Pa. man sells beans grown at family's Costa Rica farms

February 05, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Ricardo Hernndez
By Jennifer Fitch

Franklin County, Pa., might be 2,000 miles from the community of Biolley in Costa Rica, but one man is using the county as a distribution hub for coffee beans grown at two mountainous farms operated by his brother.

Ricardo Hernández of Greencastle, Pa., said he’s sold Coffea Diversa Inc. coffee to companies in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Japan and Austria. Coava Coffee Roasters of Portland, Ore., took one of his varieties to a national barista competition.

The Hernández family started its first farm in 1997 in southern Costa Rica, but found that the land needed additional cedar and teak trees for shade. At 800 meters above sea level, the quality and variety of coffee was not what they wanted.

“The good coffee starts at 1,000 meters and above,” said Hernández, who served in the military at Fort Ritchie.

Ricardo and Gonzalo Hernández invested in a second farm, with approximately 275 acres, adjacent to an international park with a ridge that extends into Panama. That farm is 1,200 to 1,350 meters above sea level.

“It gives us the quality we were looking for. ... We decided to go with more varietals not being planted commercially,” Hernández said.

The mountain farm has 200 varieties planted, although only nine have been harvested for their first crop. He said plants other than the common catuai and caturra are susceptible to disease and are poor yielders.

“It’s a very long, laborious process,” Hernández said.

Coffea Diversa, which has eight to 40 employees on the farms depending on the season, imported about 1,700 pounds of coffee to the United States last year and expects to reach about 3,000 pounds this year.

Hernández described Starbucks shops as early “game changers” for the coffee industry, followed by the other major brands that popped up nationally. He said the market is now more fragmented with specialty companies.

“Some importers are trying to get more origin or state coffee,” Hernández said, saying the existing practice was to lump coffees by country.

Also emerging are certificates for rain forest, organic and fair-trade coffee, he said.

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