Do you know where your morning cup of coffee came from? If you’ve ever had any from Pete’s Coffee, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts or brewed your own Maxwell House, then you’ve likely enjoyed coffee grown at the Doka Estate. Located on the verdant slopes of the Poás Volcano in central Costa Rica, Doka is one of forty plantations owned by Café Tres Generaciones, one of the largest in the country. As part of my FAM trip to Costa Rica with Pleasant Holidays, I toured the eighty-acre Doka Estate with tour guide, Omar. He explained the process of coffee making—from seed to mug. A couple of years ago I toured a tea plantation in the Azores so was very excited for the opportunity to see how coffee was produced too.
By law, all Costa Rican coffee is of the Arabica variety, considered by many to be the best in the world due to its superior flavor and lower caffeine content. It takes about eight weeks for a coffee seed to germinate and then a full year before the young plant is put into the ground. It then takes about three years until the first coffee fruit (called “cherries”) form. Although most people call coffee “beans”, they are actually the pits or seeds inside the coffee fruit, which resembles a bright red cherry when it’s ripe and ready to be picked.
All of the picking at the Doka Estate is done by hand between the months of September to January. Each plant yields about 4 lbs. of usable coffee per year. The Doka Estate produces 12 million pounds of coffee annually, which is roughly 10% of the total production in Costa Rica.
Our guide, Omar, explained the 5-step process of coffee harvesting:
Station 1 -
After they’re picked, the cherries are dumped into an enormous vat of water. The higher quality cherries sink to the bottom and the poor quality ones float. These “good” ones are pumped from the bottom of the tank to Station 2 to be processed further. The dark, overripe cherries that float are used only for local consumption.
Station 2 –
This 100-year-old piece of machinery, called the chancadora, separates the cherries by size and then peels the skin from them.
Station 3 –
Next, they go into fermentation tanks for 36 – 40 hours to remove the mucilago (slime) that surrounds the bean. This fermentation process removes the fruit’s sugar which, If not removed, will cause the beans to burn when roasted.
Station 4 –
The fourth stage is where the beans are dried. This can happen two ways: mechanically or naturally. In the mechanical method, the beans are put into a guardiola machine (kind of like a clothes dryer) that’s heated by a wood fire. This results in a less expensive end product. For higher quality (and therefore more expensive) beans, they are dried naturally in the sun for five days. A worker rakes the beans every forty-five minutes, turning them for even exposure.
The final station is a warehouse called la bodega, where the coffee is stored in sacks for a minimum of 3 months to a maximum of about 3 years.
The Doka plantation only roasts 20% of its beans; 80% is shipped around the world to be roasted by the various buyers. Starbucks or Pete’s or Dunkin’ Donuts will roast the coffee to their own specifications. On-site at the Doka Estate, they roast the beans for fifteen minutes for light roast (acidic flavor) up to a maximum of 20 minutes for a dark roast (bitter flavor).
The highlight of the tour is a visit to the estate’s café. There, visitors are offered complimentary cups of hot coffee and can sample each of the different varieties. You certainly won’t find a fresher cup of coffee anywhere else in the world! There’s a small gift shop where you can purchase packages of the coffee or local handicrafts, which make great souvenirs or gifts for friends and family back home.
Here are some fun facts about coffee:
* Coffee is the third most popular beverage in the world after water and tea. (Beer is fourth, followed by wine and Coca-cola.)
* Oil the #1 commodity in the world; coffee is #2.
* Brazil is the #1 producer of coffee in the world (Costa Rica is #13).
* 25 beans = 1 cup of coffee.
* Each coffee plant produces quality coffee beans for up to 28 years.
I’d love to help plan your perfect vacation to Costa Rica. I can pick the perfect hotel for you and your family or friends and set you up with fun activities, like a tour of the Doka Estate. Contact me at michael(at)struxtravel.com for more information.
Here are some additional photos from my visit: