After my first trip to Costa Rica, I have to say that this beautiful country really has it all: White water rafting, rappelling down waterfalls, swimming, surfing, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, taking in the amazing diversity of plants and animals, and enjoying the delicious and unique drinks and meals.
Countless travellers have written about these amazing experiences and many others about the eco-tourism of Costa Rica. However, I’ve chosen to highlight a different topic because it deserves more coverage than it gets, and that is Costa Rican coffee!
It may seem a bit odd that this non-coffee drinker has decided to write about the near-legendary Costa Rican bean crop, particularly as I’m not big on the taste of coffee no matter how high the quality. However, I do so love the aroma of a good brew percolating away, and I can’t help but appreciate the work and commitment that goes into truly fine coffee, as the Costa Ricans have made a point of producing from start to finish. Knowing that they cannot compete in terms of sheer volume with mega coffee exporters like Colombia and Brazil, Costa Rica opted instead for quality versus quantity with their organic, fair-trade, hand-picked coffee beans.
My G Adventure tour group and I had the pleasure of visiting one of the many local family-owned and operated coffee plantations. (Many thanks go to Jorge, our plantation guide at El Trapiche, who you can see featured in many of these photos.)
Coffee plants begin producing berries about 3 years after planting. After that, only the new branches will grow berries each season while the inner branches remain bare. After several years of production, a bush must be replaced as it becomes much too large and leafy to be practical. Coffee berries in their raw form are surprisingly sweet! We were instructed only to suck these berries, as raw coffee berries are extremely high in caffeine, so it’s best just to taste the juice.
Costa Rican coffee farmers hand-pick their berries to ensure they only take the ripe ones. Mass-production coffee plantations in other countries harvest by machine, thus ending up with a percentage of green, unripe berries processed through to the final product. This reduces the quality of the flavour, which is a part of the reason Costa Rican coffee tastes so much better.
Once collected, the berries have their outer fruit removed through machines like this. The fruit portion is used for a number of products, such as the natural flavouring used in coffee liqueurs like Kahlua. Any remainder is used in compost for the plantation.
A machine removes the very last, silken coating from the beans, which are then ready to be rinsed and dried. Various stages of drying beans, sun-warmed in greenhouses like this, starts the process of the distinct flavour we know in coffee. The beans are dried for several weeks before sorting and roasting.
Before they are roasted, the beans go through this sorting machine, which organizes them based on size. The fattest beans have the best flavour, especially the “pearls” or “selfish twins”. Because there are two beans per berry, sometimes one of the beans takes the vast majority of the nutrients for itself, and thus the vast majority of the flavour. These “selfish twins” get sorted into the large bean batch, and are then hand-sorted again into their own grouping to produce the richest, most flavourful coffee available.
Last but not least is the roasting. Each size grouping of beans are roasted in their own batch, and then either ground or left whole for export. Some coffee importers prefer to ship the beans from their dried stage to do their own roasting onsite. However this can actually diminish flavour as the dried beans lose more of their freshness during transportation than roasted beans, which keep their flavour for much longer.
The finished product: a perfect cup of Costa Rican coffee!
This plantation tour was part of the Costa Rica Quest tour with G Adventures. This tour will take you to the secluded spots only the locals know and I highly recommend it! It was absolutely phenomenal!
For more information on travelling to Costa Rica or with G Adventures, contact Deanna Henderson, who is a ‘Bucket List’ travel specialist at our Market Mall location in Calgary, Alberta. She can be reached via e-mail or by calling 1-866-295-4405.