We sat down with Scott Angelo, husband-half of Oceana Coffee proprietors Scott and Amy Angelo, following his recent buying trip to Costa Rica, and asked him for a little Q&A insight. This is what he had to say:
Q: How long was your trip to Costa Rica, where did you go and how many farms did you visit?
SCOTT: We landed in Costa Rica on Sunday and flew out the following Friday. It was a very full week. We visited at least 6 to 8 individual farms and at least 3 to 4 mills from each of the main producing areas: Middle Valley, Central Valley and Tarrazu.
Were all your appointments lined up in advance or was there an element of discovery on the trip?
Both. We had a set itinerary because we had a lot to cover. But we also had some time to visit farms along the way. The whole trip was organized with my green bean buying partner, guys from companies based here in the U.S. and guys based in Costa Rica. It all helped to ensure that we got to sample as many of the top micro lot coffees as we could, and also visit the producers responsible for these coffees.
What was a typical day like?
Crazy ! We were hitting the deck around 6am with a quick breakfast and then on the road each day by around 8. We’d go straight to a central location where all the coffee samples had been prepared for cupping that day. We were getting through at least 14 cupping samples each day, with a full 21 on the first!
We’d go through the flights and grade, score, and taste each of the coffees, and make notes about whether or not Oceana Coffee was going to buy any that would be on offer that day.
After the cupping sessions, we’d then head up into the mountains to visit the farmers and the processing mills to get to know them and their families and the overall life of the farmer. We also wanted to hear what goes into coffee on the ground and how the industry is supported within their country.
What do you look for to determine which coffees you want to take home?
A lot of different aspects have to come together when choosing a coffee to buy. Especially when you’re faced with the caliber of coffees we were tasting. It definitely helps me that I’m a qualified Q Grader, so scoring of the coffee for me is based on experience and learned skills.
Let me explain the end result first to better understand: My personal scores for the coffees that I ended up buying for Oceana Coffee scored between 86-88 on the SCA scale. A few other roasters on the trip were scoring the same coffees in the 90s, which are very high marks.
Along with scores, it’s important for me that the coffee is well-balanced with a medium body and a nice sweetness. But it also requires for Oceana Coffee, a unique quality about it. I treat the tasting—the cupping—of these types of coffee like a window into their potential, essentially what I have to work with when I get them back to the roaster.
And of course the last piece is price. What am I willing to pay, and is the retail customer going to appreciate a coffee that is priced too high?
On the pricing note, some of the micro lots that I bought may not even make it to the retail shelf in our shops. They may end up in my personal reserve or they may end up in competitions like The Golden Bean North America or The Good Food Awards.
Paint a picture for us of a memory of the trip or of a particularly vivid feeling that you experienced.
Just to be standing there in Costa Rica 7,000 feet above sea level picking coffee right next to the farmer! What an experience! Ever since Oceana Coffee became a reality—after the popcorn popper days—we’ve always had the goal of going to the origin and meeting the farmers and their families, buying coffee and building relationships for the future.
Oddly enough, Costa Rica coffee was one of my very first coffees that I roasted. I remember thinking at one moment how fitting it was to be standing on the mountain, almost a “full circle” thing. There’s a photo of me from then and I think it’s easy to see the smile on my face, the recognition of the journey of Oceana Coffee and myself.
That whole day in particular was our longest, but most enjoyable. We travelled nearly 2 hours by bus to a pick-up location in the mountains of the Tarrazu region where we were met by famers driving the 4x4s that we rode in for the rest of the journey up the mountain.
A couple of us piled into the back of one of the trucks and quickly asked the farmer if he could be the lead truck so that we didn’t choke on the dust kicked up by the others on the dirt tracks up the mountain. He laughed and of course agreed, and off we went. It’s amazing how rough the area truly is at those elevations. The whole area is amazing really. The views are spectacular, the air is crisp, cool and clean.
Then to finish off that day, we were invited to a family barbecue with the farmers. Super nice people, great food and an all-around amazing experience.
To know that I bought coffee from that farm and spent time with that farmer and his family makes it all the more special. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to next year and bringing back his coffee roasted and packaged for him to see how it’s seen by the rest of the world to enjoy.
It also makes me quite proud to know that we paid these farmers well for their coffees, and proud that Oceana Coffee is involved at this level and offering these amazing coffees.
What coffees can Oceana Coffee customers look forward to as a result of this trip?
So, obviously all of the coffees are from Costa Rica. But they’re micro-lots, which means that there is a VERY limited quantity available. Some of the coffee that Oceana Coffee will be bringing to our stores is very, very exclusive, to the point that we bought just one of four available bags, for example. That means 150 pounds is all that will be available of one of the coffees we’re bringing back, which kind of gives an insight of the benefits of being down there.
Our customers will get to experience coffees with an amazing story behind them. They’ll also get to experience flavors not normally experienced in coffees. In fact, some of these Costa Rican coffees will have characteristics similar to the fruity-style African coffees we offer.
If all goes to schedule, these Costa Rican coffees will start coming through our roaster in June or July. So, we’re encouraging customers to stay up to date on our website and Facebook page, and sign up for our newsletter and VIP Program. Because we think these extraordinary coffees are going to sell very, very fast.