· By David Falk
Don Eli Coffee Farm & The Montero Family
Carlos Montero is one of the most prolific farmers to come out of the landscape of Costa Rica’s coffee producing culture. Some of his earliest memories recall picking up fallen coffee cherries off of the ground in order to help his family or make some extra spending money. When Carlos was growing up, Costa Rica felt like a different place - it was a country on the brink of development and Carlos remembers being brought up very humbly. Eli, his father, worked as an employee of a land owner that grew coffee in the area in which Carlos’ wet mill is today. Eli worked tirelessly as a farm hand, responsible for establishing many of the plantations still producing today, and was known around the village for selling lottery tickets to make extra money. Eventually, Carlos’ dad was able to acquire some land of his own in order to grow coffee and turned out to be one of the founding members of the world famous Coopedota in 1960. The cooperative model of production continued to be the engine of coffee farming in Costa Rica and enabled Eli and his wife, Clara Luz, to provide a good life for their family of 9.
Carlos has always had a wandering soul. As a high schooler, Carlos had the opportunity of a lifetime, for a kid from the mountains of Costa Rica, to participate in an exchange program and study in San Diego, California. The experience had a profound impact on him and he learned that he was fascinated with new places, different cultures, and connecting with people of all walks of life. As Carlos became a young man, his curiosity only grew and he set out to explore the world - working at what he could along the way to support his adventures. If you have ever had the opportunity to sit with Carlos for a few minutes, then you’ll know that he has very fond memories of all the countries where he spent time, observed the culture, learned some of the language, and made life-long friends. This way of life is something he would later instill in his children and gave him the yearning to one-day see his coffees being roasted and served in all the amazing places he had gotten to know and love.
The dream of bridging his background as a coffee producer with his love of people and places continued to drive Carlos throughout his transformation into a settled down adult. He spent a few years in New Jersey, USA working in diners as a dishwasher, cook, and server to save up for his very own farms back home in Costa Rica. Carlos looks back on this pivotal time in his life fondly and is thankful for the opportunity to have experienced so many fascinating cultures while saving for the ability to have his own farms. After returning to his beloved Tarrazu with some savings, the help of his family, and cunning negotiations - Carlos acquired his first properties to grow coffee. For years, he was content managing his farms commercially, delivering his fruit to nearby cooperatives, and building a community with his new family - Lucia, Marianela, Jacob, and Maria Jose. Until, he began to take notice of a new phenomenon taking place around him - the micro mill revolution.
As the cooperative producing model became less and less financially sustainable for the Montero Family, they began to take notice of their peers receiving better premiums for processing their own fruit, and that this new system lent to greater transparency when trading - Carlos got the bug to construct his own wet-mill. Carlos took advantage of a few opportunities that presented themselves and he sold his half of a farm, in San Pedro de Tarrazu, back to his brother, Manuel. With that money, Carlos was able to purchase the land on the other side of the Pirris river from his home which happened to be up for sale at the time - where Finca Tematica is today and begin to build his wet mill. An American named Tim O'brien who was processing fruit for growers in Tarrazu had decided to go back to the states and was selling his processing equipment for a good deal, and so Carlos had all he needed to create what we know today as Micro Beneficio Don Eli.
Miramar is a very special section of the overall La Pastora Farm that the Montero Family nurture. It is the highest point in the farms and is up over the other side of the La Pastora Ridge. Carlos helped plant more new and rare varieties in this area due to its unique micro climate and insane altitude. A few years late this young fruit started to produce and Jacob began using them for his most elite coffee processing techniques.
Anfiteatro is a very important part of La Pastora that is the premier farm of Don Eli and is highly sought after the world over - it produces the cream of the crop year after year. La Pastora is the name of one of the highest peaks in the Tarrazu growing region and is trademarked by the renowned Coopetarrazu (which is why "Tarrazu" cannot be printed on the jute bag or exported under this name). The mountain boasts extraordinary altitude up to 2200 MASL and benefits from a unique microclimate resulting from surrounding peaks and the Pacific Ocean. Actually, a few short years ago farmers weren’t able to grow coffee in this area because it was too cold of an environment. Yet, with the climate changing, brave farmers willing to take a risk, and new varieties - the mountain has been developed into many outstanding coffee farms. Most of the farms found on La Pastora sell their fruit to Coopetarrazu which combines the coffee to create a solid micro-region community lot, but when one is able to process micro-lots from this alp separately that’s when amazing things happen in the cup.
Carlos has always had his eye on the peak of La Pastora, but not necessarily for coffee production. His father, Eli, had his farm at the base of the mountain and taught Carlos how to care for plantations around the area. So, when an opportunity to purchase a farm near the highest point of La Pastora presented itself in 1990 - Carlos and his brothers knew they had to come together to buy it. The initial intention for the land was to produce a variety of apple called Ana. The brothers made a huge investment and dug large terraces in order to plant the trees. In a few short years the brothers were producing wonderful apples and Carlos would take his family down to the Capitol City’s farmers market where the uncommon fruit was beloved. Carlos was doing quite well for himself between the apples and the good prices he was getting for his coffee fruit at CoopeDota. Overtime, Carlos was able to buy out his other brothers and own the farm in its entirety.
Shortly after, the apple trees began to die. Carlos tried everything he could to save the farm without using chemicals, but there was a strong attack by a root eating insect that decimated the apple trees completely. Disheartened, Carlos started to think that it was time to sell the land and cut his losses. However, it proved difficult to market empty land in the middle of nowhere on top of a mountain. Carlos knew that in Tarrazu, it’s far more attractive to sell land with coffee planted on it and even though farmers thought it impossible to grow coffee in La Pastora at the time - he turned the apple farm into a coffee plantation. Soon, Carlos noticed that the catuai coffee trees did very well in this new environment and by the time they really started to produce he had already built the wet mill with his brothers. As they started processing the fantastic fruit from La Pastora local cuppers and international buyers began to take notice and Carlos found that he had to keep the farm.
La Pastora farm is split into two sections, Anfiteatro (or Amphitheater) and Manzanal (or Apple Orchard). When you first enter the farm you will notice the amphitheater or crescent shaped section named Anfiteatro. As you continue into the farm you will enter Manzanal where most of the apple trees were before and is actually shaped as an outward curve. The terraces the brothers dug into this farm resulted in large spaces between each coffee tree and we believe that this is a positive influence on the coffee’s quality. The age of the trees are also of help to quality and productivity at a mature 20/25 years old. The amount of sun as well as the filtering clouds in this area lends to a consistent yet gentle source of energy. As one climbs higher up the farm in La Pastora they’ll notice that Carlos had decided to experiment with planting Geisha and other varieties. Carlos, Marianela, and Jacob noticed how well the African lineage varieties grew in this climate and decided to continue planting it. A few years later, these rare varieties along with the original catuai coffees that come from La Pastora and are processed at the Don Eli wet mill have become world renowned!
Currently there are three farms encompassed under the Don Eli name. They are La Pastora, El Llano, and Tematica. In addition to these farms we source coffee from Don Eli's cousin Tio Juan Montero(Or Juanra short for Juan Rafael) who also has built a wet mill.