Owner: Robelo family
Region: Aquiares, Turrialba
Altitude: 800 to 1,400 m.a.s.l
Process: Fully Washed
Varietal: Marsellesa & Obata
Full mouthfeel with high sweetness resembling molasses, chocolate and praline.
This special ‘Don Alfonso’ coffee represents the very best of the harvest from the famous Aquiares Estate in Turrialba, Costa Rica. ‘Don Alfonso’ coffees bear the name of Don Alfonso Robelo, patriarch of one of the owning families of the estate who took over farm management in 1992 and made the social welfare of farm workers and the wider community one of his main priorities. Don Alfonso is a true visionary: his son, Diego, follows in his father’s footsteps by taking the farm to new heights.
Each ‘Don Alfonso’ lot has been specially developed and selected for Mercanta by Diego (whose quality-driven vision is transforming the farm) and his team of coffee experts. Although Aquiares, being a large farm, produces a great deal of coffee annually, the ‘Don Alfonso’ line is unique to Mercanta and is the result of close partnership and strong communication between the coffee producer/exporter and coffee importer. We are proud to be able to offer these exceptional and unique lots. We are especially proud to consider Diego and his family our friends and partners in commitment to quality and bringing the best of Costa Rica to market.
Aquiares, one of Costa Rica’s largest and most historic coffee farms, sits high on the fertile slopes of Turrialba Volcano. Producing coffee continuously for over a century, the farm has developed an enduring model for growing high-quality Arabica coffee, protecting a stunning natural setting, and supporting a thriving local community of 1,800 people. Established by British farmers in 1890, Aquiares was one of the first estates to produce and export Costa Rican coffee. In 1971, the farm was purchased by its current owners - three families who have worked together with the farm´s staff and community to implement a modern model of sustainable agriculture. Today, the Estate is the largest continuous coffee farm in Costa Rica, covering 924 hectares, 80% of which is planted under shade-grown Arabica.
Nestled between the Aquiares and Turrialba Rivers, “Aquiares” means “land between rivers” in Costa Rica’s Huetar indigenous language. The region where the farm is located used to be the centre for this pre-Columbian civilization, and occasionally old artefacts are found among the coffee trees. In fact, Guayabo National Monument, Costa Rica´s most important indigenous settlement, is just 5 km (3.1 miles) away. The land of Aquiares is blessed with a multitude of clean water sources and even provides drinking water to three communities down-stream. Coffee plots are interlaced with natural springs and countless streams and rivers, all of which are protected with forested buffer zones. The network of natural corridors throughout the farm connects the large preserved forests in the two river valleys, providing a healthy environment for the local animals, birds, and plants.
Don Alfonso took over farm management in 1992, and at the time he was new(ish) to coffee. There are many ‘pre-Aquiares’ stories, too many for this info sheet, but enough to fill a book for sure (forthcoming we hope!). However, one thread throughout his life has been a commitment to social justice. From the beginning, Don Alfonso made the social welfare of farm workers and the wider community one of his main priorities. His dedication has transformed the farm and the region.
The community of Aquiares - originally built to house workers on the estate - sits in the midst of the farm. Originally, the farm owned the houses where employees lived, creating home-insecurity amongst working families. In 1992, under Don Alfonso’s management, the farm started a project to enable people to own their own houses. Each worker was given a bonus for his or her years of service, lots were priced at a fraction of the local rate, and assistance was given to apply for the government house fund. At the beginning, workers thought it was too good to be true, but as the first families obtained their own homes, everyone followed suit. In a matter of three years, the town was brought to life. It was enriched with a deep feeling of security and achievement. Today, only around 15% of Aquiares residents work on the farm (many have gone on to become school teachers, doctors, etc) and 96% of these own their own home, giving them the option to take a path for their future that they, themselves, choose. Aquiares has become a place where many want to live, as evidenced in the value of land, which is comparable to that of San José, Costa Rica´s capital. The town has its own school, youth sports program, recycling committee, early childhood nutrition center, and a church built in 1925, which is a National Architectural Historic Monument. The entire town and the Estate consider themselves to be of the same community rather than one ‘belonging’ to the other!
The farm manages the entire coffee production chain, from seedling production to plant cultivation, harvesting and milling. This ensures that they are able to meet the highest standards of quality assurance and can guarantee a traceable product. Caturra is the main varietal grown on the farm, but climate change and pests require constant experimentation with new varieties that can adapt better to future conditions. Diego Robelo, who has developed this quality-focused line, has led much of the new ‘charge’ towards new variety experimentation; he began his post as ‘innovation manager’ in 2013 and has developed collaborations with World Coffee Research (WCR) and the Costa Rican Coffee Institute (ICAFE), including a experimental garden for Central American Coffee varieties for WCR. Throughout the season, workers from the community care for the trees: pruning, fertilizing, weeding, and protecting them.