Permaculture Coffee Farming

By November 18, 2017Family, Travel

My wife and I are in El Roble, Costa Rica, celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary. On Thursday, we hopped in our trusty AWD rental car and drove to Turubari to go zip lining through the forest (highly recommended, by the way). Before we left, I did a quick Google Maps search for coffee farms nearby, and stumbled upon El Toledo Coffee Tour – a family owned and operated permaculture coffee farm.

If you are ever in the area, I highly suggest you stop by — the tour was about two hours long and it covered everything from the market-driven dynamics of organic vs. local production (something as a MBA student I never thought I’d hear on a small sustainable coffee farm in Costa Rica) to the trial and errors of the farm operations as they worked through organic certifications. Gabriel, our guide (and an owner/operator of the family business), shared with us that El Toledo produces about 6,000 pounds of coffee per year, but because they are a permaculture operation, they also grow a diverse set of fruits and plants to hedge against coffee prices and yield variances from their experimentation.

Coffee tasting: Darkest to Lightest roast

The tour began with a tasting – an excellent way to start. We were asked to rank the coffees from lightest roast to darkest based on flavor profile and tasting characteristics. Both my wife and I nailed it — I knew I wasn’t throwing away all of those years experimenting with brewing coffee!

We moved from the tasting to the harvesting portion of the tour, where Gabriel demonstrated how their custom machine splits the cherries and extracts the coffee into a drum full of water to keep them moist until it’s time to dry the harvest before roasting. Gabriel mentioned that nothing at their farm goes to waste, so they found a unique use for the ‘spent’ fruit: they’re making wine.

From the harvesting area, we moved to tour the grounds of the farm itself – just look at those views!

On the tour of the farm, Gabriel would pick a leaf from the ‘floor’ of the farm and tear off a piece – “try this,” he’d say. And you trusted him, so you did. We ended up trying Anise and Stevia (I am not a big fan of black licorice, so hard pass on the Anise). At one point, Gabriel hopped down the hill and returned with Caco – “try this,” he’d say. And it turns out that chocolate is encased in a snot pod that’s one of the most interesting oyster-like textures I’ve ever tried. Predictably, the chocolate on the inside was bitter as hell.

Gabriel laughing as he hands out caco pods for us to try.

At the end of the tour, we saw Gabriel’s dad fire up their roaster and take some green coffee to a medium-dark roast. You can see the progression in the photo below, moving from the bottom right to left.

Gabriel’s dad working the roasting machine

We were invited to stick around after the tour and had a wonderful traditional Costa Rican lunch prepared by Gabriel’s mom and wife.

Chicken, squash, beans, rice, and some amazing slaw