A truth about coffee (part 2): what does it mean to “wash coffee”?

Recently, I was talking about processing methods with a barista friend of mine when he admitted he wasn’t sure what “honey processed” meant. I then remembered all the photos and videos I’ve been stocking in my laptop for more than a year now, thinking I really should do something with them.

Even though I had read a lot about it before, the different methods to process coffee all really made sense when I saw them with my own eyes. And so I reopen my notebooks and photos with the hope this will be useful to somebody.

I’m going to try to write as simply as possible and in the most accurate way I can for those of you who have never heard about this before. I will only write about what I have seen in Costa Rica, people in different coffee growing countries do things differently.

A few months ago, I gave you some basic information about coffee and some stories about how coffee cherries are picked.

Today I’m going to talk about what happens to the beans after being picked. The idea is to explain how to go from the cherries newly picked:

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The coffee picker gathers the cherries he picked in huge bags that he carries to the weighing station. Someone is in charge of measuring the cherries he had picked that day (coffee pickers are paid by the weight) in those big boxes called “cajuela” (which is about 20 litres), here el dueño of the finca La Pira, Carlos Ureña.

To beans drying in the sun:

No more fruit, no more mucilage, just the beans drying in the sun

This is called the washed method. It is the most common way to process coffee cherries and usually the one that gives a cleaner mouthfeel. Maybe you buy your beans at your local roaster. It may be a specialty coffee roaster, I mean someone who knows exactly where the beans come from, which country, which growing region, the name of the mill it’s been processed, the name of the grower, the processing method used, the varietal of coffee, the altitude it grows at, the year it has been harvested and last but not least, the date of roast.

example:

Costa Rica, Santa Maria de Dota.

Finca La Pira (1500m), Carlos Ureña

Washed caturra, picked in January 2013

What does washing coffee mean?

The scene takes place in a “beneficio humedo”, a wet mill in English. This is one of the (many) important steps to not ruin the harvest. Once the coffee is picked, it goes through a few stages before changing from a cherry to a bean. First of all, it needs to be sorted out.

Why?

Because no matter how careful coffee pickers are (or should be), there will always be leaves or little stones or unripe berries that will sneak in but are unwelcome in your cup.

What you don’t want!

How are the cherries sorted out?

Buoyancy is the key. Everything that floats is removed in different stages. If you put the cherries in the water, the denser ones will sink whereas the leaves, wooden sticks and bad cherries will float.

What’s a bad cherry?

The unripe ones, the empty ones (some look perfectly normal, yet they might have just one empty bean inside which will make it float).

Example of things that floats: unripe cherries, small branches

At several stages during the process, the floating cherries are separated from the sinking ones (very often processed and dried for local consumption).

Side note for advanced coffee lovers about the difficulty of growing yellow catuai: as you can see in the photo below it is not easy to see the difference between a “green” unripe yellow cherry and a ripe one.

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From “green” yellow unripe cherries (bottom line) to almost ripe to ripe (furthest ones)

Instead of explaining with words, I thought I might as well share the “drawing” I made to sum things up in my notebook. It’s not detailed and then again I’m not sure that’ll help anyone but me, but you never know. Maybe you can even read French or Spanish, good luck!

On the right hand side, what basically happens in a wet mill

Remember what the inside of a cherry looks like? The most common coffee cherry has two beans inside, covered by a sticky envelope called “mucilage”, covered by the flesh of the fruit, covered by the skin.

Once the cherries are sorted out, the adventure continues. First they travel through a machine called “despulpador” that removes the pulp (the skin and the flesh of the cherry) so that only the mucilage is left around the bean. It is not as painful as it sounds.

Cherries queuing up before going further down through the “despulpador”

What the inside looks like

“What happens with the pulp and the skin then”? I hear you think. And that’s a really good question. Several options. Most farmers use it to fertilize the soil in the cafetal (coffee plantations). Sometimes, it is taken very good care of and carefully dried to make an infusion. It is called Cascara and is quite good.

