If you read my post about how you’re hard pressed (har har see what I did there?!) to find good coffee in Central America, you can imagine how excited I was that we were heading to the source in Santa Elena, Costa Rica.
My bestfriend Brad has flown in for a week and made it his goal to visit the Santa Elena Coop that grows the beans that are shipped to Austin, Texas via Texas Coffee Traders. His unhealthy addiction/consumption of this desired bean lead us to the cool mountains and cloud forest near Monteverde. Most of the premium coffee in Costa Rica is grown in these mountains and likewise, almost all of it is shipped out of the country. All Arabica beans, I was ready to drink myself into shaky coffee spasms.
To start our trip we chose a hostel that offered free coffee. I mean, if you are there, you might as well do it right. To our delight they carried massive buckets of Santa Elena Coop coffee and believe me, they were making new pots every 10-15 minutes to satisfy the full house in off season.
That day we were heading out to a farm owned by Victor. He has been in the coffee business for 20 years and before that, solely made his money from milk. Knowing it was in his best interest to find more products to sell, he started his 3 hectare coffee farm. Just to let you know, Victor is a badass and during the tour, you can feel the love he has for his land and coffee beans. And while he only spoke Spanish, the guide just didn’t capture the spark Victor has in his eyes.
The cool thing about the coop is that all the beans created from the farmers are organic (and certified at that!). As a way to improve life, the farmers also have to plant gardens as a way to sustain their families. Banana trees and various other fruits and veggies can be seen planted in between the separate fields of coffee plants.
The beans start out in a nursery in pairs. The beans were picked specifically from plants that have hearty genes and if one of the pair does not survive, they scrap both plants. This way they can guarantee the quality of the product.
It takes 3 years for a single plant to mature and single branches will only produce fruit for 5 years. Victor painstakingly prunes each, individual plant in groups every 5 years to make sure his yield stays high. It takes another 3 years for that branch to reach maturity and so on, and so on.
As the rain came down in sheets, Victor stopped to pick a few choice cherries from the bushes. Brad and I gave each other shit eating grins and popped the raw bean into our mouths. The bean was hard with a thick, sweet, gooey liquid on the outside. We were buzzing for the next while as we meandered through the bushes.
Since Santa Elena is in a microclimate, Victor and his sons have to harvest their beans from the plants 6-7 times a year since all cherries will not ripen at once. This is done by hand due to the incline of the mountain, however, this also guarantees that all the beans going to be dried are perfect ripeness. While it does cost more to do it this way, they do it in the sake of quality, knowing their products are good for the earth and without the help of pesticides.
After stomping around in the mud for two hours and seeing a sloth we were invited to have a cup of coffee in Victor’s house. Served by his wife and from his personal stash of coffee, Brad and I could help but let soft sighs of comfort out as we couldn’t believe we were actually at the source.
Thank you Victor for showing us how much passion you put into your product. Thank you Brad for making me go on this coffee tour. If you are in the area I highly suggest checking it out. Not only is it educational, but nothing beats getting into the culture like being lead around a small farm by a farmer.
Disclosure: We did NOT receive anything for free! The hostel guy liked us and got us a student discount but it had nothing to do with being a blogger. I genuinely loved this tour and suggest it to everyone!