Last April, Chicago's 5 Rabbit Cerveceria and Gaslight Coffee Roasters collaborated on one of my favorite coffee beers of the year — Yodo con Leche. Full of sweet lactose sugars, decadent milk chocolate, and roasty coffee flavors, this imperial porter aged well, eventually giving way to dark fruits and blueberries. It was an incredible beer. But this year, the duo wanted to take the collaboration a huge step further. So we set up a week of coffee farm visits in Costa Rica to source the next great coffee bean that would be featured in Yodo — and as far as I know, it's the first time a brewer and roaster have gone to origin together for the sake of a single beer.
In the mountains around San Jose, coffee farms rise far above the city. Eye-level with nearby volcanos, these small coffee plants grow in nutrient-rich soil and the bright, equatorial sun. The world's best coffees grow at higher elevations (well above 1,300 meters) where the stress from sun exposure, lack of water, and other atmospheric conditions stress the plants into storing an incredible amount nutrients and sugars in bright red coffee cherries. From there, a host of coffee varietals are harvested and processed, from fully washed, perfect jade-colored beans, to "honey" coffees where the fruit and mucilage (which literally looks like honey around the bean) are left to ferment on the bean, to the still-husked black honey bean with the entire cherry still in tact. Each lot's age, elevation, and processing method helps create unique flavors and bodies in these coffees.
We're still only halfway through the hunt for our perfect Yodo bean, and we've seen many different sizes and configurations of coffee farms and mills so far. There's a deeper desire to source something world-class this year because Tristan Coulter of Gaslight intends to roast the coffee for Yodo, as well as serve the coffee in his shop so we can taste the pure flavors he and 5 Rabbit Founder, Andres Araya, fall in love with.
If you'd like to follow along, jump onto our Instagram and use the hashtag #yodoconleche to see the groups photos from the still-developing journey. There's so much more to come, including some visits to Costa Rica's newest craft-inspired breweries.