Coffee! Don Juan Coffee Plantation Monteverde, Costa Rica
Meet Don Juan! In the 1930’s he was one of a few pioneering farmers to begin growing coffee on Monteverde (green mountain). His son now runs the company, but our guide said, “Don Juan loves to greet all of his visitors. Be warned! He loves to give hugs and have his picture taken.” Of course we did both!
Though the tour was memorable, our ride up the mountain to the plantation was both nauseating and spectacular! At the base of the mountain, where the “good road” turned to gravel, our driver stopped to put the shuttle in 4 wheel drive. The guide turned to us and said with a smile, “We only have ten miles to go. But, the road is so bad it will take an hour or so to get there.” Other than being in that shuttle with us, only video would allow you to share in the experience. However, I didn’t shoot any because I was trying to keep my head from bashing against the window. I also feared losing hold of my camera, which would turn it into a deadly projectile flying about the shuttle’s cabin.
Once we made it to the top, our tour actually covered three crops that are grown here; coffee, cocoa, and sugar cane. Cocoa and sugar cane are for another day’s blog post. Today, coffee! We learned far more about the history and production of coffee than either of us anticipated. If you crave all that information, I strongly recommend snagging a plane to Costa Rica for your own tour and tasting. I’m going to pass along some interesting facts and pictures. Which, to be honest, won’t taste nearly as fabulous!
Government regulation allows only arabica coffee to be grown here. It is considered a higher quality coffee than its competitor, robusta. If we had arrived a little later in the season, all the fruit on those branches would be red, ripe, and ready to hand harvest. That’s right, I said hand picked! These coffee plants are rather delicate.
In fact, other crops like sugar cane are grown in close proximity to act as a windbreaker. While other plants, like banana and avocado trees help shade the coffee plants so their leaves don’t burn. Squeezing the ripe fruit will easily produce the ready to harvest coffee bean inside. Hold on though! That bean is nowhere near ready to grind for your coffee. Separating the bean from the skin is the only part of the process that is done by machine.
From there, the beans need a good drying out. Here you can see the beans on a concrete floor going through the drying process, which can take as long as 4 weeks. Workers rake wooden tools across the surface to turn the beans so they don’t mold. Now, the bean is ready to shed its papery skin. We can begin to recognize that coffee bean we are so familiar with. From here, this plantation bags and ages it’s beans for 2 years! Some growers age for as many as 8 years! If you take a look back at the photo of the beans drying you’ll see a few bags of beans on a pallet. Any guesses as to what this contraption does? It’s a roaster! The drum was turned by hand to ensure even roasting.
Now for the fun part, the grind and the drink! This is when we received some devastating news. We have been brewing our coffee the wrong way! If you want to receive all the benefits coffee has to offer, the grounds need to steep in the water for a few minutes. Yes, we realize that that means your drip coffee maker isn’t doing you any favors. If you’re like us and use a percolator, the news is just as bad. You should never boil your coffee. So what’s a coffee lover to do? Use a French press! The Costa Rican’s use a similar method. They put coffee grounds in a kettle, heat water to just below boiling in a separate container, and then pour the hot water right into the grounds. They allow it to steep for a few minutes. This allows all the healthy stuff in coffee to leach out of the grounds and into the water. Next, the slurry is poured through a cotton filter into a serving kettle.