What is a coffee event like in Costa Rica : la feria del café de Frailes

Better late than never, I want to write a few words about the feria del café that took place in Frailes on the 18th to 20th of January 2013. Maybe you’ve read a previous post about coffee pickers (https://audreyslangscape.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/the-art-of-being-picky/), then you may remember the videos of dancers performing there.

For the record, here is the setting :

Well ok, this is not super accurate, but you get the idea

On the way to Frailes, the mountains are covered with coffee

What’s a feria? According to the organisation :

“It is a fair attended by coffee pickers, people working in fincas, craftsmen, retailers, neighbouring inhabitants, small and big companies devoted to produce and commercialise coffee. We share with our visitors cuppings, tastings, coffee-based recipes and a bunch of typical meals, as well as live music, folkloric dances, a “coffee picking competition”, the election of “the coffee queen” and religious ceremonies to honour the “Virgin del Perpetuo Socorro”. Our feria responds to a need for micro-companies of the area to develop socio-economically ways to salvage the identity of Costa Rican coffee, to promote the coffee from the area as one of the best in the world, to offer a privileged moment to families in a very pleasant, familial and cultural environment.”

So, concretely, what does that mean?At the fair, you could see a lot of different things, always somehow related to coffee.

Cafetal-style :

Coffee trees surrounding a traditional carreta that was used in the cafetal to store the cherries freshly picked before they were brought to a mill or a recibidor

Things you might need to take care of your cafetal

Art and craft like jewelry or chorreadors (traditional Costa Rican coffee maker) and such

Wood sculpture made by saw

Entertainment and fun activities like the coffee picking competition which was really cool (I came 8th! but I won’t say out of how many…)

En route for the coffee picking competition in a traditional carreta s’il vous plait!

The 3 winners and their beautiful trophies (I want one next year). To win, you needed to pick as much RIPE cherries as you can in 10 minutes, without green cherries, leaves or dirt.

You may wonder why are those people carrying umbrellas when it doesn’t rain? Well, when the sun shines, it is really strong here…

Group of dancers from Panama (ans if you don’t remember why, go read about the coffee pickers)

Colourful dresses, dancers from Panama as well

Musicians playing some cumbia!

Children were not forgotten, a storyteller was here to entertain them too

As you see, there was a lot of fun and interesting things going on, particularly for a “visitor” like me. But what I found particularly interesting, is the emphasis put on education by the Asociacion de cafés finos. The idea was to show people the whole “coffee tale” from seed to cup by short but spot on workshops.

1/ What does coffee cherries look like when they are unripe/ripe? What are the different ways of processing coffee and drying it? Exellent workshops by Mario. And contrary to my prejudices, many people in Costa Rica have never seen a coffee tree!

Look, smell, touch, learn!

2/ Next step, roasting! Mario then live-roasted coffee beans with a 1kg Probat roaster, explaining to curious visitors what happens during the roast and how much time and temperature matter.

Again, look, smell, touch, learn!

3/ Cuppings (coffee tastings) were organised but not just like any cupping. Before the feria, coffee growers sent samples of their coffees to the association. There, they would be tasted and scored. Specialists like Mario are called “Q graders” (Q standing for quality). They evaluate the coffee in every aspects of it : fragrance, flavours, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, uniformity, cleanliness and sweetness. Considering all of those, they score the coffee. If the total score is above 80 points, the coffee has made it to the “specialty coffee” very private club. Each producer receive a sheet that describes precisely the sample they presented.

Coffee growers were invited to come and cup the coffee samples they sent to the association. Some of them tasted their coffee for the first time and were really proud to receive the rewarding feedback.

There is a long way from the seed to the cup

4/ Brewing! Paula from Café Sikëwa (https://www.facebook.com/Sikewa) and I were brewing coffee to present alternative ways of making coffee. People were super interested and asked us loads of questions about the whys and hows one coffee can taste so different when brewed in a chemex, clever drip, aeropress or french press.

There was also a espresso based drink corner were Mario and José from the association (http://www.scacr.com/) were interviewed to talk about coffee on tv!

What a great team!

All in all, three fantastic days gathering people from the whole area, proud to present what makes most of the economy of the region, delicious coffees exported all around the world. Not only coffee professionals, but just anyone happy and enthusiastic about learning more about a product that people may start consuming even before they can walk here. Because that is what the most popular beverage in the world is about, sharing!