Once removed from the beans, the fruit is dried and spread around the cafetal to nourish the soil.

Once they are ready, the beans carry on their journey through a sort of big wheel called a “clasificador” that will sort them out one more time. The goal is to remove the broken beans and the ones that are too small.

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A “clasificador”

Once this is done, the beans are guided through the “desmucilaginador” that will remove the mucilage.This sticky envelop plays a crucial role as it is mainly sugars and alcohols so if you leave it on the bean, it will definitely influence the flavors, which is another option but I’ll get back to it. Removing the mucilage is a very delicate step as sometimes, if the machine is not set properly, the knives can damage the beans, which will then go to the defect category.

A “desmucilaginador”

The inside of a “desmucilaginador” in a different wet mill (Afaorca)

Beans coming straight out of the desmucilagilador, ready to  start drying

Fermentation is another more traditional way to get rid of the mucilage. The beans, soaked in water, will ferment, forcing the mucilage to separate. It takes from a few hours to a few days depending on the thickness of the mucilage and the concentration of enzymes. Again, this is a delicate process as you don’t want the beans to get a nasty flavour from over-fermenting.

Remember things are different from a country to another (region to another, mill to another). In Kenya for example, the whole fermenting process happens twice and the beans are soaked one more time for an extra complexed acidity.

Once washed, the beans are finally ready to be transported from the beneficio to the drying area. You may have seen coffee drying on the floor before, either in private properties or professional mills. It works, but not optimal for best results as people walk around or even on the beans, so do dogs or chicken, and dust. To prevent that, drying beds (also called African beds as they were first used in Africa) are commonly used in the best micromills. It also helps for a more even drying process as the wind can circulate from underneath as well.

The beans need a few days (depending on the weather) to dry. We want them to contain between 9 and 11% humidity. Even if they are on beds, the mill workers need to move it every hour or so because obviously, when the sun is shining as hard as it does in the tropics, the upper layers dry faster than the bottom one. I filmed myself doing it one day, it feels nice at the beginning (even relaxing, like those tiny trays of sand that you’re supposed to move with a little rake) but it gets repetitive and hot. Yet it has to be done every day for hours…As you can see, I am no expert:

And then, when the beans are ready, it feels quite different. I’m also amazed at how coffee growers can tell if the beans are ready to be removed or not as this is such an inherent knowledge. There are also machines to double check.

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Drying beds at La Pira

Sometimes, particularly in cooperatives where mills are much bigger than this one, the beans are dried in some sort of big drying machine called a “guardiola”. Most farmers would use it as a last drying option when there is no room on beds so they need to accelerate the drying process. However, as they explained to me several times, this would affect the coffee flavours and mouthfeel, since it would be like quickly cooking meat in a microwave versus slowly cooking it on a grill.

So there, it is far from being the whole story, but I’ll get back to it, hopefully before next year!

PS: A big thank you to Carlos Ureña and his family for being so patient with my bad Spanish, answering all my questions, teaching me so much, sharing his passion, allowing me to give a not very agile hand and taking pictures of his beautiful Finca and Beneficio.

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A 300m au sud de la maison jaune

Malgré la distance, y’a plein de choses qui font que la vie au Costa Rica n’est pas vraiment exotique. Après 4 ans en Norvège, c’est même un peu comme revenir dans le sud de la France. Par contre, il y a une chose qui depuis des mois me rend folle me surprend: le système d’adresse à la costa-ricienne. Au début je croyais qu’il n’y avait pas de système. En fait si, il y en a un, carrément ésotérique.

