La Candelilla Mill is located just outside of San Marcos, Tarrazú, in the southwest of Costa Rica. It was established in 2000 by the Sanchez family, third-generation coffee producers who wanted to add value to their product by taking control of the process. The farms and mill are run by seven siblings and cover 70 hectares of planted coffee in total. The family’s focus has been on good farming practices leading to high-quality coffee; soil samples are sent to the national research centre ICAFE every year so that fertilizing and planting can be fine-tuned according to the results. Chemicals are also used but alongside biodynamic pest-control techniques, and pulp from the wet mill is applied as an organic fertilizer.
10 pickers help the family during the season, harvesting Caturra, red and yellow Catuai, Typica, Geisha and a small amount of SL28 cherries. Samples are taken off during picking to assess the number of floaters, immature beans and Broca-affected beans, and to calculate an estimated yield for the lot. The mill receives around 2,000 fanegas (1 fanega = 250kg of cherries/46kg green beans) every year.
The washed and honeys are first processed through a Penagos machine in a process that uses only 215L of water (down from 500L due to refined techniques). From the wet mill, the coffee passes through a pipe to a patio where it is spread for drying. All naturals and more fragile varieties start their drying on African (raised) beds before being moved to patios. The naturals are left untouched for two days to avoid any damage to the cherries. It takes 17-22 days to complete natural drying, and 7-10 days for semi-washed.
The way the coffee dries dictates the process that will be followed; the longer the drying, the darker the honey. The coffee is covered at night, if it is not too wet, to avoid steam. At the end of the process, the coffee is piled before bagging to achieve a greater temperature consistency. Up to 2,900 fanegas can be stored and processed on the premises – the Typica and Geisha are stored in plastic bags and jute in the coolest part of the warehouse, covered to avoid dust. There is also a dry mill on-site and 50 bags a day can be dry-milled for export. This is split into 40% washed, 30% honey, 20% natural and 10% of specific lots (Typica, Geisha, SL28).
The new generation (fourth) is already working alongside their parents, innovating and growing the business. It has been informally agreed that one son or daughter per household will take over the farm when their parents retire. More young people in general are coming back to the region after finishing their studies in San José (the capital), which bodes well for the future coffee industry here.