Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bean To Booth: Our Eat’n Park Coffee Story

Have you ever wondered where our coffee comes from? I’m here to tell you the story…all the way from Costa Rica!

In my role for Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, I’m responsible for knowing the sources of our foods. So I packed my bags and headed to Costa Rica to become more knowledgeable about where our coffee is sourced. The specific plantation, Hacienda La Minita is located in Central America, which is a 6 hour flight directly south of Pennsylvania.  

Background on La Minita

La Minita is located in the coffee-producing area called “Los Santos,” which is roughly a 1½ hour drive south of San Jose. 

The plantation consists of 1,200 acres of land, of which 680 acres currently being used for coffee production. Of the remaining 520 acres, there are 200 acres of natural forest preserve located on the south side of the farm that will never be brought into coffee production.  

Although there is a section of the farm that approaches 6,000ft in altitude, the central block lies between 3,750ft and 5,000ft, the ideal altitude for growing coffee. The farm faces west, which allows for gradual warming in the morning and slow cooling in the evening.

Planting

Approximately 2,500 trees are planted per acre on the 680 acres of land currently in production. The exact number depends on the geography of the area being planted and the variety of trees used. This results in a total of about 1,700,000 trees on the farm.  

There is a five-year rotational pruning system in place. Every fifth year, the coffee tree is cut down to approximately 20 inches in height, retaining the lower branches. This will encourage the tree to begin new growth. One year after this cutting, two primary shoots are selected for the next four years of production. All of this work is performed by hand. Each year roughly 350,000 trees are pruned.

After three cycles of pruning, or fifteen years, the trees become exhausted and are replaced with trees from La Minita’s nursery. This nursery is located on a small, protected area of the farm. The nursery trees are nurtured on the farm for one year prior to being transplanted to the main farm. In a typical year, they transplant about 150,000 trees.

Growing

One crop of coffee is grown each year. The cycle 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, because the rain signals the trees to begin flowering. 

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

From the onset of the initial rains, they enter into the seven-month rainy season. During the rainy season, there will typically be four to six hours of rainfall every day. These rains nurture the trees while encouraging the growth and development of the green coffee cherries. 

The rains also encourage the growth of weeds among the coffee trees. Since they don’t use herbicides to control weeds at La Minita, they use machetes to clear the weeds by hand. Each year, every acre of the farm is weeded three times.

With the end of the rainy season (November) comes the ripening of the coffee cherries.  The large green cherries begin to turn red when they are ripe and fill with the sweet miel (honey) that surrounds the seeds. Only the ripe fruit is picked, leaving the still unripe fruit for subsequent pickings. Most trees are picked up to five times to harvest the fruit. Once the fruit is harvested it’s sent to the benificio or coffee mills where it is washed, sorted by size, then dried. The dried bean is then shipped to our coffee roaster, Distant Lands, to be roasted. 

People

La Minita has a core of 80 full-time employees who are provided with housing on the farm for themselves and their families. This includes managers, farm workers, clerical staff, drivers and maintenance personnel. This workforce grows seasonally; over 600 pickers join the core team to help bring in the harvest. 

The plantation also assists their workers by actively supporting them in their lives outside of working hours. They contribute matching funds to the workers’ association savings plans, and operate a medical clinic right on the farm. A doctor staffs the clinic two days a week to administer to the needs of the workers and their families. Three days a week a dentist visits the farm to attend to the dental needs of the farm community. 

Eat’n Park Blend

As we continue to work directly with growers and producers, our focus is to find the highest quality products, as well cultivate partnerships with companies that follow high social and environmental standards. We do that by asking many questions and visiting farms and production plants to see for ourselves how our products are produced – just as I did when I visited La Minita. 

We believe that because of this commitment, each cup of Eat’n Park coffee offers a distinctive and delicious flavor – and we hope you agree! Whether you’re enjoying a cup with friends over breakfast in our restaurants, or brewing your own at home with our new Single Serve Coffee Cups, we’re hopeful that you can taste this quality in every sip. 

To learn more about my visit to Costa Rica, check out this video

Until next time!
Jamie



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