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Costa Rican Coffee

  • One of Costa Rica’s main exports – 155,00 tons – 3% of world harvest
  • Costa Rica only grows high-grade coffee, “Arabica”
  • Coffee is originally from Arabia and Ethiopia and was brought to the new world in 1790
  • Vietnam and Brazil are world’s largest exporters: Brazil has 40% of world market
  • Volcanic soil with high acidity gives coffee its gourmet taste, along with the climate of the central valley- rainy and dry seasons with temperatures from 59-82 F (15-28 C)
  • Since 1982 the government has required that all coffee grown in Costa Rica be Arabica coffee, even though these plants produce 50% less volume than the inferior Robusta plant
  • Grades of Coffee are 1) Gourmet (Peaberry)  2) First Quality 3) Second Quality 4) Third Quality
  • Arabica  coffee is produced between 2,400 and 4,500 ft (800m-1500m) in altitude.
  • It was money from Coffee Exports that helped  San José become the third city in the world (in 1884) to generate public electricity  (Paris was first  and New York second)  Coffee money also paid for the construction of the elaborate National Theater that was completed in 1897.

Doka Estate / General

  • 250 hectares or 625 acres; Altitude 1350 mts. (+4000 ft)
  • Located on the Southern slope of Poás Volcano
  • Run by the Vargas family for 112 years, 3 generations
  • Provider of one of the 5 best coffee brands in the word “Tres Generaciones”
  • The hydro produced or “wet” mill machinery is 112 years old (the oldest in the country) and still used in the same fashion today; originally imported from England
  • Declared “Best Worldwide Coffee Plantation” by SINTERCAFE (a group of worldwide coffee judges)
  • UNESCO (United Nations Fund for Education) is about to declare it a World Heritage site
  • Steps in the Production of Coffee:
    • Planting Harvesting Peeling Drying Roasting Exporting

Coffee Tasting

  • Doka offers 7 different export types; all same quality only difference is roasting times
  • Contrary to popular belief the lighter the roast the more caffeine remains in the bean; Dark roasts have less caffeine
  • One cup of coffee has an average of 1.5% caffeine; Black tea has 2%; Cocoa 4%; Coca cola 5%
  • 90% of Doka coffee is exported and sold to Starbucks (unroasted)
  • 10% remains in Costa Rica
  • Ticos drink the inferior harvested beans but improve the flavor by adding caramelized sugar (torrefaccion) in the roasting process
  • Most other brands of coffee are actually mixes of beans from various plantations which have different soils and climates and therefore produces variable quality


  • Selection of the best seeds from each years harvest
  • Seeds are laid on open soil and covered with banana leaves to keep them moist for three days while the root develops
  • Planted in soil and in 2 weeks two leaves (butterfly) appears
  • Show 3 month old and 1 year old, ready for field planting
  • Coffee tree (not a bush) produces its first berries in year 4 but the first year berries are poor quality and not harvested
  • Years 5-20 are the best quality – tree may live to 80 years but quality becomes bad after 20 years and tree is removed and wood is used for roasting ovens and furniture
  • During years 5-20, one tree yields approximately 25 pounds of berries each year
  • There are 7,000 trees per hectare or 2000 trees per acre with a total of 1.7 million trees on this plantation
  • The trees are planted and replaced in rotation according to a carefully detailed plan
  • Coffee trees flower after the first rains in March then again in April and again in May; they appear and smell like jasmine
  • Berries begin developing as earl as April with harvesting beginning in November and lasting until March


  • Coffee trees need plenty of water; at Doka they receive 3.5 to 4 mts. (12 ft) per year
  • Coffee trees in Costa Rica only yield one crop per year but for example, Colombia has two crops per year harvested from different areas of the country with different climates
  • Banana trees release water to the coffee crop during the dry season; they store between 30-40 liters of water each year
  • Five years ago Doka started to transition to organic fertilizers and pesticides; 3 more years and this will be complete
  • Some of the components of fertilizers and pesticides are chicken compost, eucalyptus, rosemary, citronella and garlic
  • Two pests are the Royal Fungus and “Bruca” drill or coffee maggot
  • The coffee maggot is now affecting some 1,000 plantations in Costa Rica
  • In May of 2003, the government approved the use of tiny wasps imported from Colombia which prey on the maggots; this is a form of biological control
  • Doka has on staff a plant agronomist who coordinates statistics, pest control and research


  • Coffee is picked by hand in Costa Rica, (not true in some other countries) and placed in canastas, which hold 25 lbs. Or 11 kg
  • Only the ripe red beans are picked
  • Every two weeks the same plant is revisited to check for new red beans
  • Doka hires 1,500 workers for the harvest season
  • At Doka they get paid $1.50 per basket (canasta) and a professional picker can fill 25 baskets per day ($900-$1,200 per month)
  • Payment at other plantations average $1.00 per basket
  • School summer vacations correspond to the coffee harvest so families can earn extra money
  • Today fewer Ticos and more Nicaraguan immigrants pick coffee


