Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Life of a Costa Rican Coffee Bean

The most common drink – and probably most common souvenir as well – in Costa Rica, is coffee.

Wanna know a little secret?

Coffee plants are NOT native to Costa Rica! (Neither are bananas, but that’s another blog at another time.) They arrived in the late 1700s in a serendipitous import – the “coffee barons” were so successful that locals began calling coffee beans “granos de oro” (grains of gold). In fact, Dictator Braulio Carrillo began giving away land if the new owners promised to farm coffee! He wanted to take financial advantage of the European demand at the time, and it worked.

Costa Rica’s middle class grew rapidly, and was at an advantage with a much smaller stratification among classes than the rest of Central America. The downside? Basic foodstuffs weren’t being grown for locals. The importing then planting of banana trees in the 1870s (again, a later blog article) helped palliate the overpowering coffee farming.

From Red Fruit to a Hot Cup of Joe

Upon passing the plant, you wouldn’t guess coffee is made from the small red berries clustered around the branches of this about-shoulder-high bush. But suck off the sweet outside capsule (or let a machine have all the fun drying it out or soaking it off), and inside you’ll find two attached slimy coffee-bean-shaped seeds covered in a silver skin. These seeds desiccate in the sun or machine until the slimy silver skin (say THAT five times fast) hardens and chips off. They are then roasted. At this point they’re ready to be:

a) ground up and bagged for sale as coffee grinds
b) bagged up for sale as whole beans
c) flavored before steps a) or b)
d) shipped to USA/Europe where caffeine can be extrapolated and resold to PepsiCo/Coke/etc.; then the bean passes through steps a), b), or c)

Now do you understand why Starbucks charges so much? Neither do we.

Fact: Costa Rica’s first gourmet coffee producer, Café Britt, is owned by one of CRROBS’ very own board members, Steve Erickson! Be on the lookout for Café Britt as it slowly makes its way into the States. And what’s more, he has even come up with a line called “Tres Rios” – the town where we live.

No comments: