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Coffee Culture Overseas: Costa Rica Edition

by Andrea Calderon
Coffee Culture Overseas: Costa Rica Edition | AIFS Study Abroad

Today was the day, the day I relapsed back into drinking coffee after a 6-month streak of sobriety. Some would have ventured as far as saying that my addiction was unhealthy, and those people would not be proud of me today. However, it was all for a good reason, and that reason is called Tarrazu, also known as Costa Rica’s best coffee.

It all started on our trip to the Doka Estate Coffee Tour located in Sabanilla, Alajuela. This estate was recognized as the best coffee estate in Costa Rica by the Associación Semana International del Café (who knew there was such a thing?). Our tour started off with a scrumptious breakfast that consisted of gallo pinto, fried plantains, eggs, some fresh tropical fruit, and most importantly, coffee. After breakfast, we were off to a tour of the coffee estate to learn all about the coffee-bean making process.

Now, if I were to tell you just how many steps go into the process, you’d call me a liar. You pluck and peel and wash and dry and roast and THE LIST GOES ON AND ON. Then, there are different classes! There’s regular, specialty and premium. There’s even a special mutated coffee bean known as Peaberry. I never knew there was so much discrimination that went on in the coffee bean society. Anyway, if there is one thing that’s certain it’s that I will never look at a coffee bean the same again.

I won’t go into detail about the coffee-bean process because a) I don’t have enough room to explain it all and b) I’m not sure I recall all 456789+ steps correctly. However, what I do want to share is something I found particularly admiring about this estate. The coffee that Doka Estate sells is Rainforest Alliance Certified, and I was lucky enough to speak personally with one of the Doka employers and have him explain to me exactly what this meant. First off, what does this certification entail? This means that goods and services are produced in compliance with strict guidelines protecting the environment, wildlife, workers and local communities (rainforest-alliance.org).

How does this look on the Doka Estate? Migrant workers (mostly from Nicaragua) are employed seasonally from Doka to pick coffee beans from the plantation. The worker admitted that the job was not easy. The sun can be scorching and the manual labor takes a toll their bodies. However, the employees are allowed to bring their families with them and have almost everything provided for them. They have free housing on the estate, electricity, water and don’t have to pay taxes while they are employed. The only thing they need to pay for is their food. Daily, the workers fill about 10 baskets of coffee beans. At $2 per basket, the average wage is $20 per day. Hypothetically speaking, they are able to save all of the money they make with little expenses. This might not seem like a lot, but in comparison to the labor exploitation that occurs in the coffee industry, it’s a step in the right direction.

Coffee Culture Overseas: Costa Rica Edition | AIFS Study AbroadPrior to this trip I had read the book Where Am I Eating by Kelsey Timmerman. In his book, Timmerman speaks on the issue of exploitation in the food industry and interestingly enough he mentions the coffee bean industry. Timmerman also mentioned the Rainforest Alliance Certification and glorified the progress in the human rights movement the seal symbolized. The book was eye-opening, however, getting the chance to speak with a worker one-on-one was a memorable experience, and I can certainly say that the next time I purchase coffee I will be looking for the little green froggy on the packaging in support of the Rainforest Alliance.

This post was contributed by Andrea Calderon, who is studying abroad with AIFS in San José, Costa Rica.

Coffee Culture Overseas: Costa Rica Edition | AIFS Study Abroad

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