A cold winter morning or a quiet summer evening, before rushing to a long day of work or simply stretching your leg and relaxing, a cup of freshly brewed coffee that can fill your senses with its aroma and give you that burst of energy is a gift. Coffee is natures one of the best gifts to humankind wisely accepted and gift wrapped by us. Coffee cultivation and drinking goes as far back in the history as 9th century (Source:National Geographic) with it’s origins in east african Arabia. Since then for centuries coffee has travelled across the globe becoming an integral part of many cultures, religions and livelihoods. Deep in the history there may be many untold stories of this friendship between humans and this pretty little bean, MagoPickle will try to get as many stories on this as possible. In this story, join us on a journey to explore the life of a coffee bean in the paradise on earth, Costa Rica.
On a trip to Costa Rica in the month of December, there were ample opportunities to visit coffee plantations and watch their processing. Though the processing sophistication varies based on the scale of the plantation itself, the method is largely the same. The journey of that delicious coffee begins with these beautiful red berries. In Costa Rica, December is the coffee harvest season and you get to see rows & rows of coffee plants bearing the bright red berries fully ripened and ready to be picked up. These coffee berries have been making the livelihood of many locals as well as neighboring Nicaraguans in many ways. People working on these plantations fondly remember what these berries mean to them with a big smile and big cup of coffee in their hand! With changing times, technology industry has taken over coffee as economic source of the country, fading the cultural significance these berries once had. One such anecdote our tour guide shared left a lasting impact on my mind,
“In our grandparent’s generation, people associated Christmas with loads of bright red coffee berries on plants, freshly picked in the baskets, on the trucks being transported… today Costa Rican kids associate Christmas with snow and there is no snow in Costa Rica, it’s summer here!!!”
Coffee is still an important part of Costa Rican life that, they very carefully and fondly share with the tourists coming from all over the world. Coffee cherry picking still largely happens by manual labor, though bigger plantations make use of machines, the accuracy of picking the right berry at the right time comes with years of practice. An experienced, good picker picks 30 baskets of berries a day making about $6 per basket (as told by a guide, not sure of the accuracy). An average picker makes much less, there are again different qualities of pickers, the fast and low quality to slow and best quality and everything in between. As in most other parts of the world, the type of coffee harvested here is “Arabica” known to be the best breed for consumption.
The berries then make it to either a manual crusher to get peeled off of their red skin or if its a bigger plantation to a much bigger sophisticated electric machine that peels and washes off the skin.
What we have now is a pale yellow bean ready for some sun. The beans are dried to a point where the outer thin skin can be easily removed, again either by manually pounding or through electric processing.
These beans get regularly mixed and turned to ensure that they get even sunlight and get dried well. There are laborers toiling in the sun all day long just doing this so that we can get our perfect cup of coffee, lets be thankful to them.
Each coffee bean is like two tiny capsules tightly glued together, this is the natural shape of the bean. However, sometimes due to some genetic disorder a coffee bean is formed like one whole seed, these are called Peaberries. Though different from the normal, these Peaberries are special (everything that stands out of the crowd has to be special after all!) as all the flavor is concentrated in one single tightly packed bean, they give extra taste to the coffee.
The pounding takes off the additional thin layer over the coffee bean further purifying it’s taste. Coffee bean’s next stop is at the roaster, these carefully picked and dried berries go into the roaster and gets roasted at different temperatures & for different times. The time and the heat determines a variety of flavor it can bring to us, light, medium, espresso …
It’s the same bean that brings out so many different flavors, just by processing them differently with an exception that some special berries like Peaberries are naturally flavored differently. Roasted coffee beans are then ground and packaged. Though in some parts of the world, there is a practice of adding other ingredients such as a root called Chicory for added bitterness in Coffee, Costa Rican coffee is all for it’s purity.
Costa Ricans even swear by the fact that coffee must be consumed in it’s pure form, no milk, no sugar just pure freshly brewed coffee. They even claim that if consumed in it’s purest form, they are good for your body, it’s the milk and sugar that spoils it!
In which ever form you consume, Coffee sure is a very interesting combination of nature’s creation that is enhanced by human intellect bringing us this unique beverage that is so widely popular all across the world. As I passed through a sea of pale yellow coffee bean soaking under the sun, my mind tried to imagine the trucks full of cheerfully red coffee cherries on the streets of Costa Rica as people got ready for their Christmas cheer.
Long live the coffee bean and the coffee cultures!!!