Juan Ramrón is a revolutionary. No, not a political insurgent—a coffee rebel. He’s one of the visionaries behind the “micromill revolution,” an upheaval that sparked a major shift in the character and quality of Costa Rican coffee. Costa Rica used to be a typical “commercial coffee” producer. The basic strategy involves taking beans from multiple farms and blending them together to ensure homogeneous tastes and uniform quality. Small-scale farms bring their cherries to “megamills”: massive facilities owned by big companies or cooperatives that’d process the blends in bulk. Once the beans from the individual farms had come together into a fusion, the companies would place the blends on the market under national or regional brands. If you wanted to sell coffee at fixed quality levels, reasonable prices, and mass-market volumes, it was a sound approach to take.


Under that volume-first setup, the megamills inevitably competed over the cherry supply—and only the cooperatives with the biggest hauls survived. As the players in the market continued to dwindle and consolidate into a handful of megamills, the growers started to get uncomfortable with the whole arrangement. It didn’t matter how good the beans were—they just ended up in a motley medley, robbing the beans of the individual, distinct flavors that the growers had worked so hard to perfect. Adding to their frustration was the global rise of the specialty coffee market, which shunned homogeneity and put the focus on premium-quality beans from individual farms. Seeing the signs of change, Costa Rican farmers began breaking from the mold, starting up their own boutique mills, and handling the production processing themselves. Juan Ramrón was one of them. By covering the entire process—from growing to washing and drying—on an in-house basis, growers could market singular, high-quality coffee at a better price point. It was the dawn of the micromill revolution.


The spotlight was back on the growers. Instead of throwing all the farms’ beans into a monotonous mix, the new approach gave them a chance to shine, showcase their unique identities, and finally put themselves on the map and win acclaim as prize-winning producers of remarkable beans. That shift fueled the growers’ motivation, propelling a cycle that kept elevating the quality to new heights. Juan Ramrón, however, found himself at an impasse—ironically, his revolution had created a pack of legitimate rivals. Despite the competition, though, Juan Ramrón stayed positive. He’s a revolutionary, sure, but he’s an agronomist above all.


His farm sits at a lower elevation than the competition’s growing areas, which would be a debilitating setback for most farmers—but Juan Ramrón used agricultural approaches to offset the challenges. When you see the world’s growers experimenting with a technique, you can bet that Juan Ramrón tried it. He explored every possible avenue, constantly seeking out an approach that’d put him at an advantage. Eventually, he formulated his recipe for success: the “honey process,” an innovative technique that helped him capture the Costa Rican Cup of Excellence championship in 2012. Congratulations poured in from growers across the country, even his fiercest rivals; in some ways, it was almost like they saw Juan Ramrón’s victory as their very own. He’s still a hero in the Costa Rican coffee community, a trailblazing pioneer who lavishes his bounty of knowledge on other growers. If you hear reports about how the honey process has given Costa Rican coffee a sterling reputation, you’ll know who made it all possible.