Picture the Origin in Every Cup
Take a sip and close your eyes. You feel a rush of warm air close and damp across your cheeks. You hear the distant howl of a monkey, a rustle in the canopy of trees way up above you. Swirl the liquid in your mouth: you see a flash of color as a toucan takes flight; you shield your eyes from a shaft of sunlight that has made its way down to the dark forest floor. You swallow and savor. You breathe in the lush greenery around you and feel full of life. You raise your cup again.
This is Jinotega in Nicaragua, a lush, mountainous, sustainable rainforest region where 80 percent of the country’s coffee is grown. Coffee trees heavy with bright red cherries dot the countryside. And this is where Santa Lucia
Coffee seeks out small farmers for their best beans to fulfill the first step of a fully integrated process.
“I turned my heart over to coffee in March of 1995 after listening to a seminar about improving coffee served in restaurants,” recalls founder William Gutierrez, who has nurtured a deep passion for the agricultural projects of his native country. “And this was reconfirmed at my first tasting, a month later, of my very own coffee with my first high-end chef and client.”
It’s easy to take for granted something as simple as a cup of coffee, as we do with many of life’s pleasures. But a cup of Santa Lucia coffee is so much more: it is location, it is passion, it is literally the culmination of an incredible amount of manual labor that begins up high in the mountains of Central America and is celebrated in each cup served at Chef Wiedmaier’s restaurants.The beauty of this boutique coffee company is its hands-on approach perfected over the past 18 years. The coffee bean cherries are harvested between November and March, plucked from trees into straw baskets. Since the cherries ripen much like a tomato, a tree might have to be visited as many as four times in order for the fruit to be picked at its peak. The cherries are then washed in large vats to remove the pulp and reveal the beans—two in each piece of fruit. After the parchment is removed from each bean, they are left on patios to dry in the sun. Then they are sorted by size: larger beans typically hold in moisture better and are preferred for roasting and flavor. At that point, Gutierrez or one of his on-site coffee partners selects the best 20 to 25 percent of the beans, which are placed in burlap sacks and brought down the mountains, sometimes on the backs of donkeys. After arriving in New York, the beans are roasted according to special Santa Lucia formulas and sent to its warehouses in D.C. before delivery to each customer. It’s hard not to be captivated with the process, as Gutierrez reaffirms: “It’s not just the coffee product itself that I love, but the whole process of watching and working with small producers as they grow a lovely bean.”
This sentiment is echoed by Chef Robert Wiedmaier, who witnessed the harvest firsthand 10 years ago. He still marvels at the memory of being in the heart of it, which he tastes in each cup. “What is most appealing to me is the taste of the coffee, knowing where it was grown, on what soil,” says Wiedmaier. “The beans have a great oil content that gives it great flavor, and they are not over-roasted, which is key.” Chef Wiedmaier’s restaurants use a Santa Lucia Estate Classic Roast, a medium-bodied coffee with a delicious chocolaty finish. Using a French press, the best of the beans can be extracted as a cup alone or to accompany a dessert, without overpowering it. The Classic Roast’s additional notes of raspberry and apricot complement Chef Wiedmaier’s desserts, especially those with almonds, lemon, or chocolate. Gutierrez adds: “Because it is not an overbearing coffee, it works well with all of his desserts.”