Coffee for special occasions

Forget your French roast, or your Italian espresso, or your Breakfast blend. Forget your Arabica or your Robusta. When it comes to classifying coffee, Costa Ricans have made it easy – everyday, weekend, and special occasions. And if everyday is a special occasion, you’re in luck.

Coffee accounts for just 2.9% of Costa Rican exports. Back in the day, it was as high as 90%. [Trivia question: Top export from CR? Medical instruments. Followed by bananas and tropical fruit. It even exports tulips to Holland.]

We bought some coffee at the market on Sunday and were assured, as was to be expected, that it was the best in Costa Rica. This was before we knew as much as we know now.

Part of our day trip to La Paz to see the falls and the toucans, was breakfast at and a tour of the Doka Coffee Plantation in Alajuela. Marco, our guide, gave us a quick rundown of the history of coffee in the country. It arrived around 1820 and initially, the government sought to compete regarding production with Colombia (75 times the size of Costa Rica) and Brazil (100 times the size of Colombia). This was obviously a non-runner so instead of quantity, they now concentrate on quality – and exclusively Arabica.

The Vargas family have been growing coffee since 1931 – three generations – hence their brand name: Café Tres Generaciones. Of their annual production, 60% of their green beans go to Starbucks to be roasted and blended and whatevered. The rest, they roast themselves. Starbucks has its own plantation in the vicinity  – Hacienda Alsacia – where it is experimenting with bean varieties in an effort to stop the coffee Apocalypse.

The origins of coffee are well known – the Ethiopian goatherder whose goats got a little jumpy after eating a red cherry from a plant. The same goatherder then burned the plant, inadvertently roasting the bean, and ending up smelling the coffee. The rest is history.

Coffee plants are grown from seed on the Doka estate and take four years before they produce berries.

Each coffee plant will produce for 25 years or so. At Doka, they keep their plants for just 16 to ensure good quality beans.

The harvest season runs from November to February when 500 workers come to the farm to pick the red cherries only from the plants. They get $2 for each 10kg basket they turn in – the good ones can pick 20 baskets or so a day. And from each 10kg picked, only about 2kg will end up being used.

The berries then go through a second selection process in water, where the good ones, the ones with beans, sink to the bottom and the empty ones float. The sinkers are further graded into A, B, and C – with A&B sold on as green beans or roasted on the farm.

The beans need to be dried out for 9-11 days after their 36 hours of fermentation. Costa Rica gets a lot of rain so if it doesn’t stay away, they can be dried inside in just 2 days.

Beans are stored in 50kg bags for up to 2 years. They’re dried again for a couple of days before being roasted. The difference in texture of the grades was like sackcloth (C) and 1000-thread silk sheets (A).

Some of the cherries only have one bean, not two. These are the peaberries. They’re handpicked and make up about 5% of the total production.

When it comes to roasting, white beans (parchment), green beans, and peaberries go into the oven and roasted for 15 minutes for light, 17 for medium, and 20 for dark.

I’ve been mistakenly thinking that dark roasts (Italian espresso comes to mind) are best to wake me up while light roasts are better later in the evening so as not to keep me awake. But caffeine is liquid and the more time the bean spends in the oven, the less caffeine it holds. So I’ve been getting it ass backwards. There’s nowt wrong with my dark Italian roast in the evening and it’s the light ones I need for the morning.

And something else I learned. Coffea is a genus of flowering plants whose seeds are called coffee beans. Okay. I knew that. But it’s a member of the family Rubiaceae,  which also includes citrus trees. So the flowers, when the plants are in bloom, will smell like jasmine or orange or lemon. Something new to add to my list of things to do before I die – smell the coffee blossoms. [Note to self: Try planting a coffee bean and see what happens.]

Tours come in various packages and while there are no prices on the Doka site, other sites list package prices from €50. The breakfast was great and being able to sample all eight coffees from light to dark was an experience. Mind you, the condensed milk killed the flavour but I couldn’t bring myself to have it black. All their blends are classed as weekend coffee. Am all set now for the slow wake-up when I get back.

On our way to La Paz, we stopped off to buy some Montey Copey specialty coffee from the much-touted Dota Tarrazú region of Costa Rica. It is one of the top-three world coffee-producing regions, up there with Kona (Hawaii) and Blue Mountain (Jamaica). [A piece of trivia: In 2012, Tarrazú Geisha coffee became the most expensive coffee sold by Starbucks in 48 of its US stores.] But like other successful regions, it has its issues with people cashing in on the quality:

A lot of the Tarrazú coffee being sold around the world is either a knock off or ‘hopeful-by-proximity’.

Hopefully, I got the real thing. Roll on those special occasions.

2 replies

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] till you take a coffee tour before buying coffee – you’ll learn a lot and make better […]

  2. […] till you take a coffee tour before buying coffee – you’ll learn a lot and make better […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Talk to me...