Si on se connait vous savez sûrement à quel point je suis nulle en orientation. C’est pour ça que les villes quadrillées à l’américaine me conviennent bien; c’est logique (la plupart du temps) et facile. Si on regarde une carte de San José de loin, on a l’impression que c’est comme ça, en tout cas dans le centre :

Le centre-ville de San José, organisé autour de l’avenue centrale et la rue centrale

On a une avenue centrale qui traverse la ville d’est en ouest, avec avenida 1, 3, 5, etc. en allant vers le haut et avenida 2, 4, 6, etc. en allant vers le bas (du plan). Du nord au sud, traversent les “calle” (rue, pour les nulles en espagnol) avec la calle central (rue centrale, donc) et vers la droite calle 1, 3, 5, etc., vers la gauche calle 2, 4, 6, etc. Sauf que ça, c’est nouveau. Et si je dois rejoindre quelqu’un, aller quelque part en taxi ou expliquer où se trouve un café, personne, absolument personne (et c’est pas faute d’avoir essayé) va me comprendre.

Pourquoi? Parce que les gens ici marchent par points de repères. Un point de repère peut être n’importe quoi à partir du moment où tout le monde sait de quoi il s’agit: un parc, un dentiste, une maison jaune.

Exemple: J’habite le quartier Escalante, plus précisément sur l’avenue 13, entre la rue 33 et 35. Si je dis ça au chauffeur de taxi ou à un ami désirant me rendre visite (si si, ça arrive), ils vont me regarder avec des yeux énormes et tout ronds.

Par contre, si j’explique “dans le quartier Escalante, à 150m à l’ouest du Farolito”, là, tout devient limpide.

Le “Farolito”, c’est une sorte de lampadaire old-school sur un mini rond point, apparemment ça serait un cadeau de l’Angleterre au Costa Rica (sont sympas ces anglais!). Donc voilà, ça, tout le monde connait.

El Farolito!

Après faut juste savoir où se trouve l’ouest, d’où ma fidèle amie qui me suit d’habitude in the wild mais qui a désormais élu domicile dans mon sac à main :

Une boussole…

Dans ce cas, j’ai de la chance parce que le Farolito existe, perché sur le rond point. Mais parfois, les gens réfèrent à des trucs qui n’existent plus, mais tout le monde (ou presque) sait à quoi ça fait référence, même si c’est un chien qui était toujours assis au même angle de rue mais mort depuis belle lurette ou un bâtiment démoli dans les années 50.

Voilà, y’a des petits détails auxquels il faut s’adapter.

Un autre truc super chiant culturellement différent, c’est la manie qu’on les Costa Riciens (mais c’était pareil au Pérou et en Bolivie), de ne jamais répondre “désolé, je sais pas du tout” quand on leur demande notre chemin. Par contre, ils vous répondent avec le sourire même s’ils n’ont aucune idée du lieu où vous voulez aller.

Du coup au début, ça donne des kilomètres à tourner en rond sans rien y comprendre. Mais rapidement, on apprend à détecter cette expression crispée du visage qui dure 1/10ème de seconde et qui exprime le “ah merde! j’en ai aucune idée”. Un conseil: toujours demander à au moins 3 personnes différentes et à d’autres en cours de route pour être bien sur, certaines personnes maîtrisent parfaitement l’art de l’apparente certitude qui n’en est rien à l’intérieur. Mais bon, au moins ça fait pratiquer l’espagnol…

Where to not go in Monteverde

When a discussion comes to hiking in Costa Rica, it’s always the same question : “Have you been to Monteverde?” Finally, the answer is yes! But people have been bragging so much about this place that it was not quite what I had imagined it would be. Don’t take it wrong, it is beautiful. It is also convenient if you’re not planning on spending that much time in Costa Rica, since it is close to the beaches of Guanacaste and not too far from San José either.

costa_rica_karte

So why am I complaining?

Well, first of all, don’t expect to spend time in a remote village and get a chance to practice your Spanish. I mean, of course, if you really want to, you can. But I had the impression that the area is mostly populated by foreigners attracted by “eco-lodges” (I won’t get into details here to try to define what that is, but it is a well-spread concept in Costa Rica and it’d be interesting to see what’s behind it) and tourists who come to visit.

