The Coffees of La Lia Variety Project is something that has evolved over the past four years with Luis Alberto Monge Ureña of La Lia in Tarrazú, Costa Rica. Every year we’ve offered very small, variety specific lots grown at the highest points of Luis’ various farms—celebrating some of the best examples of different coffee varieties in Costa Rica. This year, we’re super excited to showcase different varieties all from the same farm: Finca Pie San.
Luis purchased Pie San in 2012 and it has become his favorite farm, it also has the highest elevation of all the La Lia farms. While it is mostly planted with Catuaí and Caturra, he has planted small plots of over a dozen different varieties as a sort of fun experiment. Luis has his own nursery and every year when we visit he’s showing us new, odd varieties that he’s trying out. He gets nerdy and excited about it and we do too. This is the first year Pie San has had a large enough production of these new plants to create these lots.
Our relationship with La Lia has evolved over time. It was one of our first relationship-based coffee purchases. Coffee from La Lia is one of the main components of Neon throughout most of the year. The idea for this little project came about after our volume had grown with Luis, and we were already buying a significant amount of coffee from him. I think that’s one of the important things to remember with this project: that while we paid well for these exceptional lots, they represent a very small portion of Luis’ production and therefore a very small amount of his income. A balanced relationship in coffee means you’re impacting someone’s life by buying coffees across a spectrum, purchases that reflect the reality of coffee growing, and coffee roasting.
We are featuring three of these coffees per week for the next two weeks at our coffee bars. Coffees are available for brew by the cup or in a flight, as well as a limited number of retail bags of some of the offerings. Additionally, we have put together a box set of these coffees, which will be roasted and shipped the week of Christmas. What a great gift for the coffee super-nerd in your life!
Order The Coffees of La Lia Variety Project here.
There are only 50 box sets available, order by December 18th to be included. The following varieties are featured:
The Bourbon variety originated in Yemen and was brought by the French to what was called Bourbon Island (now Réunion Island,) east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. It is an heirloom variety with consistently good cup quality, low yielding like Typica (also from Yemen accession) and similarly susceptible to disease and coffee leaf rust. Bourbon exhibits different flavor profiles depending on where it’s grown. Bourbon types are also dominant in Rwanda and Burundi but the cup characteristics will be very different than what you taste from Central America and even more different than Brazil. Even so—across the board we’ve found that if the conditions are right, Bourbon produces a bangin’ cup of coffee.
Caturra was developed in Brazil in 1937 and is a mutation of the heirloom variety Bourbon. When we talk about “varieties” in coffee, most of them are actually cultivars—developed on accident or on purpose by human intervention. Some mutation of an heirloom variety might be singled out propagated for certain positive characteristics. Caturra was found to be highly productive with good cup quality, but unfit for growing conditions in Brazil, and has since become wildly popular in Central America and Colombia. Unlike a Bourbon plant, where the clusters of cherry are spread out, the Caturra branch can be loaded with cherries with little space in between clusters, making each plant more productive.
Villa Sarchi is another mutation of the Bourbon variety, first found in Costa Rica in the 50s and 60s near the town of Sarchi. We’ve bought other full lots of this variety from producers in Costa Rica—it is consistently sweet and full bodied. While this variety has pretty much stayed in Costa Rica, we have seen it being experimented with in other Central American origins over the past several years.
Typica is an “heirloom” coffee variety from the Yemen ascension that has a generally low yield and is not very disease resistant, but outstanding cup quality if the conditions are right. Many of the coffee varieties or cultivars that we find in Central America are either decedents or mutations of Typica or Bourbon. We’ve encountered Typica in very different parts of the world. The flavors can really vary because of location and the strain of Typica, but generally we find a lot of sweetness and floral characteristics in the cup. This is one of our favorites of the set!
In the 1930s, the Kenyan government enlisted Scott Laboratories to develop coffee varieties for the country that would benefit the coffee sector in terms of quality, disease resistance and production. Two of the varieties produced are the celebrated SL34 and SL28 and they are still part of what contributes to the distinct flavor profile of Kenyan coffee. In recent years, countries have been exploring varieties uncommon to their areas with the hopes of increasing quality, production and disease resistance. This Kenyan variety has shown some very interesting characteristics when planted in Central America and phenomenal cup quality when all goes well!
Originating from Ethiopia near the town of Gesha, this variety was made famous by Hacienda La Esmeralda in Panama in the early 2000s when it was “discovered” through a cupping competition when separated from other varieties. Somewhere along the line, the name “Gesha” turned into “Geisha” accidentally which is misleading and kind of strange, but for the sake of the recent history and the common use of the name in Central America we’re using the latter. Geisha has a distinct floral-passion fruit flavor profile that makes it stand out against its other Central American counterpart varieties, but you’ll notice how incredibly similar the characteristics are to a washed Ethiopian coffee. Geisha is prized in the Latin American countries where it’s grown, but it doesn’t automatically turn out to be mind-blowing. There are good seeds and not so good seeds and all of the delicate details like soil health, weather and plant care that go into growing delicious coffee are still a factor! We think Luis did a great job with this lot, it’s tasty, tasty.