At $16 a person, The Real Coffee Tour is not the principle bread winner for the Vargas family, which has run the Doka Estate coffee plantation through generations and almost 80 years. But for owner Don Rodrigo Vargas, it is one of his greatest sources of delight.
Rows of drying coffee lay outside Costa Rica’s Oldest Wet Mill
Educating people about the process of making coffee from the initial planting process to the cup has become a vocation for Mr. Vargas, who helped to implement the Coffee Tour 11 years ago. Today, the Estate, which is located in San Luis de Sabanilla de Alajuela, in route to the Poas volcano, might see upwards of 100 visitors a day.
Soon Vargas will be able to educate even more people thanks to Doka’s invitation to set up an interactive station dedicated to the making of coffee at the newly opened agricultural theme park Panaca, also located in Alajuela. The company will conduct a show called “The Wonderful World of Coffee”, provide samples of their products and have guides walk guests through the traditional process of growing and making gourmet coffee.
The Real Coffee Tour
To see the real process in action, tourists should make a trip to the actual Doka Estate. The fertile volcanic soil, cool climate and 4,500 foot altitude provides optimal growing conditions for the family’s 32 farms of Arabic coffee plants, and a refreshing day-trip from San José.
The estate has an open policy, allowing tour groups or even make-shift guides like taxi drivers, full access to their main farm and historic wet mill processing plant to show guests around. The company guides are still the most knowledgeable resources and will easily fill up an hour with unrehearsed information about the sustainable farming methods used to create their gourmet coffee.
Guests will learn to truly appreciate all the painstaking process that goes into creating the perfect cup of coffee, starting with planting seeds produced from the current coffee plants.
In Costa Rica, the Coffee Institute (Icafé) has strict standards to ensure a high quality brand for Costa Rican coffee. Since 1989, they have only allowed the production of Arabic coffee beans, which are considered the best in the world. However, the plants tend to produce a lower quantity. After the 4-year maturation period and cutting plants back to be more fruitful, each plant will only produce coffee for a total of about 16 years, to make about 20 pounds of coffee.
During each harvest from November to February, 3,000 workers are needed to comb the plants three separate times to pick the cherries that ripen at different rates. As this is seasonal work, it is difficult to fill the ranks to bring in an entire harvest, leaving many cherries unpicked.
Doka Estate sticks to a strictly sustainable process. They limit pesticide use by planting fruit trees that are more attractive to predator animals and bugs. Bean shells are reused to make paper, fertilizer for the plants and to serve as fuel to help dry the new beans.
They use a century-old water mill, called a benificio humedo, to sort the high-quality beans from the lesser quality ones, remove the shells and sugars, transport the beans and finally to dry them. The mill is now considered to be a National Heritage Site and cannot be altered from its original state.
The coffee beans are left to dry in the sun, where workers methodically rotate them every 30 minutes before they are transported to a low-temperature oven, heated by bean shells, to finish off the process.
The Final Product
Of the highest quality beans, 70% is exported to the United States, 15% to Japan, 5% to Europe. The majority of the exports to the United States are sold to Starbucks where they are toasted and sold under the company’s name. . The remaining 10% stays in Costa Rica to be toasted and sold in tourist destinations with the Doka “Tres Generaciones” name.
Guests on The Coffee Tour and to Panaca receive free samples of the Doka’s eight specific coffee varieties including: French Roast, European Roast, Organic, House Blend and Peaberry, a favorite among guests for its sweet flavor. Peaberry coffee is actually the result of a genetic mutation that results in the bean looking more like a pea than a coffee bean.
Another way to get a taste of Doka traditions, coffee and other products is to stop by one of the five coffee houses that are set up in the Central Valley and Puntarenas. They can be found in San Ramon, San Isidro de Alajuela, San Pedro de Poas, Downtown Alajuela, and Tarcoles in Puntarenas
The Doka Estate Website offers all of their high-quality coffees online with low shipping costs to the United States and Canada. Try their current Valentine’s Day promotion: the best way to show your favorite coffee lover how much you love them.
To order Doka Coffee:
1-888-9-GO-DOKA (toll free from the U.S. & Canada)
Costa Rica Telephone: 011 (506) 449-5152
Fax: 011 (506) 449-6427
|Written by Claire Saylor|
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Filed under: Press Releases on February 7th, 2008