Coffee is one of those beverages that you either love or hate. My first coffee experience was when I was 18 and floating around the Atlantic Ocean in the Navy. I couldn’t stand it! But grew quite fond of it as 4:30 AM comes mighty quick and coffee was the one thing that I looked forward to. Regardless of where or when you had your first cup of joe, coffee has become an important part of our culture’s morning ritual.
In my role at Parkhurst, I’m responsible for knowing the sources of our foods. Recently, I 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, a 6 hour flight directly south of Pennsylvania.
La Minita is located in the coffee producing area called “Los Santos,” about 1½ hours drive south of San Jose. The farm is located within the region from which fruit coffee is received by the Tarrazu coffee mills. The coffee grown in the regions is considered a Tarrazu coffee and they believe the geography and microclimate of this farm produces a coffee that is much more balanced and flavorful than other Tarrazu coffees.
The plantation spans 1,200 acres of which 680 acres are currently in production. Of the remaining 520 acres, 200 are a 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 the west, which allows for gradual warming in the morning and slow cooling in the evening.
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, fifteen years, the trees become exhausted and are replaced with trees from their 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.
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, for it is the rain that signals the trees 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. 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 seven month of 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 comes the ripening of the coffee cherries. The large green cherries begin to turn either red or yellow 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.
La Minita has a core of 80 full time employees. This includes; managers, farm workers, clerical staff, drivers and maintenance personnel. All of these full time employees are provided housing on the farm for themselves and their families. These core employees are augmented by approximately 150 contracted laborers to perform weed control and over 600 pickers during 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 each year the association organizes a bus trip to Golfito in Southern Costa Rica where large tax free purchases can be made.
In addition, a medical clinic is located on the farm near the administration building. 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. The goal of this clinic is to provide preventative care. Detailed records of the medical histories of every person on the farm are kept for future reference.
Our coffee isn’t FairTrade or RainForest Alliance certified, but seeing this planation first hand has convinced me that a label is not as important as knowing the source and having the knowledge of the practices that this prestigious plantation has instituted.
The end result is a great tasting cup of coffee. This visit taught me the proper way of tasting coffee and how flavor can be affected by the roasting process, the quality of the bean or subtle imperfections. Green Coffee is separated into different levels, Primera (1st), Segundo (2nd) and Tricera (3rd). The lowest level (Tricera) of bean stays within the country of origin and is used as the everyday coffee in that country. So, if you travel to countries that grow coffee and stop at a local restaurant for a cup of joe, you will most likely be drinking a cup of coffee that uses the Tricera beans. The second level (Sugundo) is exported and primarily used for coffee served in convenient stores, fast food restaurants and in instant coffee blends.
I’m proud to say that Parkhurst only sources the highest level (Primera) bean, which is used primarily by specialty coffee shops.
As we continue to work directly with the growers and producers our focus is to find the highest quality products and work with companies that follow high social and environmental standards. We do this by visiting the farms and production facilities we partner with to see for ourselves how our products are produced.
We are firm believers of knowing the source of where our products are grown and raised. We take these additional steps to ensure that our guests are served only the finest products and ingredients available.
Good-bye for now.