Hacienda Sonora is located in the West Valley of Costa Rica, at the foot of the world-renowned, Poas Volcano, at an average altitude of 1200 m.a.s.l. The property is run by Alberto and his son Diego Guardia. The micro-mill and surrounding farmlands are all built next to a well-preserved 150-year-old sugar cane factory, giving Sonora a classical feel.
The farm’s area is approximately 100 hectares, which is composed of 65 hectares of shaded and unshaded coffee, and 35 hectares of wild forest. The coffee grows in an environment surrounded by exotic trees and other vegetation, providing great conditions for growing quality cherry, as well as improving the composition of the already naturally rich volcanic soil.
Producers Alberto and his son Diego Guardia build the small micro mill to be able to have full control of processing and quality. Did you know they only produce Honey and Natural coffee? From all varieties (a lot!) they grow at Sonora most are dried as Black Honey or Natural, saving a lot of water during production. Fully Washed processing is only done on demand.
To be able to work extensively with fermentation on high standards, the Hacienda employs around 25 persons fixed, and up to 140 season workers. Not only to pick the coffee but to turn these ‘high attention’ lots accordingly.
Over last years we have had Natural lots returning from Hacienda Sonora as part of our Seasonal assortment. After each harvest (December-March) we look for the highest quality possible together with our customers. The coffees can be characterized as fruity and “friendly”, introducing controlled fermentation to develop fully present fruity tones.
During our last visit to Costa Rica, we had the chance to visit Sonora and meet Alberto Guardia. After a small visit, we walked in on a small group of Koreans that were insisting to experience taking their own sample, roasting it on location and cupping it directly. All of it was facilitated by Alberto as had to take out the old roaster from his shed and give them some space to work. We were happy to join the group for both the cupping and the beer after!
The Coffee Quest builds transparent value chains linking growers and roasters. We supply only traceable and transparent high-quality coffee. In 2020, we dived into the economics behind the beans, in our Quest for radical price transparency. Our origin researcher, Marian Osinga, set out interviews with producers, millers and authorities, and led the way into how The Coffee Quest sees price transparency in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has a “coffee law – law 2762”, which stands at the core of a unique governing system which provides price transparency and fair practice for all Costa Ricans. ICAFE is the sector organisation behind the law’s implementation, working as a development authority in the coffee sector. Through law 2762, ICAFE regulates transactions between farmers and millers, miller and exporters, and guarantees that the returns from coffee are fairly distributed between all stakeholders.
Fair distribution of coffee returns in Costa Rica starts with the export price. It is only when coffee is exported that all stakeholders in the chain know its final value. Then, they start counting backwards to determine what slice of the pie goes to whom. Click on read more to really dive into the topic.
The farmer is tied to the land and grows coffee. He sells his red coffee cherries to a miller and pays pickers and other staff that help him on his farm. When a farmer delivers cherries to a miller, the cherries are measured in “fanega”, which is a measurement of volume (opposite to for example kg, which is a measurement of weight). The farmer then gets an advance for the cherries delivered but has to wait for the closing of the export season to see what the value of his cherries was (after the miller has made them into green coffee and the exporter has found a buyer who wants to pay a particular price). Eventually, the farmer will get around 80% of the export price (FOB) of the coffee.
The Miller buys cherries from farmers and processes them into green coffee ready for export. The coffee is then exported or sold to an exporter for consolidation with other micro mill lots. All producers on our list fall into this last category. A miller registers amounts of cherry purchased and delivers a declaration of production costs and sales. Then, it’s the turn of exporters with ICAFE. A miller can make a maximum profit of 9%.
The exporter buys coffee from a miller and sells it to an importer like The Coffee Quest. The exporter consolidates shipments, does sampling & paperwork, and plans logistical movements. The exporter will have expenses to complete the export, and declare the export costs and revenues with ICAFE. Exporters can make a maximum 2,3% profit on the export price.
ICAFE’s role in the chain is very interwoven with all stakeholders. The organization helps the farmer on various developmental themes, like: Agricultural production, quality, sustainability and economics. In collaboration with the farmers, they do soil analysis, suggest fertilization schedules, help plant shade trees, and do research in new varieties and agricultural best practices. Through FONECAFE, it also maintains a security fund, in case coffee prices fall below the cost of production for individual farmers. In order to fund their activities, ICAFE charges a tax or contribution on coffee business, which amounts to 1,47% of the export price.
At the end of the season, ICAFE will calculate a “Final Liquidation Price” from the revenues of all Costa Rica coffee exports, and the costs declared to make that revenue. Thereby they determine nationwide, how large the coffee pie actually was this year. A financial settlement then takes place among all coffee chain stakeholders, including the producers.
The Coffee Quest’s perspective
Price transparency is a complex promise to uphold. The result depends heavily on the structure of the sector, the amount of data available and the amount of time a company has to research and provide in this. If you buy coffee from a producer, who also processes, mills and exports, it’s more straightforward, however, this isn’t always the case.
In the Costa Rica context, it’s easy to get a FOB price that is paid to the exporter, or maybe even to the exporting miller. But that still doesn’t say anything about the price the farmer who grows the cherry actually gets.
The cherry farmer delivering to one of our micro-mill suppliers, will get 1 average price for his cherry as a result of the whole coffee season. The FOB price, The Coffee Quest pays to the exporter, will negatively or positively affect this average. We set out transparency ambition high at The Coffee Quest, and therefore that is exactly what we aspire to know.
Transparency is regulated by law in Costa Rica, and all internal prices and volumes as well as export prices and the final liquidation price per miller are published on ICAFE’s website. This means that we have been able to set up a calculation that derives the contribution of The Coffee Quest purchases in Costa Rica, to the final liquidation price to the farmer delivering cherry to the micromill. Being able to share this makes us incredibly happy!
The method we use is based on data on our suppliers in ICAFE publications of coffee commercialization, which can be found here; ICAFE/coffee sector/final settlement benefit, and ICAFE/coffee sector/commercialization/sales per zone. The calculation results are validated, and costs are adapted according to interviews with millers and exporters. The result is a farm gate cherry price in Colones per Fanega, which we have translated for you into a price in Euro per kilo, in green coffee equivalent.
People visiting Costa Rica are often happily surprised by the abundance of nature and respect for animal life. Many farms are committed to cultivating high-quality coffee in a sustainable manner.
Thanks to the farm’s diverse ecosystem, many different species of birds and animals seek refuge on the farm. Sonora is 100% energy self-sufficient, using renewable hydro-power coming to the combination of a turbine and the natural stream running through the Hacienda.
Discover other stories from Costa Rica...
The Chacon’s have succeeded in adding post-harvest processing as a keystone for quality during the last decade in Las Lajas Micro Mill.
Driving through the regions such as Tarrazu or West-Valley show many new micro-mills on the side of the road. Hacienda Candelaria seems to be an excellent example of successfully reaching this point, as a result of a step they took some time ago. The family and estate are very involved in the local community and have sponsored a school and soccer field, among other contributions.