Beach life in Costa Rica #2

Let’s stay on the Caribbean coast, just a little further north, some 20km from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Today I’m bringing you to Cahuita National Park! First thing to remember so you can show off when you come back home and show your holiday photos to your friend: “Cahuita” comes from the indigenous word kawe meaning mahogany (it’s a kind of wood, in case you wonder) and ta meaning point, and well, it makes sense, since as you can see on the map in the previous post, it is indeed a little point.

Cahuita actually is one of my favourite parks for several reasons. First, it’s beautiful and you can see a lot of animals in the wild. Second, it is not too crowded, at least it was not when I was there. Third, there is no given price, you pay what you want and this is not common in Costa Rica where access to nature is expensive. It is not very big either (to say the least since it is the smallest national park in Costa Rica) but the 7km long trail will keep you busy for a couple of hours, even a bit more if you decide to have a break on the beach, and you probably will. Note that snorkelling is forbidden though, because of dangerous riptides (at least when I was there, it may not always be the case), which is too bad since the park was created in the 70s in order to protect the country’s largest coral reef. Anyway, there is more than enough to enjoy over-water!

The trail is large only at the beginning. There you can usually spot some sloths hanging out high in the trees.


Example of the cool spiders you will meet along the way, pretty isn’t it?


It is allowed to have breaks during the hike, why not right there?

You may not completely be alone on the beach though…

Las mariposas, many many many of them!

Colourful crabs playing hide and seek!

Busy monkeys! Some help each other…

…Some would rather take care of themselves alone!

Que lindos las marisposas de Costa Rica!

Usually hard to spot, you can hear the howler monkeys along the way. They sound like gorillas but they are actually quite small.

It usually gets cloudy by the end of the afternoon, it is nonetheless beautiful!

I hope you enjoyed the visit, I can’t resist a short video I made there, because they are so cute…

Beach life in Costa Rica #1

Sometimes, you just need a break. One of the good thing with living in Costa Rica is that whatever you want is around. When I want to feel disconnected, I usually go for mountains, but last week I had a craving for lazy beach life and summer dresses. I am not a big fan of the heat and before arriving here, I expected to have a hard time coping with high temperatures (anything above 25°C). Actually I was wrong, San José is relatively cold since it is 1200m above sea level high, which is nice and a even better reason to escape from the city.

Ideally located in the middle of the country, surrounded by mountains, is San José. Go to the Caribbean coastline and south towards Panama, and in 4 hours you’ll find Puerto Viejo and Cahuita National Park.

Last December, I went to spend some time in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. I was volunteering in the bar of an hotel there, which was quite a nice way of getting to feel the vibe of the area. Puerto Viejo is rather different from what I have experienced in Costa Rica so far. This is the homeland of indigenous peoples Columbus encountered when he arrived there in 1502. Though they were slightly more numerous at the time, the Bribri are still around, so are the Cabécar, a little higher in the mountains. It is thus more multicultural than the rest of the country, also since this coast were populated by Afro-Caribbean populations. That means many people actually spoke English before they spoke Spanish. The road between San José and Puerto Viejo was built in 1979, which offered locals better conditions to travel around, as well as an invasion of tourists. In 1986 arrived electricity, in 2006, high speed internet.

Kaya’s Place in Puerto Viejo

Lazying in hammocks, listening to the waves crashing on the shore.

Making traditional breakfast at Kaya’s, Gallo Pinto (Rice and beans, eggs and tortillas)

It rains more in that area than in the rest of the country, and my stay was no exception but it did bring a special mood. I also enjoyed some nice sunny days.

Goat under the rain

Playa Negra, where the volcanic soil makes the sand look dark

Playa Negra, right before Puerto Viejo

One cool thing to do is to bike along the coast from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo and stop at the beautiful beaches on the way.

Punta Uva

Punta Uva

Playa Negra

Boat in Puerto Viejo

I went diving for a day, and here we went to have lunch, it was overall pretty alright.

Even though I had an overdose of Bob Marley and other reggae like music, I quite enjoyed Puerto Viejo, particularly the surroundings, the ride to Manzanillo and Cahuita National Park which is some 20km north of Puerto Viejo, which will be beach life #2 very soon!

Crossing rivers