News from 44 North

Melissa and Costa Rica. Notes from the Coffee Road!

I had the lucky opportunity to jump ship for a couple of weeks this winter and head south to the sunshine of Costa Rica.  Since we can appreciate line of latitude references around here, Costa Rica sits between 8 - 12 degrees north latitude.  The country is situated between Nicaragua to the north, and Panama to the southeast.  The climate is tropical year-round, but has multitudes of microclimates in mountain, valley, and rainforest areas.  The high altitudes and equation of cool nights and warm daytime temperatures are one of the contributing reasons for the quality of specialty coffee that comes from Costa Rica.

Coffee was first planted in Costa Rica in the 18th century, with exportation beginning to the United States in 1860.  Multiple government figures took up the cause to promote national coffee growth as a means to economic stimulation.  "Authorities of the Republic implemented a series of measures aimed at promoting the coffee industry, among which are notable: 1821: The Municipality of San José distributed free coffee plants among residents; 1825: The Government exempts coffee from tithe payments; 1831: The National Assembly decreed that any one who grew coffee for five years on idle land could claim the land as their own." [Source: ICAFE]  As time passed, Europe soon opened up as a direct trade export for coffee.  This "golden bean" built roads, hospitals, the Atlantic and Pacific railroads, the first postal service, banks, universities, libraries, and the National Theater, and paid off the Federal Debt.  

From the exit of the international airport parking lot, I spied coffee trees.  Everywhere!  My overland travels took myself and a good friend to the town of San Isidro de General, just outside of the Central Valley, one of Costa Rica's eight defined coffee growing regions.  Central Valley coffee cherries are known to produce a well-balanced cup, with distinct chocolate and fruit highlights.  During our farm visits, We stayed in the guesthouse of Carole Thomas, owner of Orchard del Sol, an organic black pepper, coffee, vanilla, and cocoa farm.  Carole splits her time between Costa Rica and her home country of Canada.  Her knowledge of the organic farming movement in Costa Rica an connections to local San Isidro coffee farmers are extensive and I can recommend her place to anyone.

I hope you enjoy this series of photos showcasing all the hard work that is done on the farming and processing side of the coffee industry.  The industry that brings you a warm cup of caffeination each morning :)


Wee coffee seedling...and so begins the life of a coffee plant.                                  

At 3-5 years old, coffee trees begin to produce fruit.  A tree can produce consistently for anywhere from 15-20 years. 


The harvest season arrives twice a year in many parts of Costa Rica.  During this time pickers arrive each morning with baskets and pick what is called a "cajuela," or, standard unit of measurement that holds 3.3 lbs.  A good picker can harvest 15 cajuelas each day.

It all beings with rich compost.  A little bit of chicken manure and a lot of broken down coffee parchment.  The golden elixir!


The bright red and yellow machine is known as a demucliage machine. With little water, the machine removes the outer skin and coffee fruit layer from the parchment seed.


Down the shoot and into the rinse tub. From here, the coffee will be floated in water (to remove defective beans) and fermented (to break down mucilage layer).


There are two methods of drying.  Raised beds [left] and patio drying [right] often done in open-air or on the ground floor of a greenhouse.


These are the hands of 92 year old Don Yo Yo Quires.  A former minister of agriculture in Costa Rica, Don Yo Yo maintains hundreds of beautiful shade trees and coffee growing acres in town of Perez Zeledon.  In the photo on the [right] Don Yo Yo is smelling the coffee seed for its moisture content.  He estimated the moisture that day around 30%.  Ideally, the remaining moisture in a coffee bean after completely drying should hover around 11% just before export.


The heaping pile outside this building is the coffee parchment, or in Spanish, "pergamino."  Parchment is the hardened outer layer of skin that surrounds the green coffee bean.  In its final stages of processing, this hard shell is ripped off by a machine shortly before export.

The farm Alianza Madre Tierra in San Isidro has a coffee roaster on site.  Coffee roaster is known as a "toastador" in Spanish.  This toastador from Deer Isle, Maine just so happened to wear her 44 North Coffee t-shirt that day :)

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