Coffee & Costa Rica

This past weekend, despite multiple almost-changes to travel plans and the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named, I got to join the husband and a friend for a weekend in gorgeous Costa Rica.

I have majorly fond feelings toward Costa Rica, since the surf trip I took there in 2014 with my brother Hunter and our dad remains one of my all-time-favorite vacations. And I’ve seen quite a few cool spots during my years as a Foreign Service spouse.

2014 Trip: Please note that not one of we three amigos escaped sunburn; that’s what 2x daily surf sessions near the equator will get you.

Sadly, there wasn’t time to sprint off to the beach this trip. But an afternoon foray to Doka Estate–a coffee plantation–offered a fun substitute.

I’m not sure what I expected a coffee plantation to look like. But I certainly didn’t anticipate the mini-Eden we discovered after a 45-minute (and unsettlingly twisty) drive into the hills. As a gal from South Texas, I have a sharp awareness of landscapes that get plenty of water (having grown up in a place that didn’t). Evidence of tJuhat rain-fed lushness was EVERYWHERE, from hydrangea blossoms the size of basketballs to the flowering vines climbing over everything.

And the serenity of the estate, tucked into the mountain-scape…. It provided a vivid, lovely contrast to the close-quarter hustle of San Jose’s downtown. With glittering sunshine, cool breezes, and clear, flower-scented air, the landscape practically begged me to curl up in the grass with a book for long, lazy hours.

Instead, we took a tour that led us through the process of creating coffee, from the picking of the fruit to the decaffeination stage (which is outsourced to Germany, by the way; apparently, Costa Ricans are a full-caff or nothing people. [I’m in full agreement.])

By the end of the tour, I was open-mouthed at all the steps involved in transforming a small, cherry-colored fruit into the black liquid that starts my every morning. During college, I spent a summer working in one of my hometown’s local coffee shops. I still recall the coffee trivia I picked up along the way–like the fact that the darker the roast is, the less caffeine it contains. I remember smelling down to my undergarments of coffee on bean-roasting days. (Why, yes, we did roast all our coffees in-house.) I thought I’d lived the coffee-making life.

I was wrong. Until our guide outlined the process behind each bean, I didn’t appreciate the art and effort of it. The fruit are still picked by hand, filling up 13 liter baskets tied around the pickers’ waists. The baskets of raw coffee fruit are then dumped into a water tank. Fruits that are denser–and most desirable–sink and are divided off. A pulp-removing machine then strips the “meat” off the fruit, large and small, leaving coffee beans that are subdivided into three different sizes/qualities. These beans are then spread in the sun to dry, being rotated every so often to ensure even drying. Once done, the “parchment,” or thin skin clinging to each bean, is removed.

Here, a final sorting process takes place: all three qualities of beans are searched for “peaberries.” Most coffee fruits contain two semi-flattened beans. Occasionally, however, a fruit produces only a single round bean–a “peaberry” that yields the very sweetest, smoothest coffee.

Once finally and fully sorted into four qualities, the coffee is placed in sacks and left to season for a few months before being sold, with most of the highest caliber coffee being exported.

Fun fact: Coffee is never commercially exported roasted. It is always the raw, dried bean. And that decaffeination process that occurs in Germany? The company actually performs the service for free, making their profit by selling the caffeine for use in products like sodas and energy drinks.

Now armed with coffee-making expertise, we were, of course, ready to taste (and buy!) our own. A visit to their on-site cafe found me enjoying the coolest cup of drip coffee I’ve ever ordered/made. (Not photographed was the part where I poured in waaaaaaaaay too much water and made a swamp out of our table. 😏)

And just when I thought our trip couldn’t get more zen, we found this: a darling little hideaway of a butterfly garden.

All in all: not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Even if it we never made it to the beach.

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