As well as being famous for its commitment to the ecology, being famous for not having an army, and being famous for volcanoes, Costa Rica is about Coffee. Some of the very best coffee in the world is grown there, and has been grown since the 18th century mostly in the mountains that form a spine through the country.
Much of the coffee is grown by cooperatives, groups of very small farmers who have been brought together to crate the scale necessary for economic development of coffee. More than 10% of the population belong to cooperatives, and the cooperative are successful not just in providing an income for the members but also in passing residual profits back to develop the communities and the environment and to develop other businesses benefiting the members.
A day at a coffee coop is a memorable experience and the Coopetarrazu situated in San Marcos de Tarrazu is a great one to go to. It was founded in 1960 and has grown to have more than 3000 members who grow coffee together and sell it to the coop for sale in the market.
When you come over the mountain into the valley of San Marcos your nostrils are immediately filled with the scent of roasting coffee coming up from roaster in the town below you. Like all agricultural areas it seems a scene of tranquillity but actually a hive of activity.
Trees planted to give a natural shade and also to give back to the soil shade the rows of coffee bushes. The recycling of everything used in the coffee making process is a priority here including water and the dried husks of the bean.
Harvesting starts in November and is done by hand by local people and also pickers who cross the border from Nicaragua with their families and are given shelter, pay and assistance in managing their money which has to last them through the year after the picking season. Hard work I can tell you!
One of the challenges of picking coffee in this area are snakes of which there are a number of venomous species in Costa Rica. One of the ways they are dealt with is to feed the snakes before picking time to make them sleep while the picking goes on.
The profits left after paying the growers are ploughed back by the cooperative to benefit the members in infrastructure development, ensuring the quality of the soil and even into investing in local businesses like grocery stores or petrol stations to benefit the members.
“Cupping” tasting the new crop of coffee is an art similar to that of the established wine taster, and while I can know great coffee when I taste it, the varieties of flavours that an experienced person can detect in a cup of coffee is extraordinary.
We all talk a lot about the benefits of communities and how they should work together, and here you can see that happening. Here the cooperative system has proved itself really successful and a long-term benefit to future prosperity in the area.