Hacienda Sonora and the beginnings of craft coffee in Houston
In case you haven't had a chance to try our Costa Rica: Sonora, I highly recommend it. It's excellent as a pour-over but really excels as a single origin espresso. Blockhouse Coffee and Kitchen is using it as their espresso through the end of June 2018 if you want to try that out. This specific lot is a balanced blend of black honey and natural processed coffees. The flavor is berries and chocolate with baking spices. We can't get enough of it, and we have already put our commitment down for the next harvest so this will become a perennial favorite on our lineup.
I wanted to share a bit of the back story of this coffee and how it fits into the greater story of craft coffee in Houston. This 100 hectare farm in the Central Valley of Costa Rica has had a huge impact on the quality of coffee coming in to Houston roasters.
The story starts with a coffee farmer named Diego Guardia who had a passion for growing great coffee and a penchant for unconventional processing methods. The washed method has been the gold standard for Central American coffees for decades. Natural processing was seen as a cheaper, simpler method for processing low quality coffee. It could not get the same price as a washed lot, so most farmers didn't bother. The honey process was mostly unheard of. But, as it turns out careful farming and processing Central American farms could produce amazing natural and honey process lots that captured the terroir of the region and bring in new flavors and complexity. Ethiopia and Yemen had been producing great natural lots since they started growing coffee, but it had largely not been tried outside of these countries.
Quick aside on processing methods: The washed method, which is the most common involves harvesting the coffee cherries and then immediately removing the outer skin and pulp to reveal the beans inside. After a fermentation process, the beans are laid out to dry either on a patio or on a raised bed. This method produces clean, clear flavors, higher perceived acidity, and a lighter body. The natural method is different in that the cherries are laid out to dry after harvest without removing the outer layers. The fermentation process happens in the cherry skin, which is later removed once the beans reach the proper moisture level. The honey process is in-between the two. Some of the outer cherry and pulp are removed, but not all before the drying phase. The different colors refer to the amount of cherry that is removed. A black honey has very little removed, a red honey is somewhat in the middle, and a yellow or white honey is much closer to a washed coffee. It is more complex than this, but this gives you a rough idea.
This coffee made it to Houston because a group of Houston roasters (Boomtown, Amaya, Southside, probably others) got together as a buying group using Interamerican Coffee as their importer. Ever since then, a container of Hacienda Sonora coffee has made its way to the green coffee warehouse in Houston. Most of it is bought up by area roasters before it hits the port. This was a very early direct trade relationship and it helped pave the way for many more once, Interamerican saw the success of this program. I credit this for many of the amazing lots that I have brought in over the years.
If you have tried other roasters, you have probably seen a Sonora or two on their lineup. You may also notice, they all taste different since Hacienda Sonora produces lots of different lots using specific varietals and processing methods. Diego has also help farmers in his region to increase the quality of their coffee as well as giving them access to his processing mill. We are happy to support Hacienda Sonora and to show off their amazing coffees. And we are thankful to the early roasting risk-takers who paved the way for great coffee in Houston.