On the wagon in a Costa Rica coffee plantation

Costa Rica coffee plantation

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 inferior berries aren’t chucked out, but the machine also damages the plants.

The life of a coffee tree

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica
Young trees, ready to be planted out

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica
The fragrant white coffee flowers only blossom for a few days

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica
Coffee berries

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.

Oxcart at Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica


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 paycheck.

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.

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

Next, the beans are laid out on a patio to be raked (the coffee has to be moved every 45 minutes)…

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

… and left to dry.

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

The end result:
Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

Who needs a coffee maker? This 200-year-old chorreador still does the job:
Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

You should drink coffee because…

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

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.

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

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:

View from Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica

Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, Naranjo, Costa Rica


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.

Center map


What about you? Do you like good, strong coffee? Or do you take your caffe latte with only half a shot of coffee, like I – and children in Italy – do?



41 Responses to “On the wagon in a Costa Rica coffee plantation”

  1. Turkey's For Life 30 December 2011 1524 #

    Oh, but it’s a very pretty wagon! Think I’ll be on the wagon at the beginning of 2012! 😉 Great photos.

    Happy New Year to you and yours. Have a good one and looking forward to more posts in 2012.

    Julia and Barry

  2. Anne-Sophie Redisch 31 December 2011 0048 #

    @Julia and Barry – Haha! You’ll probably be in good company this time of year – on the wagon. Happy New Year to you, too 🙂

  3. Alouise 31 December 2011 0216 #

    Great post. I’d love to take a coffee plantation tour like this. Funny enough I used to hate coffee, until I worked at a job where my day started at 4am. Now I love coffee, my favourite type of coffee drink is a flat white.

  4. David Bennett 31 December 2011 0233 #

    “puddle water” – what a damning description.

    A cup of coffee sometimes jumps the brain barrier for me and leaves me as high and loose as a kite for a few minutes. I feel like dancing – really.

    On the other hand, too much coffee and the lightning bolts start to shoot out of my fingertips.

    All the best for 2012, to you – and thanks for a great 2011. It’s been a pleasure.

  5. Anne-Sophie Redisch 31 December 2011 0416 #

    @Alouise – Flat whites aren’t too bad. That’s what I usually get in Australia.

    @David – Thanks. And likewise 🙂

  6. Vera Marie Badertscher 31 December 2011 0424 #

    Oh, Sophie, I’ve known for a long time that we were kindred spirits, and now you have cemented it. When I was in college, the office I worked in had coffee breaks, and wanting a break, I would go to the break room and drink a cup of coffee, with lots of sugar and milk. However, one day I had an epiphany. I don’t like this stuff! I don’t have to drink it! And that was the end of that. Now when I go to a hard-core coffee place–like the Mozart Coffee House in Salzburg, I ask for the coffee that tastes the LEAST like coffee–which usually involves large amounts of chocolate. On the other hand, I’m a great tea drinker–preferably white, but green if I can’t get white. And it is heartening to see that countries I thought would have only coffee, also have tea on the menu nowadays.
    However the coffee plantation is undeniably photogenic.

  7. Andrea 31 December 2011 0435 #

    How interesting!! I’ve yet to visit a coffee plantation but I love the stuff so have to do it someday. Thanks for the excellent tour in the meantime =)

  8. Anne-Sophie Redisch 31 December 2011 0802 #

    @Vera Marie – I drink heaps of tea as well.

    @Andrea – Thanks!

  9. Mary 31 December 2011 0816 #

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful coffee plantation tour. Although, I’m not a big coffee fan too my husband will surely enjoy this (he’s one of those that gets jittery without the caffeine fix) Still a bit skeptical on all the coffee benefits. Love the views and the oxcart. I have been longing to visit those colorful oxcarts in Sarchi and all of Costa Rica.

  10. Anne-Sophie Redisch 31 December 2011 1325 #

    @Mary – thanks for reading 🙂

  11. Angela 31 December 2011 1549 #

    Very interesting post, I knew coffee is not as dangerous as its reputation says, it gives me accelerated heartbeats if I drink too much of it, but when I stick to one (strong) a day, I’m fine. Love my espresso!

  12. Anne-Sophie Redisch 31 December 2011 1627 #

    @Angela – Would be hard to not like espresso in Italy, perhaps? 🙂

  13. Cathy Sweeney 1 January 2012 0703 #

    What fun visiting a coffee plantation, especially in Costa Rica. I love black coffee — but not really particular about boldness or types. All I really need is about a cup and a half in the morning. The fancy coffees are nice once in a while, but certainly not a big deal for me. Cool pics of those beans!

  14. Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 January 2012 1311 #

    @Cathy – Back when I was a student in the US, I didn’t mind drinking black coffee, because it was most often brewed very mildly.

  15. inka 1 January 2012 1351 #

    A post to my heart, Sophie. I ‘m a coffee addict, can’t live without my fix and now I know a lot more about it.