Then, it is even more expensive than the rest of the country. I come from Europe, where I lived in Norway for a long while, and the idea to charge people to have access to nature is rather unthinkable there. I am aware that I am in a different culture now, and even though it bothers me to pay 10$ to spend a few hours in any national park in the rest of the country (the regular entrance fee), I do it because I do enjoy it and because I somehow understand why tourists would be charged that much money (it is usually 1 or 2$ for locals) and do hope this money is used wisely to contribute to the preservation of the area. But the entrance fee for the Monteverde Cloudforest reserve is 17$. 17$! I hesitated, but then thought it must really be special and worth it if so many people do it. I honestly don’t think that it is. Again, it is a beautiful cloud forest,  but nothing unique or with anything justifying that price. Yes, it is big, you can easily spend the whole day hiking there. The trails are well-maintained and easy. They tried to convince us to hire a guide for another 17$, which could be great to learn more about the surrounding nature, but a 34$ day hike? Sorry…

And we did spot some animals though :

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A coati, foraging for food

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Probably the most ugly looking creature I’ve ever seen, an armadillo.

There was not a single shelter to escape the rain, but we really needed a coffee break so it was about time to take the aeropress out :

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Coffee break

Free alternative in Monteverde

The day after, my friend and I decided to hike up the Cerro Amigos trail, which is the highest peak around (not very high though, about 1800m). Besides the Morpho butterflies flying around us on the way up, it is everything but a nice trail. You need to get to hotel Belmar where the beginning of the trail is hidden on the right hand side (not very well hidden though). But! It is definitely worth going up there. After an hour or so of tough climbing, you arrive at the top to discover a weird area with antennas and other not too pretty things. It wasn’t the case when we were there but people say that you can see the Arenal Volcano when the sky is clear enough. When we arrived there, we walked past the house on the left hand side and decided to follow a cool wild-looking trail down. In a minute, we were in the middle of nowhere, hiking through beautiful dense cloud forest. The compass confirmed that we were on the edge of the Monteverde reserve. We didn’t quite know where we would end up, but the trail was obviously leading somewhere. After an hour or two, we met some people who confirmed we would arrive to another reserve if we keep following the trail. And we did eventually. After a couple of hours, we arrived at the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, right next to Monteverde so you can easily walk back to wherever you’re staying.

The best part was probably the unexpected presence of a kiosk right before the end of the trail (there is not a single shelter in the Monteverde reserve), where we had what seemed to be the nicest lunch ever…and some locally grown and roasted coffee, por su puesto.

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A hut with a view

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Coffee grown around Monteverde by thr!ve coffee farmers, roasted at the Common Cup, Monteverde.

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Beautiful encounter in the forest

Where else to go to hike through cloud forests in Costa Rica?

Good news, wherever you decide to go in Costa Rica, cloud forests will most likely never be very far. One easy option is the Braulio Carrillo national park, which can be reached from San José in either a 30 minutes bus ride or a slightly longer but more scenic one if you’re going on the other side to the Barva volcano.

More info here: https://audreyslangscape.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/do-you-know-what-braulio-carrillo-is/

My absolute favourite is around Chirripo, but if you don’t feel like climbing the moutain, just stay in San Gerardo de Rivas (1 and a half hour east of San Isidro del General) and there you’ll have options, my favorite one being the Cloudbridge reserve.

More info here : http://www.cloudbridge.org/

and here: https://audreyslangscape.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/getting-high-in-costa-rica/

Enjoy!

Viva Café

Viva café is a brand new café in barrio La California in San José and it will blow your mind in many ways.

“We’re brewing your cup of good energy”

Viva la vida!

It is a tiny cosy café, very nicely designed, where you will want to hang out for hours. The sweet Leda runs the place and makes you feel welcome straight away, together with talented barista Adrian.

Leda’s family has been working with coffee for a long time. If she has decided to open her own coffee shop today, it is to keep on with the family tradition, but also to have a direct contact with the customers. The idea is to offer the people of San José a different feel for coffee in a different café.  And it works.

Adrian wanted to be a barista in Viva café to share with people his excitement for new brewing methods (here brewing a chemex) and serve customers the best coffees available in the country.

