Costa Rica is a big coffee producer, providing as much as 30% of the beans Starbucks uses in its popular blends.
I recently took a tour of the Coopepilangosta processing plant for Café Diria which is grown in the hills above Playa Carrillo.
Our guide, Denis, impressed upon us that producing quality coffee is a lot of hard work. It takes 3 years for a coffee tree to come into production, peaking between 5-7 years. The tree can then be pruned severely to increase production again but after 20 years or so, it’s done.
They always plant two trees together - the competition between them makes them both stronger and faster growing.
The coffee plants are picked by hand three times in Costa Rica between Oct. and Jan. All the labor at Coopepilangosta is local – they don’t hire migrants – protecting and enhancing the local economy. The best pickers earn about $32.00/day. But many of them own a share of the company, as well. The cooperative, which has been in the region since 1962, is owned by 9 families. It processes coffee grown by 170 individual farmers who cultivate 590 hectares (1458 acres).
When the coffee arrives at the plant by truck, burro, or on the backs of the farmers, the cherries are separated into 3 qualities by floating them in water.
The four separate shells are removed by drying using wood-fired heat and fans.
The very best organic cherries are sun-dried on big patios for 3-5 days. In the lingo, a coffee cherry becomes a coffee bean after the four shells are removed.
Café Diria sells mostly green beans to roasters in North America.
You can see and smell the difference between the organic and normal coffee. I’m always going to buy organic now which is much richer. Wow!
Many of the folks on our tour were surprised to learn that the darker the roast the less acid and less caffeine. Being from Seattle, home of at least three mega-roasters and a culture serious about coffee, I already knew that.
But I’d never heard of “peaberry” or “caracolina” coffee, which are teeny tiny beans. Since foreign buyers prefer large fat beans, the price for this richer and more flavorful coffee is low. It isn’t worth selling so the Ticos keep it the best for themselves.
Everything at Coopepilangosta is recycled and the operation prides itself on being environmentally sound with ISO14000 certification. The water is naturally filtered in ponds and re-used for irrigation.
The shells removed from the cherries are burned for fuel or made into fertilizer and compost. I’m going to buy a few bags next time I pass by.