  16. Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 January 2012 1931 #

    @Inka – You’re not alone, it seems. Coffee addicts seem to be in the majority.

  17. Stephanie - The Travel Chica 1 January 2012 2015 #

    I did a coffee plantation tour in Guatemala. Really interesting. My favorite part is the tasting 🙂

  18. Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 January 2012 2333 #

    @Stephanie – Funny, I considered visiting a coffee plantation in Guatemala as well, but ended up going to Antigua instead and postponing the coffee to Costa Rica. Would be interesting to compare though.

  19. Christy & Scott 2 January 2012 0716 #

    This is the type of tour that would really hold my interest. I love learning about how things are grown. I don’t particularly love the taste of coffee, but the smell is divine.

  20. Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 January 2012 0835 #

    @Christy & Scott – I agree, coffee smells so much better than it tastes.

  21. ItalianNotes 2 January 2012 0912 #

    What an interesting and educative story with great photos to boost. I’m not much of a coffee drinker myself, but I love your pink lines leaves and the multicoloured coffee berries.

  22. Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 January 2012 1136 #

    @ItalianNotes – Thanks for reading. We’ll have tea sometime – in Denmark or Norway. Or Italy.

  23. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy 2 January 2012 1859 #

    I’d be fascinated by this place, even though I’m not a coffee drinker! All the behind the scenes stuff is cool.

  24. Ayngelina 2 January 2012 1859 #

    I drink coffee but I don’t love it. But I did really like it in Vietnam as they often roast it with cocoa it has a mocha flavour.

  25. jenjenk 3 January 2012 0829 #

    I love coffee. Love. I want to go on this tour. How awesome.

  26. Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 January 2012 0855 #

    @Scott – Yes, it’s an interesting process.

    @Ayngelina – That’s about how I feel. I drink it, but don’t love it.

    @Jen – I think you really would then. Lots of tasting opportunities as well.

  27. Christy @ Technosyncratic 3 January 2012 0921 #

    That quote from “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee” is hysterical – reminds me of prohibition! I’ve just started to enjoy the taste of coffee; it really does seem to be acquired. Still haven’t acquired the taste for beer, though. 🙂

  28. robin 3 January 2012 1056 #

    Lovely bit of research at the beginning there – The Women’s Petition Against Coffee 🙂

    And that “Benefits of Coffee” notice appears to have been written by the same people that write the spam comments on my blog.

  29. Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 January 2012 2301 #

    @Christy and Robin – That is funny, isn’t it? Wonder what got the women so upset, though. You’d think gin would be worse…

  30. Amy L. Unknow 4 January 2012 1657 #

    Wow! Costa Rica is a nice country. I have visited it once and it is beautiful without a doubt! and I’m glad I have tasted their coffee and it taste like heaven 🙂

  31. Gladys | ByahengBarok.com 5 January 2012 0216 #

    me! i am such a coffee junkie 🙂 i wish i can go to tours such as this here in the Philippines. we do have a “coffee” capital here, as they say, but none gives tour on how everything is done. your post is really interesting 🙂

  32. Anne-Sophie Redisch 5 January 2012 2302 #

    @Amy – Lovely country, isn’t it?

    @Gladys – I’d really like to visit the Philippines… coffee or not.

  33. Abi 6 January 2012 2311 #

    I used to prefer my coffee made from instant granules, served with milk and sugar and generally on the weak side…Then I lived in France…And then Spain…And now I have changed my tastes.

    Short, sweet and strong. I’m talking about the coffee, of course.

  34. Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 January 2012 1106 #

    @Abi – Interesting – but natural, I suppose – how our tastes change. But also interesting how something that’s just right in one country, never tastes the same at home.

    Short, sweet and strong – quickly done, then… drunk, that is.

  35. cheryl 7 January 2012 1353 #

    This is really cool. I felt like I went on the tour with you! And I love coffee, so I’d totally go there. 🙂

  36. Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 January 2012 2307 #

    @Cheryl – Thanks.

  37. jade 26 January 2012 2025 #

    the beginning stages of a coffee tree are adorable! such a cute little tree! (I don’t like coffee either… I never felt the urge to grab it and go!)

  38. rashmi 18 February 2012 0401 #

    The pictures are great! I am more of a tea drinker than coffee. When I drink coffee I tend to lean towards sweeter version than the bitter one(for me and strong for coffee lovers). Thanks for the information on the life of a coffee tree.

  39. Anne-Sophie Redisch 26 February 2012 2330 #

    Thanks for reading, Jade and Rashmi 🙂

  40. Annie - FootTracker 9 April 2012 0640 #

    Coffee does not really work on me either, I crash to sleep like no other after an hour of drinking coffee.

    Did not know drinking pure coffee has benefits! Interesting….(though I cannot live without sugar in coffee)

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 April 2012 1750 #

      Seems to have the opposite effect on you, then 🙂

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