Choosing the coffee to offer to customers is not an easy task and is a team work. First, Leda tastes many different coffees to select the few ones she loves. Then, she works tightly with her father, who also is the roaster, to find the appropriate roast profiles for each coffee. Once she has made up her mind, she is free to go directly to the farms with her dad and her barista Adrian to visit the cafetales (coffee plantations) and the micro beneficios (micromills). A journey from the seed to the cup, the dream of any roaster/barista.

“People are used to drinking washed coffee. We want to offer them the chance to taste a honey-processed or a natural coffee so they can discover something new”

In her café, Leda wants to emphasise on educating customers about the different ways of processing coffee and give them the chance to taste different types of washed, honey-processed and natural coffees. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go ask her!

A delicious honey-processed coffee from Finca La Plaza, Tarazzu, 1900m, processed at the Santa Rosa 1900 micromill.

Your hungry stomach will be happy to have lunch or dessert, but what I very warmly recommend is the coffee. I have not been to any other café where the coffee tastes so great, and that is why this is already a popular café. Leda chooses the coffee she wants to serve in her café, it is then roasted with skills by her dad. You can enjoy it as any espresso-based drinks or brewed with a French Press or a chemex. What more would you want?

Lovely espresso

Best cappuccinos I have had in Costa Rica so far

Adresse: Barrio la California, 24-2300, San José, Costa Rica.

http://goo.gl/maps/B5rOr

Internet: yes

When: Monday-Friday, 10am-7pm (opening soon on saturdays as well)

Viva Café’s menu

Café Mundo

The entrance yard

A couple in their 30s having lunch, 3 tourists from southern Europe, probably the parents and their son, 2 men in what looked like a business meeting/lunch. It was a quiet afternoon at café Mundo.

Café Mundo is a fairly well-known fancy café/restaurant in San José. Fancy because located in barrio Otoya, a district close to the city centre but quiet, where you can still admire old colonial houses while walking around. One of them was turned into a café some 15 years ago.

Ideally located in the corner of avenida 9 and calle 15, the main reason why you should visit café Mundo is its location. Not only it is in a big beautiful house built in 1910, but there are many seats outside on the front terrace, or even more quiet, back terrace. This is actually a well kept secret in San José since it isn’t very common to find places to sit outside.

There is also a lounge bar in the basement if you want more privacy.

Adresse : Av 9 C15 200m al este del parqueo des INS, 10000 San José, Costa Rica

http://goo.gl/maps/gWa0j

When
Monday-Thrusday: 11am – 10.30pm
Friday: 11am – 12am
Saturday: 5pm – 12am

Terrace : yes

Internet : yes

El café frío

Menu selection:

Plato del dia ₡4000

Pizza ₡5500-7900

Refresco natural ₡950

Copa de vino ₡3000

Café ₡900

Capuccino ₡1200

Irish coffee ₡4200

Manhattan ₡3600

Imperial ₡1450

In the front, a large terrace, shaded to protect you from the sun and the rain. Unfortunately the wifi hardly works over there.

Possibility to spy on people passing by in the street if that’s what you fancy

Beautiful tiles on the terrace

Inside the house

How to survive the rainy season in San José

It has arrived. Barely, but still, it has started to literally pour down every afternoon, from 1 or 2pm until the night falls, sometimes even later. So, since it’s not likely to stop any time soon, here are some tips that work for me (so far) to keep on smiling and make it through the longest season of the year in Central America.

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I had been wondering for a while why those huge holes along the streets. My friend said “wait until the rainy season comes and you’ll understand”. I do understand now.

1/ Get an automatic umbrella

You know, those where you just need to push a button and they open automatically. Am I the only to think it’s fun to use? Well, we’ll see for how long that will entertain me but for now, it works.

 

2/ Get a pair of rain boots

I know you’re not 5 anymore, but I assure you, you will feel like it when you put it on. The world becomes yours, you get to walk anywhere and you won’t get grumpy because your feet are wet or you buried your high heel in the mud.

