Costa Rican Mountain Coffee
All coffee in Costa Rica is of the Arabica variety, by law. Arabica is held to be a better quality bean than its cousin Robusta, and gives Costa Rica an edge in the world coffee market by virtue of its steady reputation for quality coffee.
To grow it in commercially viable quantities one needs about 5 hectares, or about 12 acres. However for hobby production for personal use, even a small area will produce prodigious amounts of beans.
One can grow the plants directly from the beans, or buy them already as small seedlings in plastic bags.
The little plants are ready to produce after a year in the ground. The first phase is the production of pretty white flowers, which have a very pleasant perfume (no, not like coffee). These last only a day or two and quickly fade away.
They are replaced by tiny green buds which develop into large green beans, and with the passage of time, they ripen into large red beans. At this point they are ready to harvest.
Processing them is a little arduous, as after picking the beans the red fruity flesh must be removed. Traditionally this is done by soaking the beans in a vat of water until fermentation from fruit sugars in the skin (tastes like apple skin) loosens the fleshy skin and the grain is left behind. This has to be timed right or the fermentation will destroy the grain's flavour.
After drying in the sun for three or four days one notes that the actual grain lies inside of an outer hard parchment-like skin, and rattles around inside it. This is a great storage medium, and if you don't want to roast the beans immediately, just leave them intact. if you want to roast them, then the parchment is removed.
Every little town has its own roaster, so you just deliver the beans and he'll take care of the rest.
Processing the Coffee
For small quantities of coffee such as we grow, just for use within our community, a Micro Beneficio is the way to go. This is a small business dealing with locals who grow their own coffee and want it cleaned, roasted and packaged for their own use.
For a small grower the fermentation method of removing the skin isn't worth the trouble. In this case one simply leaves the beans in the sun to dry to a dark, hard pebble-like object. This has great advantages over the large-scale fermentation method.
In this case the fruit sugars and juice in the pulp (called the "miel" or honey) are absorbed by the bean inside, resulting in a highly flavoured coffee, much superior to the large scale fermentation method of commercial growers.
In fact, coffee beans are highly absorbent and will take on the vapours and odors of surrounding chemicals or gasoline. So it's important always to store your picked beans in a place free from such chemicals.
Once the beans reach this stage they're ready for processing. The machine below will scrub off the sun dried hard outer skin.
It then passes through another machine which removes the thin parchment layer, until finally the 'gold' is reached. (In fact they do call the actual bean the "oro"). Now comes roasting...
Roasting is a fine art and requires the operator to have a well-honed sense of timing and intimate familiarity with his machine. Generally you can order a light, medium or dark roast.
Our local man, Don Luis, also provides simple packaging in plastic bags of half kilo size, or larger if you prefer. If fact, if you provide your own labels he will bag the coffee with them.
There's nothing like tasting your own coffee, having lovingly grown and tended it, for a deep sense of satisfaction! We look forward to trying our very own Sangha Lila 100% Arabica in about one week's time.
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