Friday, February 19, 2016

Rethinking my cup of coffee

While at college my day doesn’t really start until I have had a cup of Pete’s Costa Rican coffee, I never even thought about how that coffee came to be in my cup until this semester.  Coffee is one of Costa Rica’s top exports and a source of great pride for this small Central American country. In order to maintain the highest quality coffee, Costa Rica mandates by law that every coffee bean is hand picked. This ensures that only fully ripened berries are picked resulting in the highest quality and greatest coffee yield. To learn how this delicious drink is produced we visited Don Roberto’s coffee farm.

Don Roberto's farm is a shade-grown coffee plantation. His coffee plants are interspersed with fruit trees, banana trees, and a few others. He chooses this farming method because planting coffee with these trees helps reduce soil erosion and the leaf litter that falls from these trees adds different nutrients to the soil. Shade grown coffee plantations create more of a heterogeneous plantation which allow for more diversity of plants and animals. Don Roberto’s farm does not use any chemicals and processes all of the coffee by hand without any machines or electricity. 
Other coffee farms are sun coffee plantations on which the coffee is grows in monoculture. That technique produces much higher yields but requires the use of more agrochemicals. Another issue with sun coffee plantations is they do not provide any places for birds to rest or nest.

Coffee beans grow in berries on trees. The fruits turn red when they are ripe. After the fruits are picked, Don Roberto mashes them so that the fleshy fruit separates from the bean inside. He then uses water to sort the beans according to density and to separate the mucilage. The beans are then laid out to dry for about a month. After drying the beans, they must be hulled. To do this, Don Roberto mashes them to remove another layer of skin. He uses the wind to separate this layer from the bean after mashing them. After these processes he now has “green coffee”, which is called “cafe oro” in Costa Rica.

While most coffee farmers send their green coffee to a cooperative which collects the coffee and sends it to a roaster, Don Roberto does not.  Instead, he roasts his own coffee. He has attached a container to a stick which he fills with the beans and then rotates the stick over a fire for about an hour. After the beans cool they are ground. Finally, the ground coffee can be made into the drink we all love! 

I was fascinated to learn the story behind the drink that our world is so dependent on. I also admire Don Roberto for his commitment to producing coffee without chemicals or machinery. Next time I drink a cup of Costa Rican coffee I will remember all the hard work that went into creating this delicious drink! 

Andriana Miljanic
Emory University

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