Coffee is one of Costa Rica’s biggest exports, and during my trip, I was keen to learn more about how the country grows and makes the world-popular drink. So when I was given an opportunity to visit a coffee farm in Monteverde, I jumped at the chance.
El Trapiche is a family-run farm that sits on a steep hillside overlooking Monteverde’s lush, green cloud forest. The farm runs two-hour guided tours around the estate, showing visitors how they grow and produce coffee, chocolate and sugar cane.
During the tour we walked around the farm’s sprawling plots filled with sugar cane, coffee and chocolate plants, and were shown how they use machinery to turn the fresh produce into the popular food stuffs we know and love.
I’d never seen a coffee plant before my visit and I was fascinated to learn that the beans (or seeds) grow inside small berries (above) that turn red when they’re ripe for picking.
We learned that the farm workers pick the coffee berries by hand and extract the seeds (above), which are then sorted according to size and type, and roasted. Our guide explained that most berries contain two coffee seeds, but some have one (these are the most sought after and most flavourful) and occasionally three.
In a small shed, we were shown the machinery the farm uses to sort the seeds according to their size and quality (above). And our guide explained that the lower quality beans are used to make coffee that’s sold in Costa Rica, while the better quality beans are set aside to make coffee that’s exported around the world.
Having learned how the farm cultivates coffee, we were then shown how it grows and makes chocolate. Now, I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate in my time, but I’ve never spent much time thinking about where it comes from. So I was surprised to discover that chocolate is made using cocoa beans found inside these enormous cocoa pods (above).
Each cocoa pod contains a ton of beans and we were each given a cocoa bean to try. I didn’t find the raw cocoa beans (above) particularly pleasant as they were rather bitter. But our guide explained how they go about turning the bitter little beans into sweet, comforting chocolate.
During the final part of our tour, the focus turned to sugar cane and we learned how the farm extracts the juice from the cane using the machine above, and how it is then used to make products, such as sweets and spirits.
After seeing how the sugar cane juice was extracted, we had a go at making our own sweets, kneading and scraping the hot sugary liquid that had been poured onto the wooden bench in front of us until it formed a thick, almost fudge-like consistency (above). It was hard work making the sweets and gave my arms a thorough work out, but the delicious end product was worth the effort.
At the end of the tour, we were treated to some of El Trapiche’s produce, including a cup of coffee, made using beans grown on the farm. I’m not a fan of coffee, but I was keen to try some after seeing how it was made and it turned out to be the nicest cup of coffee I’ve ever had. I don’t think I’ll ever be a coffee drinker, but if I was to take it up, I’d be looking to buy El Trapiche’s coffee as it’s the only drinkable coffee I’ve tried.
I really enjoyed my visit to El Trapiche. I knew nothing about growing coffee, sugar or chocolate before I visited the farm and it really opened my eyes to how these everyday foods are cultivated. Our guide was welcoming, friendly and knowledgeable, and did an excellent job of explaining how the farm grows and makes its products. A fascinating couple of hours.