pound to pound, tea contains more caffeine than your favorite coffee beans. However, we use much less tea to brew a cup of tea than the amount of beans needed to brew a cup of coffee which means that compared cup to cup, coffee will have more caffeine in its final product.

5) You shouldn’t use boiling water for brewing.

Depending on the type you like to drink, the optimal temperature for brewing your tea will change. Green tea, for example, usually has an optimal brewing temperature somewhere between 145-185 degrees Fahrenheit. Any hotter than this and you run the risk of scorching the leaves which can cause the tea to turn orange and have a bitter taste. Black teas have the highest heat tolerance, but even in their case, it is recommended that you let your boiling water cool for 2-3 minutes after boiling before you begin brewing.

Photography: Tea Bud (left) by Mandeep Singh – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0; Tea Flower (middle) by By Sanu N – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0; Camellia sinenis (right) by By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen – List of Koehler Images, Public Domain

Have you seen the coffee bags with the signature green label? These special bags represent our current Fresh Crop coffee offerings. With a limited availability and some truly brilliant characteristics, these coffees are incredibly special and we thought you ought to know!

What is Fresh Crop?

Our Fresh Crop coffees are beans that our Roastmaster purchases in small amounts throughout the year. Typically, these coffees are special or unique in what they offer; either distinct in flavor and processing or award-winning coffees. So they can be more expensive. But that’s okay, because you won’t find coffees like these just anywhere.

Another important feature to remember about Fresh Crop is that they are limited in quantity so when they are gone, they’re gone! But don’t let that discourage you. Our Roastmaster is always working to sample, roast, and cup the most sought after and interesting coffees he can find. When one is gone, another unique bean is getting ready to make its debut so keep an eye out.

Why is it important to us?

As we mentioned before, these coffees can be a little more expensive and a lot harder to come by than our typical Water Street staples but to us those details are absolutely worth being able to provide a premium, specialty coffee experience.

The Fresh Crop program also allows us the opportunity to educate our customers regularly about what we’re doing in the industry as well as providing a chance to support smaller, specialty farms right at their origin. For a look at one of our Fresh Crop suppliers, take a moment to check out Café Imports.

What are our current Fresh Crop offerings?

These coffees will change regularly based on what is available for that season and how quickly we sell out of them. However, we always have two to three Fresh Crop choices and have had as many as six at one time. To discover what is currently available you can check in at one of our shops or go online.

If you are visiting the shops look for the special green label bags on the coffee shelves. Each Fresh Crop will be sorted into it’s appropriate region of origin and the green label will provide tasting notes, brewing recommendations, and even more information about the particular region or farm that the coffee came from to help you decide on the perfect coffee for you. If you are looking for a recommendation or not sure how a Fresh Crop might compare to your other favorite brews, just ask one of our knowledgeable baristas!

Prefer to shop online? Just like in the cafe each of these coffees is sorted into their region of origin section so you can either shop through the sections and read more about any coffee that is labeled “Fresh Crop” or choose a region you already love to see if we are currently carrying a Fresh Crop from that area. And just like the labels in the shop, each coffee’s individual page provides tasting notes, brewing recommendations, and origin information so that you can compare it to other coffees and learn everything you need to choose the right coffee for you!

Our Roastmaster is always ordering, roasting test batches, and tasting in pursuit of the next amazing Fresh Crop offering so it’s important to check back regularly.