Today we had another great adventure in Costa Rica. We traveled by boat and then bused all the way to the Monteverde region. On the boat ride, we saw many different birds including Osprey and Heron. The rolling hills’ vegetation was a gorgeous start to our morning. Although we had an unexpected experience on the bus ride to our hotel, we now look back on it as something that brought the group closer together. As we were driving up a steep hill in the Monteverde area, the bus slid into a ditch which was frightening for many. Not to worry, our wonderful tour guide, Jonathan, was able to find someone to pull us out with the tractor! Thankfully because of the friendly and hospitable locals, we were able to continue the rest of our day on schedule.
Once we arrived in Monteverde, we reached the Don Juan Coffee Plantation, where we had our final coffee tour of the Marketing Sustainability course in the country. Luckily, when we arrived we were greeted by Don Juan and his dog, Tequila. Although he is now retired, his business remains family-oriented with many of his nine children and 23 grandchildren (who have also blessed him with four great-grandchildren) working on the plantation.
The plantation is relatively small, only taking up 25 acres of land, with five dedicated to the production of coffee. The tradition of the tour began only six years ago after demand from local customers to learn about the coffee process. We learned that espresso is made from dark roast even though light roast has more caffeine. This is because the light roast has too much acidity for espresso, whose drinkers usually enjoy the stronger taste of a concentrated dark roast. Shortly after, we learned about how the plants and minerals in soil affect the flavors of the coffee beans. This includes citrus, tobacco, flowers, and anything else surrounding the plant.
- Coffee beans are boiled to extract the caffeine in the decaffeination process
- After the process is complete, the water is distilled
- The remaining caffeine powder is sold to companies that produce energy drinks, energy bars and pharmaceuticals (like aspirin)
The Don Juan Plantation is in the process of making all of their coffee organic. This has been in the process for about three years, and they hope to be completely organic within approximately five years. Although some chemicals are used to protect the coffee plants, there are others sustainable efforts such as using chicken waste as compost. Don Juan’s main reason for making the switch to growing organic coffee is because they know it is better for the environment. The weather also has a huge impact of the coffee. If it is too rainy, the beans will be drowned and turn a black color, often with a crack down the middle of the cherry, which prevents them from being processed. If the environment is too dry or hot, the coffee can dry up and this will compromise the flavor of the beans.
- Don Juan practices fair-trade and pays the pickers $3 per basket picked.
- The average price paid (per basket) is only about $1.50 each.
- Don Juan Coffee Plantation employees receive both free medical insurance as well as education.
- Even with this above average salary, they sell their coffee for only $9 per 340 gram bag.
- Don Juan met his wife, Ophelia, at the age of 9 on a coffee plantation he worked at after running away from home. They ended up getting married at age 16 and are still together today.
Next, we had the opportunity to see the old fashioned ways coffee plantations process the cherries. They used a crank-type machine which spit out the cherry pulp on one side and allowed the beans to fall through the other side. The waste of the pulp is used with worms to create more compost for the plantation. One of the highlights for the group was when three of our classmates ate the worms from the compost! They actually have more nutrients than meat.
The large beans are considered first class, used to make the best roasts and are the most expensive. The small and broken beans are second class, usually used for in-country production and instant coffees. We also learned about third class beans – the fruits that are damaged from too much water absorption or become too ripe are filed into the third class category. These beans are used for candles, soaps and fragrances.
- Did you know the proper way to store coffee is to store it in a closed container (preferably glass) at room temperature?
- If stored outside of a container alone, the coffee will absorb other elements like fruits, onions, or spices.
The last stop on our tour was the best because we had an awesome opportunity to sample cocoa beans and sugarcane picked only ten minutes prior. We were able to see how to make organic, homemade hot cocoa. They even included black pepper in the recipe – turns out, it actually increases and improves the flavor of the drink!
Overall, it was many of the students’ favorite tours; not only was it entertaining, but the family atmosphere and the focus on being sustainable and environmentally and socially conscious impressed us all. We can’t wait to keep in contact with our tour guide and Don Juan!
Steph, Sarah, Tomo
Bryant University Sustainability Marketing 385