Costa Rica is famous for being a beautiful, eco-friendly country. Surrounded by water and composed of dense tropical forests and substantial volcanoes, Costa Rica is rich in biodiversity. Tourists flock to the area to experience these elements of nature at their finest while soaking up the pura vida lifestyle. These elements lend themselves to yet another thing which Costa Rica is famous for – coffee!
Costa Rican coffee is consumed across the globe. It is one of the area’s most notable products and is exported at high rates. Part of what gives it its signature taste is the richness acquired from the coffee plants growing in the volcanic soil. In fact, coffee growers in Costa Rica are known for planting banana plants next to coffee plants to help absorb some of the potassium.
Costa Rica’s Coffee Is World Famous
There are numerous coffee plantations in the country. We were fortunate to spend an afternoon touring Don Juan Coffee Plantation in Monteverde. Not only was this a great opportunity to learn about their products (all three of them!), but we learned about their eco-friendly, sustainable business. As I was working on my Master of Sustainable Tourism degree at the time, I was very excited to visit Don Juan and learn about their operations.
Our tour was comprehensive. We started with a traditional casado for lunch. For those who don’t know, a casado is a Costa Rican meal consisting of rice, beans, plantains, salad, tortillas, and usually some sort of meat. They are hearty and tasty and filling. Lunch also included ice cream and, of course, coffee!
Our friendly guide was well versed in the plantations operations. We walked through each area of Don Juan’s grounds and learned about each process from start to finish. As I mentioned earlier, Don Juan’s produces three total products. It was only fitting that we started our tour with the sweet stuff!
The first area we explored was chocolate. And, what a treat it was! We saw the entire chocolate making process from start to finish. Neither of us were keen on the slimy texture of the raw cocoa bean, but we still sampled them. We feel its important to try new things during our travels. Learning about the chocolate making process included everything from growing to extraction, grinding, sweetening and, finally, tasting! Much more work goes into creating the perfect chocolate than most people imagine.
While the chocolate production was plenty sweet, Don Juan took it up a notch with pure Costa Rican sugar. Our guide cut off fresh chunks of sugar cane for each visitor to suck on. This was our first time experiencing fresh sugar cane. I had no idea how juicy a little sliver of it could be. They explained their various uses for fresh sugar cane, including using it to sweeten their chocolate. Making the experience even better, we took turns extracting the juice through a traditional press machine. Let me tell you, it is much harder than it looks!
Obviously, coffee is Don Juan’s specialty. They are passionate about their product. It is evident in how they care for their plants and the pride they take in their final product. Of particular interest to me is how they care for the people who work for them and help in coffee production. Unlike many other plantations in the area, Don Juan’s beans are only picked by hand during peak-season to ensure freshness. Typically, most plantations bring in workers from neighboring Panama and Nicaragua because they can pay them less. Don Juan hires only local Costa Ricans and pays them at a higher rate. Considerations and actions like this are one of many things they do to make their business sustainable. They also continue using the traditional methods and equipment instead of modernizing their operations.
This plantation was one of the highlights of our time spent in Costa Rica. We even met the man himself, Don Juan! Like many other traditions they maintain on their plantation, he makes sure to greet every tour group that pays a visit.
We enjoyed this tour and came out knowing so much more about their processes, products and sustainability efforts. Not only do they hire local workers and pay them fairly, but they also work to conserve water, maintain biodiversity, and support their local community. These are huge contributors to a sustainable business and a great tourism draw. We even got to spend some time on the decks soaking up the Costa Rican sun with the smell of freshly roasted coffee in the air.
Have you tried Costa Rican coffee? What about taking a plantation tour? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
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