Tuesday, January 11, 2011

From Costa Rica to Eat'n Park: Our Coffee

Coffee is one of those beverages that you either love or hate. I had my first coffee experience when I was 18 floating around the Atlantic Ocean in the Navy. I couldn’t stand coffee at first, but over time, I grew quite fond of it. 4:30 AM comes mighty quick, and coffee was the one thing that I could look forward to every morning. Regardless of where or when you had your first cup of joe, coffee has become an important part of many peoples’ morning rituals.

Because our coffee is such a customer favorite at Eat’n Park, we wanted to be able to tell our guests where and how our coffee is grown.

Our coffee comes from Costa Rica and Guatemala, both established coffee-growing regions. The company we source our beans from has been in business since 1967. They have well-defined standards in regards to planting, growing, harvesting and employee well being. In February 2010, I had the pleasure of visiting one of their plantations, Hacienda La Minita in Costa Rica. My primary focus on this trip was to become more knowledgeable about where our coffee is sourced.

La Minita is located about 1½ hours drive south of San Jose, in the coffee producing area called “Los Santos.” The plantation consists of a total of 1,200 acres of land, of which 680 acres are currently in production.

Planting

In any given year, La Minita harvests from approximately 2,500 trees per acre on the farm, depending upon the geography of the area being planted and the variety of tree used. This results in a total of about 1,700,000 trees on the farm. As the trees age, older trees are gradually replaced with new trees from the farm’s nursery. In a typical year, about 150,000 new trees are transplanted from the nursery.


Nursery of coffee plants at La Minita Coffee Plantation

Growing

The growing season begins with the first rains of the year, which normally occur sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May. The timing of the first rain is essential, for it is the rain that signals the tree to begin flowering.

Approximately ten days after the initial rains, small honeysuckle-like flowers form on the trees. The flowering is of critical importance to the coffee crop, for the node where each flower formed will produce a single coffee cherry, and within this cherry are the coffee seeds which will become the coffee bean. If the flowering is adversely affected by the weather, pollination wil not occur, no cherry will form, and there will be no coffee.

From the onset of the initial rains, they enter into seven month of rainy season, when the farm sees four to six hours of rainfall every day.

With the end of the rainy season comes the ripening of the coffee cherries. The large green cherries begin to turn either red or yellow as they gradually ripen. Because not all of the cherries ripen at once, most trees are picked up to 5 times to harvest all of the fruit.


Me, picking coffee cherries at La Minita

People

La Minita has a core of 80 full time employees, augmented by an additional labor force of about 600 people during harvest season. All of the farm’s full time employees are provided housing for themselves and their families on the plantation.

The plantation assists their workers by actively supporting them in their lives outside of working hours. They contribute matching funds to the workers’ association savings plans. Additionally, a medical clinic is located on the farm near the administration building, and a doctor and dentist are on site several days a week to attend to the needs of the workers and their families.

After seeing the source of our coffee firsthand, I was thoroughly impressed not only by the care taken to produce a superior-quality coffee, but also by the farm’s efforts to provide a safe, comfortable environment for their workforce. Though I was already a fan of the coffee we serve, my experience visiting La Minita gives me a whole new appreciation for it.

Drink up!

Jamie
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