Bean Hunter’s Blog: Costa Rica, Part I

Though I’m a native of Colombia, the fourth-largest coffee producing country in the world, it was working at a mill in Costa Rica that I first learned and experienced the whole coffee production supply chain. From seedling to mature coffee producing trees, to the picking and collecting of ripe cherries, to the processing and drying of that cherry and finally the preparation of that coffee for shipment, it is still one of the most amazing learning experiences of my life. It’s great to get back there whenever I can, too, and see the familiar faces the taught me to appreciate and understand every aspect that goes into that cup of coffee we provide to you, our customer. 

The trip started off as most of them do, with an early morning drop-off at the airport and a few cramped flights to get to our destination. But once we were there and surrounded by the type of landscape that is only found in these countries we call Origin, everything it took to get there was well worth it. On our early-year trips to Costa Rica we always take a customer of ours. This time we had the pleasure of having both Jared from the National Arbor Day Foundation and Rob from Wyndham Hotels. It’s great to bring non- “coffee people” on a trip like this, not only because we know it will help them appreciate coffee the way that we do, but because it also makes me feel like the all-knowing coffee guy as I walk them through the process at every farm or mill that we visit.

On our first day we went to the mill where it all began for me, Lomas Del Rio, which is located in the Central Valley. Once we pulled up I could smell the coffee being processed and it took me back to those long days of being a farmhand at the mill.

We first walked through the wet mill, where all of the coffee is de-pulped and sorted before being transferred to fermentation tanks. As soon as we saw the drying patios we had to make coffee angels, which has become a tradition for us.

We then walked our guests through the whole process of how that coffee is turned and moved while it dries. Afterward we went over and saw the silo of dried beans, which looked a little low for this time of year. It seems that the Costa Rican crop is slightly late to harvest.

Once we finished up and had some coffee with the mill employees, we ran over and saw the two daycare centers down the street from Lomas Del Rio, both of which we help fund. We were greeted this time not by a few dozen students, but by only a handful. It turns out we were a little early this year and most were still on their summer break.

Nonetheless the students that were there to greet us were happy and excited. We spoke for some time with the teachers, and decided that this year we were going to provide some financial support to upgrade their kitchen so that they can more easily provide lunches for the students. After our wonderful visit with the teachers we stopped off at our usual lunch spot for some traditional ceviche and a casado, which is a Costa Rican dish consisting of some protein with beans and rice.

We then took our bus to Finca Santa Elena, which specializes in Rain Forest Alliance certified coffees. This was an especially important stop for Jared from the Arbor Day Foundation because that organization provides Rain Forest Alliance certified coffee to their customers– roasted by us, of course. We took him there so he could really see the difference this particular certification makes.Once we arrived we again went through the wet mill and the dry mill, but this time also went into the fields and tasted some of the cherries, and had the chance to meet up with some of the pickers. We even played a little soccer with them.

When we had seen everything we could see at Finca Santa Elena we went off into the higher elevations.As we made our ascent, it seemed like we were going up beyond the clouds. Once there we stopped at our final destinationsfor the day: Beneficia Herbazo and Finca Sin Limites.Both of these mills are run by the same family, and given the altitude at which their coffee is grown and the care they take in growing it, I cannot wait to taste the samples from these farms.

Tune in Thursday for Part II