Tuto, Emilio & Laura Gamboa
The Gamboas own four farms and process all their coffee at their micro eco-mill called Montes de Oro.
Partnered with Stumptown:
Caturra, Catuai, Bourbon and Villa Sarchi
Usually selling low and buying high is a bad idea. Not true for Montes De Oro. As the climate warms, they’ve been gradually selling off their lowest elevation farmland, then purchasing land at higher elevation in order to maintain the daily temperature contrast coffee needs to develop.
This is a true family farming operation. Father Tuto has been in the coffee business since he was 15, and now he, his son Emilio and his daughter-in-law Laura manage all aspects of production at one of Costa Rica’s finest coffee operations. The family’s history with coffee dates back to the late 1800s, but they are thoroughly new-school. They helped kick off the micro mill revolution in Costa Rica that ushered in a new era of coffee production.
For a long time, this region produced good but undifferentiated coffee. The harvest was sold on big trading floors with no interest paid to individual farms or producers. Today, thanks in part to the hard work of the Gamboa family, the area is quickly earning its place in the specialty coffee pantheon. At 6,700 feet above sea level, the Gamboa’s farm is one of the highest coffee plantations in the country.
Emilio, who has taken over the day-to-day operations from his father, is incredibly particular when it comes to production. He likes to leave five to ten percent of the coffee mucilage on the bean – which is somewhere in between washed coffee processing and honey processing. This gives extra sweetness, with notes of honey and red apple flavors. When we talk about the concept of “clean” coffee, Montes de Oro exemplifies it with bright, sunny, sweet flavors.
The ties between Montes De Oro and Stumptown are long and deep. Stumptown first visited the micro mill back in 2006, the first year that the Gamboa-Chacón family started processing. Costa Rica traditionally sacrificed quality for mass production via mega-mill processing stations. All of that changed a few years ago around 2000, when a small group of farmers decided to differentiate their own quality coffee from the rest, by starting the micro mill revolution.
Coffee is a Gamboa-Chacón family tradition. In the late 1800’s, Antolin Gamboa, Carlos Chacón and Lidia Valverde began cultivating coffee. Tuto was born three generations later. At age 15, Tuto learned the coffee trade while working with his brothers. In 1977, Carlos Chacón, Tuto’s father-in-law, gave Tuto and his wife, Lidy Chacón, three acres of land (part of Finca Carrizal) which enabled them to start their own coffee farm. Tuto put into practice what he had learned and slowly enlarged the farm by acquiring land from the Chacón family. He gradually formed an estate of about eight hectares. He purchased Finca Rosario (where the wet mill is located) in 1990, and Finca La Trinidad in 1997. With the high premiums paid for their exquisite coffee in recent years, Tuto and his son Emilio were able to purchase Finca Teresita in 2010 and Finca el Yasal in 2012.
Emilio has developed great skills as a farm and mill manager. He pays his pickers almost twice the going rate for their work and in return expects an increased focus on picking perfectly ripe cherry. The pickers who work with Emilio call him Sangre del Toro, or ‘Blood of the Bull’, which refers to the color of the cherry picked at Montes De Oro. Emilio recently incorporated a regimented nutrition and fertilization program to prevent Roya.
Located in the mountains of San Pablo de Leon Cortes, Tarrazu, Montes de Oro was started in 2004 by the Gamboa-Chacon family: Melvin (a.k.a. Tuto), Emilio and Laura Gamboa. Through continued communication, education, support and the pursuit of quality, the coffee has improved each year. In turn, they have earned higher prices with each harvest.
At Finca Teresita, Emilio decided to systematically renovate the coffee trees. So far, about half the farm has been renovated, replacing the old trees with Red Catuai and Villa Sarchi.
Finca el Yasal is a mixture of forest and crop land which sits at 2050 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest coffee farms in Tarrazu. Emilio decided to test new coffee varieties in the face of effects from global warming. They started with 3.5 hectares of Red Catuai, Villa Sarchi and Bourbon all of which are doing really well after their first year.
In order to better understand the coffee’s performance in relation to the harvest, the Gamboas spend time tasting and comparing coffees from each harvest day. Emilio and Laura chose an environmentally sustainable path when they built their micro mill by using minimal amounts of water. They float their cherry to separate for top quality. When they mechanically demucilage it, they leave 5-10% of the mucilage intact on the bean when they remove the fruit of the cherry, which rides the line between honey and washed processed coffee and creates a sweeter and more viscous cup. Then they float it again for a second density separation and soak it in tanks. When space and weather permit, they dry the parchment on raised beds in the sun for 2-4 days and then complete the drying process on patios or in guardiolas (mechanical dryers). For Tuto, the mill is a dream. He works as hard as he did when he was 15, with no intention of retiring.
This lot consists of coffee from three farms: Teresita, Rosario and Carrizal. The cherries ripened evenly this year throughout the farms, which enabled them to the bulk of the harvest at one time while still only picking the ripest cherry to meet Emilio’s high standards. In order to mirror patio drying, Emilio turned off the guardiolas at night which extended the drying process to increase complexity and consistency of flavor.