A Passion for Taste
In Costa Rica, Bill McAlpin Is Obsessed with Making Sure that La Minita Tarrazu Is the World's Greatest Coffee
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95
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Yet coffee is unique in one very important aspect: It is probably the only product in the world for which the grower, the distributor and the consumer all play an important role in the successful delivery of the product's taste. As McAlpin puts it, "It really doesn't matter how careful I am in my process, or even how good the roaster is in his; the consumer can still ruin it."
Coffee education is therefore extremely important from a business perspective for both the producer and the distributor. Visitors are constantly arriving at Hacienda La Minita to witness the coffee harvest firsthand. Many are employees of some of the best-known specialty coffee companies in the United States, whose employers see the value of educating the people who sell their coffee. Most of the owners themselves have journeyed up the steep mountain roads to Bustamonte, the small Costa Rican town where La Minita grows its coffee. They regard McAlpin's operation not only as a supplier of exemplary coffee beans, but also as something of a classroom.
McAlpin first discovered his discriminating palate in Switzerland, where he attended high school. It was there, in fact, where he first learned about fine cigars, smoking Cuban Partagas. "They came in glass tubes with little humidifiers on top," he recalls.
But it was in Latin America, growing up on coffee plantations, where McAlpin learned the coffee business. As a boy, he worked the coffee fields, picking the red fruit alongside the other workers, some of whom continue today to work the harvests of La Minita.
McAlpin's success is simple in theory and complicated in execution: To create the best coffee, he controls the entire process. This degree of perfection does not come easy. "I know there's a risk of burnout when you're working at this level," he says as he lights a Romeo y Julieta. "But the rewards are enormous."
Jim Daniels is a Maine-based writer/photographer who reports frequently from Latin America.
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