  • Beans are loaded on a truck and brought to the mill where they are measured in the half fanega metal box (50 lbs); the amount is tracked using the table ‘calculator’
  • Beans are dropped into the water tank for sorting quality; Gourmet and first quality are heavier (denser) and sink to the bottom and are siphoned into another selection process
  • Second and third quality beans float and are skimmed off and sent to local roasters to mix with caramelized sugar for Tico coffee
  • The gourmet and first quality beans that sank are now sorted by size
  • All this machinery is water powered (not hydroelectric), hydro powered like waterwheels
  • In these chanqueadoras (crushing or peeling machines) the skin is removed from the berry
  • The coffee bean is normally a dicotyledon, meaning it has two seed inside; however, 5% are irregular and only have one seed inside, monocot
  • These irregular monocot (smaller because they only have one seed) are called Peaberry and are the highest quality seed, AA
  • After peeling the skin is carried by water separately to an outside tank to be used for organic fertilizer(you can smell it when they apply it)
  • The beans now show the mucilage-sticky sweet, pasty cover
  • The mucilage is removed by fermentation


  • Two systems are used- Gourmet beans are patio sun-dried 5-7 days and are turned every 45 minutes      First Quality are sun-dried 2 days the two more in the dryer(guardiola)
  • Gourmet (only) need to rest in the warehouse for 4-7 months so that they are evenly dried
  • First Quality and below are not stored because their flavor does not improve with age

In Warehouse

  • The dried bean looks grayish light brown instead of dark like one would expect
  • This is because the parchment or hard shell is still on and protects the bean during storage
  • This is the form in which the seed would be replanted to grow new trees (?)
  • The beans stay in this form in storage until the last minute when an order is ready to be shipped
  • When an order is received the beans are cleaned of their parchment by a high pressure air blower (not done here)
  • The removed parchment is used to make coffee paper that is an eco-conscious novelty
  • The beans now look green but have no smell or taste-that comes from roasting
  • By the time it is ready for roasting the bean weighs only 30% of its harvested weight (?)
  • Each 25 lb. basket yields only 4 lbs drinking coffee consisting of 1 lb gourmet, 1 lb first quality, 2 lbs of second and third quality
  • Doka’s annual crop amounts to 9,000 tons harvested 50-60% Gourmet and First Quality with 40-50% second and third quality
  • 90% of Doka’s gourmet crop is sold unroasted but parchment free to Starbucks and the other 10% is sold to Europe, Asia and here in Costa Rica
  • The second and third quality Doka beans are sold to local brands like Dorado, Rey, Volio and Britt.

At the Patio

  • Every 45 minutes the beans sun drying on the patio are raked or combed
  • Gourmet (Peaberry) are dried for 7 days – First Quality 2 days in sun –2 in dryer
  • If it rains the beans are raked into a pile and covered with plastic sheets

In the Roasting Plant

  • Roasters are professionals with a great deal of experience
  • The process is very sensitive and is the last step to producing world class coffee
  • Roasting changes the beans into their familiar look of brown and swollen with the traditional coffee aroma
  • Doka only retains the gourmet and first quality beans for roasting and sale under their brand name
  • The beans are roasted for different periods to determine the flavor
  • European Roast- lightest- roasted for 15 minutes
  • French Roast-Dark- roasted for 17 minutes
  • Italian Espress- Darkest- roasted for 20 minutes
  • Again remember the roasting process sweats out some of the caffeine so (contrary to common opinion) the darker the roast the less caffeine.
  • The gourmet Peaberry beans (irregular monocot-10% of harvest) are separated out and roasted for 17 minutes to make the “Estate Peaberry” brand.  It has a special softer taste and is the most expensive
  • The two roasting machines are 40 to 50 years old from Germany with 22kg ()  and 20 kg () capacities.  They are propane fueled with temperatures ranging from 90 C to 120 C.
  • During roasting the roasters periodically examine the beans for color smell and the sound or popping pace. The roasting times are adjusted based on the roaster’s experience

Grinding and Packing

  • All coffees are “middle” ground (medium size particles) except for “Espress” that needs a finer grind for Expresso machines.
  • The 1 lb package bags are specially designed to keep coffee fresh with a one-way air valve to release gases from the coffee without permitting air to enter
  • In the freezer and in a plastic container coffee will stay fresh for 8 months

Decaffeinated Coffee

  • Caffeine is an alkaloid and a stimulant for the nervous system
  • There are two methods for extracting caffeine 1) Acetone Method 2) Steam Method (Swiss Process)
  • All coffee beans from Costa Rica are sent to Hamburg, Germany for decaffeination
  • In the Acetone process the beans are cleaned with the chemical to remove the caffeine but this can be dangerous because it is possible for the bean to retain some of the toxic acetone.
  • In the Steam (Swiss) method the beans are boiled with the caffeine sweated out into the steam which is then condensed  with the resulting caffeine sold to companies like Bayer Aspirin and Coca-Cola to use in their products.
  • The beans are then shipped back to Costa Rica for Roasting
  • The decaffeinating process is free for the coffee growers as they allow the decaffeinator to keep the caffeine as payment.
  • The decaffeinated beans don’t have the same taste as before so they are sometimes roasted with pulverized chicory roots to add flavor

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