The Things We Do to Coffee Beans

A Visit to a Costa Rican Coffee Farm

Coffee beans dry in the sun at Doka Estate in Costa Rica. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Coffee beans dry in the sun at Doka Estate in Costa Rica. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

With limited time for leisure activities on a business trip to Costa Rica, I skip the beach and head, for part of my day, to a coffee farm. Why? Because I like coffee, of course, but more because I am interested in learning how food is grown and harvested and processed and shipped. I am surprised and even enthused by the number of other tourists at the farm I choose who are exploring nature and farming and work that in no way involves an office.

At Doka Estate in Alajuela, visitors traverse from planting and growing to drying, sorting, fermenting, and bagging, and then we learn how some folks brew coffee in what amounts to not much more than a sock holding some roasted beans dropped into a cup with boiling water thrown over it.

Fermenting coffee beans at Doka Estate in Alajuela, Costa Rica. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Fermenting coffee beans at Doka Estate in Alajuela, Costa Rica. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

We do similarly vicious things to cacao as we torment it into becoming chocolate. As with cacao, I can’t help but wonder how our ancestors got to the point where they were willing to take a bitter-tasting bean and dry and ferment and roast it and grind it and then pour boiling water over it. Who thought of it? How much was that person laughed at? How long did it take to perfect the brew to the point where people, and then the entire planet, would drink it? How many person-hours go into a single cup of coffee from grow to brew? And who on Earth invented percolators? I am thinking I need to read a book on the history of coffee. Or to write one.

A mural at Doka Estate in Costa Rica depicts the gift of a coffee plant from the Mayor of Amsterdam to Louis XIV of France. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

A mural at Doka Estate in Costa Rica depicts the gift of a coffee plant from the Mayor of Amsterdam to Louis XIV of France. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Not really wanting to be a defense for a high-priced cup of joe, I nevertheless imagine how expensive a cuppa would be if you were growing your own coffee beans then drying them, fermenting them, and roasting them yourself, rather than just grinding and brewing or rather than just giving your order to a barista and getting a fully prepared beverage. Suddenly five bucks a cup and $15 a pound doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

Is visiting a coffee farm better than visiting a beach? That’s comparing coffee beans to seashells. Each offers a different experience. But how often in your real world do you get to observe a working coffee farm? And how often do you go to the beach?

—Lori Tripoli

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