I’m not much of a coffee drinker. I don’t particularly like the strong, slightly bitter taste, and it just doesn’t do anything for me. It neither wakes me up in the morning nor keeps me awake at night. Maybe I’m immune.
Apparently, I’m not alone. In fact, my reaction to the brew is positively friendly, compared to this anonymous author of “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee”, (London, 1674):
Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water.
But taking a closer look at its production is interesting all the same. So during a brief stay on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast in January, I headed for the hills. (My daughters would have none of that and went zip-lining in the rainforest instead. More on that in a later post.)
On arrival, I’m given coffee. Which I politely taste, of course. But I’m afraid I can’t tell you from personal experience whether Espiritu Santo coffee is fabulous or not. I have the mildest variety (roasted for 23 minutes), but it still tastes strong to me, coffee wimp as I am. It does taste clean, though – like it was brewed using water fresh from a mountain stream. The Naranjo hills provide the ideal altitude (4 000 ft), and location (between two volcanoes) for coffee growing. And everyone else is oohing and aahing, so it probably is fabulous.
Costa Rican coffee is world famous, no doubt. But so is that of many other countries in the region. I ask about Costa Rican vs. Colombian.
Costa Rican coffee is better, of course. Ricardo smiles knowingly (and just a bit cheekily). For one thing, Colombian coffee contains 4 % caffeine. This coffee only has 2 %; much better for your health, he assures me. Also, there is often added flavours, like vanilla, in Colombian coffee. Not here. Only pure coffee. Pura vida.
And Brazilian? Costa Rican coffee is handpicked to ensure only the best berries (the red ones) are used. In Brazil, coffee is picked by machines. Not only does this mean that the inferior berries aren’t chucked out, but the machine also damages the plants.
The life of a coffee tree
On the wagon
The ox cart was an important part of the operation of a coffee plantation; the only way to transport coffee in earlier days.
The Costa Rican expression Montese en la Carreta, get on the wagon, has an unexpected explanation. Often, when stopping for a break in little villages along the long, lonely road, the ox-cart driver would get drunk. Sometimes so drunk he couldn’t walk straight. The only thing to do was to get on the wagon to sleep it off (one would hope), before moving on. So when he was on the wagon, he wasn’t exactly on the wagon. So to speak.
Coffee is harvested during the wet season and thousands of pickers come out to work, earning USD 2 per basket. The baskets look large, surely at least 20 litres. If you’re a good picker, you manage 20 baskets per day. But remember to only pick the the red berries. Any green or orange ones means money taken out of your pay check. It’s a brutal world.
The beans are put through this large, colourful mill… but not before it’s been hand-sorted to ensure no unwanted “additives” in the mix. Coins and rings have been discovered – that would severely damage the mill.
Next, the beans are laid out on a patio to be raked (the coffee has to be moved every 45 minutes)…
… and left to dry.
The end result:
Who needs a coffee maker? This 200-year-old chorreador still does the job:
You should drink coffee because…
Along the walls, the benefits of drinking coffee are presented. Good for all sorts of conditions, it appears. Not only does it reduce the risk of gout and prevent caries. It’s also beneficial for sufferers of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, liver disease, cirrhosis and cancer. Coffee can aid concentration and memory, and, of course, provide energy. It helps control asthma and enhances blood pressure, thus protecting you from heart disease. It has antioxidants, and is a good source of potassium, magnesium and fluoride. A veritable miracle cure this.
I’m not entirely convinced. I have too many friends who get headaches and become jittery and nervous if they don’t get their daily fix. Can’t be all good.
The view, however, is indisputable:
The Espiritu Santo plantation is located in the village of Naranjo, about 16 kilometres from San Jose, the Costa Rican capital. Plantation tours cost about USD 20, well worth it.