Blue Star Tarrazu: A Coffee Adventure.
The history of Blue Star Tarrazu, a brand of Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) coffee grown in Costa Rica, began three generations ago in Ontario, Canada. After hearing about a trip to Chile taken by a colleague, a young doctor, Alexander Fraser Pirie, fantasized about a life filled with adventure. The year was 1880, nearly a century before Carnival Cruise ships and many years before the Panama Canal was opened up to travelers. Filled with wanderlust, Dr. Pirie boarded a ship to Chile to seek adventure and opportunity in a new continent known for its exotic animals, tropical birds, fruits and flowers.
As luck would have it, Dr. Pirie's ship floundered in a storm off the jungle-ridden coast of Costa Rica. Shipwrecked and distressed, the steamer's passengers arrived at Port Limon. There, Dr. Pirie met Minor C. Keith, the future founder of United Fruit Company.
After recovering from the ravages of being shipwrecked, Dr. Pirie boarded a train headed inland to the crossroads of Siquirres. From there, he traveled, three weeks by mule to Cartago, which was then the capital of Costa Rica. Two years later, his wife and family joined him, and the Piries started farming coffee, creating what would become today's Blue Star Tarrazu coffee. In the early years, Pirie's business grew to a production of 25,000 bags of coffee per year from five beneficios. In 1929, however, like everyone else, he felt the backlash of World War I and the stock market crash. It wasn't until the 1950s that conditions began to stabilize throughout the world. By then, Dr. Pirie's son, Alexander, began selling coffee at $60.00 a bag under the brand JRRF Agua Caliente. Alexander ran the coffee operation until the current owner, Fraser Pirie, Alexander's son, and, his wife, Rosalia, (a descendant of the first original exporter of Costa Rican coffee, Santiago Fernandez) took over the company. In 1991, a new coffee mill was built, completely fireproof and ecological. As it is about a mile away from the nearest river, all water is brought to the mill through underground pipes from three nearby lakes. All waste pulp is separated through screens, and used water is properly neutralized with calcium and returned to reservoirs, where impurities are further removed through sedimentation and other approved methods. All solid waste by-products, such as coffee bean pulp, are collected at the end of the harvest and converted into compost for natural fertilizer.
After the coffee is pulped, it is then left in big cement vats where a natural process of fermentation of pectins and sugars gives the living organisms present in the bean a special flavor found only in naturally processed (sun-dried) coffee. The Fines' manage Beneficio Agua Caliente ("hot water"), which is a collection of farms throughout the area and includes the mill. The name refers to the natural hot water springs generated by volcanic or lava deposits that give this region of Costa Rica specific hard water and added properties for making tea or coffee.
Most of Agua Caliente's coffee is bought from small landowners in the Tarrazu region. These farms are family run and picked. Farmers ask for the highest price possible, as they must develop and run their farm for a full year with natural fertilizer. When prices are low, farmers are especially affected, as the well-known subsistence level necessary for farm survival is $90.00 per bag. Sales below this sum produce a lesser quality crop for the next year.
Blue Star Tarrazu is the newest brand from Hacienda Agua Caliente, the Pines' personal farm. Its distinctive flavor is attributable in no small part to the use of clean mountain water. Not only does this water ensure sanitary conditions during the processing, but also yields the purest taste these beans can provide. This year, Pine is preparing his coffee for special buyers and roasters, who want specifically fermented natural coffee from the highest coffee-growing region in Costa Rica. Production is expected to be limited as coffee fields in Tarrazu are on an off-high yield year. A new brand of sun-dried Blue Star Coffee will be available as of March 2001. There are only about 400 sacks available of the sun-dried; the rest of Blue Star is wet processed for a total of 7,000 bags at 150 pounds each.
Nature is benevolent to coffee grown in Tarrazu. A mountainous region south of San Jose, Tarrazu is about 30 miles from the beautiful white beaches of the Pacific Ocean at Quepos. It is blessed with perfectly warm weather at high altitudes.
Warm air from the sea moves up into the mountains reaching altitudes of 5,000-6,000 feet, permitting coffee trees to flourish. The altitude makes for smaller berries and beans, allowing a concentration of acid and flavor. This is the natural miracle of Tarrazu, which is manifest in Blue Star Tarrazu. Few coffees have the character, subtlety and mystery that can be born only of generations of persistent commitment to quality. Blue Star Tarrazu stands distinguished in the milieu of marks and brands, the proud gift of the Pine legacy. Soon Blue Star Tarrazu will be another varietal to add to your product list of sustainable, shade-grown coffees.
Raaj Chandran is a recent graduate of the University of Florida with a MA degree in Communication.
Suzanne Brown is senior consultant at Hope-Beckham, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia.