Well, I'm getting behind on keeping this journal. Sorry folks!
On February 3 we went to the sugar mill and the coffee mill in San Ramon. I already posted photos of the sugar mill. The coffee mill was also interesting to visit. Costa Ricans are proud of their coffee. They say it is the best-tasting coffee in the world. Furthermore, a family who owns, let's say, 5 hectares of coffee (about 12 acres) can have a net income of over $200,000 after expenses, according to my professor.
I personally think the coffee is pretty good, and they do ALWAYS brew it very strong, which I like. You are never going to get a weak cup of coffee in Costa Rica, thankfully. They do have a law here that specifies that only arabica beans are grown. What this means is they are aiming for the gourmet market. However, robusta beans are the ones with the kick. So, if you like your coffee to have a high caffeine content, then you might be disappointed. I know that I can drink three or four cups of the coffee I'm served at the house where I live, and it barely wakes me up in the morning, even though it is very strongly brewed.
At the coffee mill we were able to interview the owner and his top employee, an expert in coffee tasting. I told them I had lived on a coffee farm in Kona, Hawai'i, and I asked them for some comparisons. They were a bit scornful of Kona coffee. For one thing, they said it is legal to put only 30% Kona coffee into a blend and call it "pure Kona." Furthermore, if a bag of coffee says "Kona blend" it probably has almost NO Kona in it at all. I asked them why the caffeine content is so much higher in Kona coffee. I tried to explain that when I lived there I could buy directly from the grower, and I knew it wasn't blended. They said that either the grower has robusta coffee trees, or that it was a blend, with robusta beans added.
Later on I looked up the difference. Robusta is a different species of coffee. It is considered cheaper, harsher, and can be grown under less desirable conditions. Robusta is used to produce most of the world's supermarket coffee, such as Folger's, etc. I seem to recall that at the time I lived in Kona, there may have been robusta planted on some of the farms. I think at the time I lived there, back in the late 70's through the 80's, the debate about robusta vs. arabica was just getting started.
Personally, I do like a bit of kick in my coffee.
One thing I like about the coffee here is that it is not super dark-roasted. It's usually a medium roast. I didn't have time to ask them about that. What I remember from Kona days was that growers would use their less flavorful, "junk" beans to make French roast, since basically what you are doing is burning the coffee bean, so you don't really need the best beans for that level of roasting. Dark roasting destroys the really spicy, delicate flavors and aromas of really good coffee. It also lowers the caffeine content. So, if you want spicy flavor and high caffeine, you want a light to medium roast.
Anyway, we toured the coffee mill, seeing the process from where the coffee cherries are being dropped off by the farmers to the end process, which are beans ready for roasting. They mostly sell them to companies who will do the roasting, but they do have a roaster there, and I did buy a bag of coffee which was both roasted and ground, to give to my Tico family. I am not sure how much it weighed but I am thinking it was about a kilo, since it was much bigger than a pound, so maybe a ki, or 2.2 pounds. And it cost 4 bucks. I also bought a burlap coffee sack, new. It says "Cafe de Costa Rica, El Poeta, San Ramon, Cafe de Altura de San Ramon Especial S.A." And the logo on it looks like a harp. I am going to hang it on the wall back in the States.
During the time we were at the mill I think I saw about 7 or 8 Toyota FJ40's, took two photos. In the town of San Ramon itself I saw a lot of them, also. (We discussed this earlier in the thread, about the fact they were manufactured in Brazil until 2001, but have not been imported to the US since 1984.)
The coffee is being picked by hand, and when the grower arrives at the mill with his bags of coffee cherries, he's generally driving the FJ40 or a small pickup truck. He is not arriving in a great big truck. He receives only about the equivalent of $11 per bag, I was told. I recall picking coffee in Kona, around where I lived on a ranch. There was an old coffee grove that had been let go, and I picked a couple of bags of it. I remember I received $60 for each full bag at the mill in Kona. That was in about 1984. My professor said that one hectare (about 2.5 acres) can have about 4,000 little coffee trees. One plant produces about one bag of coffee per year, so that is a potential $44,000 per hectare in gross income. He then said that the cost of production and overhead would give the farmer about $22,000 in profit per hectare.
We wandered all over the mill. At one point they let us "swim" in the coffee. My camera didn't like the dark rooms for some reason. So, some of the photos are blurry.
After our visit to the coffee mill, we piled back into the bus and were driven to a big American-style mall in San Ramon. There is a store there called "Motor Oil Jeans." I looked it up on the internet afterward, and it is a small chain of stores in Costa Rica. Seems odd. Motor oil? Doesn't that have sort of an icky, dirty connotation, but not in a sexual way? Try googling "motor oil jeans." You will get a couple of hits for that store, but most of the hits you will get have to do with how to launder your jeans if they have become stained with motor oil. Something is lost here in the translation, and I don't think they would understand how we'd view it. They love everything American, especially naming their kids after American movie actors, wearing American styles, and of course, listening to American pop music.
Our professor treated us to KFC and Burger King. We didn't get to order ourselves, he just ordered 18 of the cheapest burgers (which were NOT very good) and fries, and then he went over to KFC and ordered piles of chicken. I almost never go to KFC in the States. It's too greasy. But it tasted SO good! Oh, my goodness.
After a steady diet of gallopinto (rice mixed with beans) and other bland and flavorless foods which I am served at the house where I live, I was ready for fast food, especially big pieces of chicken. The only chicken I get at my house is in very tiny chunks, mixed in with rice. I kid you not. It's a wonder I have not gained 10 pounds already from all the starch I eat here. There have been meals where I was served potatoes, rice, beans, and bread, with a sweet punch to drink, high in sugar. Usually, though, there are only 3 starchy foods served at a meal, not four. I think I will do the Adkins diet when I get back to the US! NO carbs! It's a good thing that diabetes doesn't run in my family at all. I think I can get through 4 months of this diet without permanent harm. One thing good, they serve me a green salad with a slice of lime for dressing for both lunch and dinner, almost every day.
for coffee mill: http://hikearizona.com/photoset.php?ID=18793
Up next in my journal, a trip to Isla San Lucas, the Island of Unspeakable Horrors.