Monday, January 3, 2011

Costa Rica - Coffee Adventures and More!

This is Part 2 of our recent Costa Rica adventures. After leaving La Fortuna, we headed to Monteverde (the Cloud Forest). We stayed in a town called Santa Elena, which is right next to Monteverde. Both towns are small and tucked away on tiny dirt roads. We heard the latter part of the road getting to Monteverde was difficult and slow going. Long story short, even with our GPS and map, we ended up on the wrong dirt road. After 8 km of driving that was getting worse (e.g. not sure if our little SUV was going to be able to crawl over the rocks), we ran into a Tico farmer who confirmed we were going the wrong way. So it was back into town to find the correct road. After our mishap, the new gravel road was a complete joy to drive on. Still it took us 2.5 hours to go 34 km!

This was the wrong road.

This was the correct road. Looks a little better?

The Monteverde area was charming. It is in a different climate zone (small Costa Rica has 12 distinct climate zones). It was windy and a lot colder. We actually had on jeans and jackets the entire time. Good thing we had some with us! It was nice to stay at a little rustic cabin too so we had a few days off of restaurant meals. A trip to the local grocery store to stock up on some basic food was all that was needed.

The highlight from this part of our trip was definately the coffee tour. There were many tours to pick from, but we chose to go with the Monteverde Coffee Co-op. What a great decision! We got picked up in a van in the morning. It was just the four of us and our driver and guide. The coffee co-op is comprised of 42 small coffee growers in the region. They produce mostly organic coffee and it is all fair-trade. Our guide took us to one of the smaller coffee plantations (2 hectares) where we met with the owner, Don Juan (yes, that is his name!). We ended up spending two plus hours touring his property, picking coffee beans, and learning how coffee beans are processed. It was coffee bean picking season so the timing was right.

Semira and Lily picking coffee beans.

We learned that Costa Rica passed a law a some years back requiring that farmers only produce Arabica beans (the highest quality beans). While farmers can sell the bean itself, they receive far more money if they do the processing themselves. Coffee beans are inside a green fruit. The fruit turns red when it is ripe. At this point, it is picked. The beans are run through a machine that removes the outside fruit. The beans are then washed to remove a slimy layer of skin then laid out to dry in the sun. They dry out in about a week or so. Coffee beans are a tan color at this point. The farmer then takes the dried beans to the co-op where they go through a final cleaning and roasting. Because the Monteverde Coffee Co-op is fair trade, farmers are guaranteed a minimal price regardless of what the world coffee market does.

Our guide and coffee grower.

Starting new coffee plants.

Mature coffee plants.

Coffee beans from start to finish.

Coffee bean skins.

Drying beans.

After learning about coffee beans, we toured Don Juan's property. In addition to coffee, he has a variety of fruit trees. Then we walked to his house where we sat on his porch drinking coffee he produced and eating pastries his wife baked. How cool is that? It was such an intimate experience. This is the type of tour I love. Getting to know real people in the real world!

Coffee from Don Juan's front porch.

The other highlight from the Monteverde area was our evening frog tour. Lily and Semira received a book about Costa Rica a few months ago from Grandma Bev. They read it while I was in Israel in November. Leave it to Lily, the studious one, to know plenty about Costa Rican frog species. She was up front with our tour guide touting her knowledge as we shined flashights on various noctoral frogs. The big highlight was the red eye tree frog. During the day, it is all green. At night, it is seven different colors. Amazing!

We very much enjoyed our time in Monteverde. Besides the colder weather, it was a charming, quaint place. Now onto the beach!

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