We left Costa Rica’s capitol (and largest) city and immediately swung into the charming town of Alajuela, whose pastel-colored farmacias, cafes and small eateries, called sodas, were largely shuttered because it was Sunday. From there, we found ourselves rising through the mountains of Costa Rica, heading north. The landscape was dotted with coffee plantations; squat stucco houses painted pastel pink and bright blue and chartreuse seemingly sunk into the dirt, with small tiled front porches and laundry drying outside on lines; and small pineapple, banana and other farms, or fincas. Carlos explained what each town was known for and what the different fincas were growing. Like many people we would meet in Costa Rica, he also had a great sense of humor and fun.
On the way, we saw a cow (and a man) pulling one of these traditional colorful ox carts. I didn’t get a good picture. Luckily, Red Gage did.
People were selling fruit from stands and in front of homes. We pulled over on a high mountain road to buy some strawberries and Anna apples (yes, they were called that!) Turismo vans, like ours, passed us, threading up into the hills.
We passed one of several stunning waterfalls (I believe this is the La Paz waterfall) and Carlos stopped so I could snap a picture. Families played in the water at its base.
We wound further on mountain roads, surrounded by lush greenery, until we arrived at the Coope Sarapiqui Mi Cafecito coffee plantation.
We quickly met Walter, our extremely knowledgeable and engaging tour guide, who explained that the co-op includes 137 local small coffee growers and that it is committed to organic and fair trade practices and products, which include employing local people — a hallmark of many Costa Rican enterprises that we would come across. Walter is a second-generation co-op member.
We learned how coffee seeds are planted and coffee grown and harvested. This was especially exciting because we had recently taken a tour of the Highwire Coffee roasting plant back home and now we were seeing where similar coffee was grown.
Trees mature in 3-5 years, and coffee fruit is ripe for picking when it turns red. The beans are actually inside this red “coffee cherry” fruit. At busy times of the year, more locals are called in to harvest the seeds.
Each fruit contains 1-3 seeds. Michael, Anna and I each managed to pick a fruit with a different number of seeds. In addition, Anna got a peaberry, which is a single seed, rather than the usual double. (4% of coffee cherries produce peaberries.)
Because the farm is completely organic, pest-control is handled in a low-impact way, by a series of paper cups with alcohol inside, which attracts and then kills beetles and other unwanted creatures.
Walter demonstrated an old hand-cranked machine that shells the fruits and leaves the remaining coffee beans.
This is the newer version:
Coffee beans are then sun-dried, roasted in an oven called an horno, and packed into burlap bags for shipping.
After getting a close-up tour of sustainable coffee making. we trekked through the surrounding forest. It was humid, though not terribly hot, and we were already slapping at new mosquito bites on our apparently delicious North American skin.
The plants and flowers were exotic and beautiful, including the poisonous, hallucinogenic Angel’s Trumpet:
We looked out over the Sarapiqui River and visited the elaborate composting room — not the only one we’d see on our tour of this incredibly eco-conscious country.
Time for lunch and coffee! Lovely meals of house-farmed tilapia, traditional rice and beans, and banana plantains were brought to us. We also enjoyed the dark-roasted full-bodied Mi Cafecito coffee so much that we bought some to bring home.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Red Gage, Carlos
Stay tuned for Part 3 of our Gift of Happiness adventure.