A Coffee Plantation Tour
04 May 2019 | Golfito, Costa Rica
It's rainy season in the mountains of southern Costa Rica. Mornings are dry, and afternoons are a deluge of rain. So this morning we visited a coffee operation near San Vito at 1600 meters elevation. This operation is run by three separate farming families who do different portions of the coffee process. It was stressed that they were not part of a cooperative. The coffee growing season is from October to the end of March. The first farm had the picking, separating, and drying processes. Three different drying processes were used for three different effects: the African bed for 30 days, sun-dried for 15 days, or the 2-hour dryer method. The longer the drying time, the higher quality of coffee flavor is possible. Our guide introduced us to the owner who showed us some of their equipment: separators, shakers, driers, and sackers. This operation has been producing for 15 years. They have a relationship with the Illy brand which is marketed in Italy, Canada and the USA. The second farm we visited had thirty hectares of mature coffee plants. Interesting, they grow various taller shade plants, such as banana and plantain trees in amongst the coffee bushes. And they prune these plants and add the trimmings around the coffee bushes for additional mulch. The coffee bushes love this arrangement. Our guide mentioned that their customer, Illy, sends quality control inspectors to monitor the coffee operation. The bean pickers are indigenous from Panama. 50-60 workers bring their families. Each picker may earn $20 a day. The pickers are 15 years old to adults. The younger family members are in day care on the farms. The families are given breakfast and lunch, water, access to medical and dental attention. The children received specific attention by UNICEF. We then spent the last hour learning about the tasting and grading method they use. We compared three different coffee blends and roasts. The coffees were graded by us for body, acidity, sweetness, balance, any special characteristics (floral, fruity, cocoa, caramel, etc.). This process was difficult, subtle, and perplexing. Our guide has been a taste tester for 15 years. He mentioned that they test various blends, then send their samples and taste-testing results to their customer, Illy, who does their own taste-testing, and compares their results, making sure that the producer and the customer agree, and achieve the final result desired. Our guide shared that his taste-testing mentor and teacher ended one training session by taking a cup of coffee, adding cream and sugar, sitting back, relaxing, and saying 'the best coffee is the one you like'!!