Did you know that coffee is Costa Rica’s second most exported product after pineapples? Though most people think of South America or Africa as having the best coffee in the world (which they do), Costa Rica ranks quite high on the list too.
Costa Rica’s coffee is one of the best in the world as they grow only Coffea Arabica, which is thought to be one of the highest quality coffee plants. This is actually a law in the country as the government wanted to be known for producing only the best quality coffee.
Costa Rican coffee has been used in international competitions and has won many awards. There is no doubt their coffee is among the best in the world so if you are a coffee lover, you have to take a tour to learn about the process.
Learning about Coffee with Doka Estate Coffee Tour
There are several coffee tours in Costa Rica but we heard Doka Estate coffee tour was the best.
Doka estate coffee tour is one of the oldest coffee plantations in the country and the family who owns and runs it has been doing this for over 70 years.
The estate is located up in the valleys of Alajuela with the perfect conditions to grow coffee: cool climate of 17 to 28 degrees Celsius, fertile soil and a high altitude of 800 to 1600 meters.
I had no idea that the coffee process was this complicated and it definitely made me appreciate the few cups I have everyday even more.
Many man hours and machines are used in the coffee operation to take the seed and turn it into the hot steaming black liquid you drink every morning.
Station one – the plants
Coffee comes from a plant that grows cherries with the coffee bean inside. If you drive along the Central Valley, you’ll likely see rows and rows of these coffee plants. Our guide showed us what a coffee plant looks like at 1 year, 2 year, 4 year and full grown. It takes quite awhile for these plants to develop and start producing cherries.
Coffee pickers measure their cherries by baskets. One basket is 28 pounds and a good coffee picker can pick up to 18 baskets a day! It’s not an easy job being out there in the sun 11 hours a day and they get paid around $3 per basket.
Station 2, 3 and 4 – Coffee Processing (Washing, Peeling, Fermenting and Drying)
This station is the oldest wet mill in the country and this is where the cherries are separated by quality using water. Low quality coffee floats and high quality coffee sinks. Most of the floaters are green unripe cherries or berries that have holes chewed by worms.
Unfortunately we came in the off season so the mill wasn’t working. Coffee picking season is from September to February/March so we couldn’t see the process in action which would have been really interesting to see. The truck dumps the berries into the green container and the berries drop straight into the water.
Once they are separated by floaters and sinkers, the berries get carried into the next room where they get shelled and washed.
Green cherries (floaters) get turned into lower quality coffee such as instant coffee.
This ingenious system was actually built by the Germans who developed the machinery to make sure all cherries got shelled. The cherries are then separated out one more time by size.
Next, they get directed into large holding areas to ferment in order to get rid of the sugar. After that, the beans need to be dried. There are two ways to dry the beans either by the sun or machine. Our guide told us that machine is faster but the quality and the flavor doesn’t turn out quite as good.
To hand dry, they rake out all the beans on a flat surface outside and sift through them every 45 minutes.
Station 5 – Storage
After the beans are dried, they go into storage and here you can find huge bags of coffee! They separate it out by quality which you can tell in the colors. At this point, you can peel the outside and find the coffee bean.
Did you know it takes 45 beans to make 1 cup of coffee? Sure makes you appreciate your cup of coffee in the morning now doesn’t it?
After this, Doka sends out the coffee to various other companies to be exported or roasted. We visited the Cafe Tres Generaciones to see how they roast the beans and the end product.
Coffee should be made with a water temperature of 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Boiling water will make the coffee lost its flavor.
The next part is everyone’s favorite: the tasting. They have several types of coffee you can try such as peaberry, espresso italiano and french roast. It’s kind of crazy how different the flavors are and they come out of the same plant!
My favorite is french roast and espresso italiano so if you like dark coffee with a more caramel or chocolate flavor, you should try those. If you like a lighter flavor, peaberry or breakfast blend is your best bet.
Peaberry is actually an unfertilized bean with an oval shape. About 5% of coffee beans are peaberry.
There’s a small coffee museum next to the dining hall which I highly recommend stopping by. You can see all of the old machinery they used to use which is incredibly interesting.
If you thought I put a lot of information in this article about the coffee process, you’d be surprised. I probably only put 20% of the information about the whole thing! Our guide was very knowledgeable and he used to be a coffee picker so he knows all the ins and outs of the procedure.
Learning the process of how something comes about is always an enlightening experience. We don’t think too much about it since we buy it from the grocery store, turn on the coffee maker and it ends there. In reality, it is a long process and it takes many workers to support the giant coffee addiction our world has.
Being a small country, Costa Rica prides itself in producing only the highest quality coffee and they are not far behind in the bigger coffee producing countries such as Brazil.
Doka Estate coffee tour was not only an educational tour but enjoyable one as well. I loved learning more about the whole coffee process. I almost couldn’t believe how complicated it was but I’m glad to know more about it. I’m going to buy so many bags when I leave so I don’t have to miss my Costa Rican cafe!
Want to read about more fun things to do in Costa Rica? Check out these posts.
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