Despite its size, Costa Rica has a diversity of climates that has led to a rich and varied coffee industry. Los Cipreses – two farms and a mill – is located in the West Valley, which is influenced by Pacific weather patterns and is consequently dryer than the Central Valley, producing a different coffee profile. Max Salazar runs the farms – San Cristobal (10ha) and La Isabella (13ha), named after his parents – alongside his two cousins and uncle Danilo. The business is named after the cypresses grown on a partnered farm that are sold as Christmas trees in December.
Initially, the farms were mainly planted with Typica and Villa Sarchi varieties, but the family have bought more land and have planted Villalobos, Catuai, Caturra, Geisha, Ethiopian varieties, Millennium and SL28. New varieties – including L12-28, which is yielding good results – stay in the nursery for a year before being planted on the farms.
The way the farms are structured has resulted in a of number of micro climates that require micro management, adapting processes for each slope and orientation. Winds are strong in the area (the region’s coffee was decimated by the 2015 hurricane Nate), so they have had to find solutions to decrease its impact on the coffee plants.
Before 2019, Max and his family used to deliver their cherries to a neighbouring mill, but in 2020 they decided to process part of their harvest themselves (most of it is processed as honeys), installing a small mill and a greenhouse. The processing plant, as well as the lowest part of the farm, is located at 1,680 masl. During the harvest, 30 pickers extra are hired.
Production since 2017 has been low, with the farms being hit by distinct climate challenges. Harvests used to be 600-700 fanegas (1 fanega = 250kg of cherries), but since 2017 they have been around 300 fanegas, with a very small middle-harvest volume (this volume is the most important for the producers as it is usually the best quality coffee).
During our visit, a neighbouring farm was spraying anti-rust chemicals on the coffee, but Max doesn’t want to spray, preferring to fight coffee rust with more natural methods – including a good fertilization plan and resistant varieties. He doesn’t use herbicides, and weeds are controlled with mulching.
The honeys and semi-washed lots rest in bags for a few hours before they are transferred to African (raised) beds. Yellow honeys are moved every hour, darker honeys less regularly. It takes 12 days to dry the honey lots. They also produce a few natural lots.
The family also has cattle in San Carlos (50 animals) and they share their time between the two production sites, but Max prefers the coffee and dedicates most of his time to it. He is involved in the specialty and barista scene in San José, and has developed many ideas to innovate processes and improve quality at the mill. He is looking for stable and durable relationships with a few clients rather than selling his coffee more widely.