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3/ Adjust your playlist!

Listen to what doesn’t fit with rainy atmosphere, go for contrasts, something extra cheery that makes you feel like dancing in the streets/bus/home. Here are some ideas :

Fresh up your Spanish with Calle 13:

Armed with your rubber boots and umbrella, walk under the rain and keep smiling with RJ2D:

Forget about Scandinavian music for a while, except The Whitest Boy Alive:

Some cosy music, Waldeck always works:

 

4/Don’t forget to stop and listen to the rain, it is nice and relaxing.  And it’s a good excuse to stay home and relax, and play (board) games with your favourite person.

 

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Streets of San José on a rainy day

 

 

 

Cas’ toi!

I love fruits. I love tasting new fruits. I love blending them together to make juices. I love going to the market and ask for names of those strange fruits or vegetables I don’t know, buy one and taste it. The good thing with living in a tropical country is that there are many fruits and vegetables I don’t know, so I am having a great time here tasting plenty of new edible things. Sometimes they aren’t new, but they just taste different since they haven’t been ripening in a container while crossing oceans, like mangos, bananas, pine apples, etc.

J’adore les fruits, goûter de nouveaux fruits, et en faire des jus de fruits. J’adore aller au marché, poser plein de questions avec mon espagnol approximatif, en acheter quelques uns et les goûter à la maison. J’adore vivre ici pour ça, découvrir plein de nouvelles saveurs. Parfois c’est pas si nouveau, mais les mangues, les ananas ou les bananes n’ont pas vraiment le même goût ni la même consistance ici.

Among the typical tropical fruits, guavas grow everywhere here. Belonging to the Myrtle family, their genus is Psidium, pomegranate in latin (thank you Latin teacher in middle school wikipedia).

Dans la catégorie “fruits tropicaux classiques”, les goyaves poussent partout au Costa Rica. Elles appartiennent à la famille des Myrtaceae du genre Psidium, grenade en latin (merci ma prof de latin au collège wikipédia).

Bird eating guavas greedily in a mountain village of Costa Rica.
Oiseau dévorant des goyaves dans un village de montagnes au Costa Rica

Last December, I was picking some guavas up along the roads and made a guava jam, which failed because I didn’t think about removing the seeds (which are a little bigger than grape seeds). It was thus rather unpleasant to eat, even though it tasted good because they are naturally quite sweet.

Au mois de décembre dernier, j’allais ramasser des goyaves le long de la route pour en faire de la confiture. Le goût était super car elles sont assez sucrée, mais j’avais pas pensé à retirer les pépins, assez gros, donc pas très agréables sur les tartines.

Guavas (Français : goyave, espagnol : guayaba)

Today’s fruit belongs to the guava family and is called cas in Spanish. You can eat it raw but it’s very sour, that is why people here usually make fresh juices out of it, with tons of sugar. As a daily-small-thing-that-makes-my-day, making fresh fruits juices for breakfast is one of them. I bought some cas at the Mercado Bourbon in San José yesterday, that I blended together with pine apple to balance out the sourness of the cas with the intense natural sweetness of the pine apple. I also added some ginger to spice up my morning a little. And it tasted great!

Le fruit du jour dérive de la famille des goyaves et s’appelle “cas” (le “s” se prononce) en espagnol. On peut le manger cru mais c’est assez acide, c’est pourquoi il est généralement consommé en jus ici, mélangé avec du sucre. Un de mes petits bonheurs quotidiens au Costa Rica est d’avoir la chance de préparer des jus de fruits frais chaque matin pour le petit dej’. Au programme aujourd’hui, les cas achetés au marché hier, mélangés avec de l’ananas pour atténuer l’acidité grâce à la douceur naturelle intense de l’ananas et un peu de gingembre pour relever le tout, un délice!

This is cas, whiter and not as sweet as guavas, more sour as well.
Cas, en espagnol, moins sucré que la goyave et plus acide.

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