Tag Archives: Puntarenas

Micro-Roaster in Jaco, Costa Rica

As some of you know, coffee is not just an addiction with me. It’s a passion. Some years back, while searching the Interwebs for a better coffee, I discovered that it was possible to buy green beans and roast them at home. I did, and never looked back.

I’ve learned that freshly roasted and ground coffee has a significantly different taste. What do I mean by “freshly”? Ground coffee begins to oxidize immediately. I’m talking about minutes here. I haven’t conducted any personal tests, but I’d guess that within thirty minutes to an hour, it’s already stale.

As far as roasting, the roasted beans often peak in flavor after resting for a day or two. After that, they start to go downhill. Five to seven days later, they’re almost finished. The flavor has changed to that bitter, tasteless, acid and acrid stuff that we’ve all come to know from almost every coffee we’ve ever had.

What makes a great coffee? First, the beans have to be picked only when they are ripe. They are then processed naturally to remove the outer fruit. The fruit is called a cherry because at the peak of ripeness, it’s dark red.

Starbucks thinks these are great beans. Most of them are not ripe.
Starbucks thinks these are great beans. Most of them are not even ripe. They buy cheap beans using exploited labor.

Deena and I had a good laugh at Starbucks (to which we are often forced while driving solely because of their ubiquity on the road) the other day. They put up this poster of their coffee farm. Notice that the coffee fruit are all different shades including even unripe green cherries. THAT is the very first reason that Starbucks coffee sucks! They don’t even bother buying ripe coffee because they can buy garbage beans (while exploiting foreign workers) for less than one dollar a pound. Yes, they do make obscene profit by selling their horrible beans for more than fifteen dollars per pound. Want to make a difference? Try buying FTO, or Fair Trade Organic coffee. It may not be any better than Starbucks, but at least you’re not exploiting poor people and encouraging the use of harmful chemicals in the world.

After a coffee is roasted, it’s best if used before maybe seven to ten days. Of course, that’s impossible unless you’re roasting small batches yourself. Or you live next to a micro-roaster. On the road, Deena and I are ever watchful for great coffee shops. A great coffee shop is one that not only has a good source of freshly roasted beans, but also has a great barista. (Making a really good espresso is another story/blog entirely!)

Jaco_5422The whole point of the above back story is that while we’re traveling, we are always on the lookout for a great coffee. In Costa Rica, many of the drip coffees, espressos and lattes were fine. The best latte and espresso however, were at La Casa del Café in Jaco, Puntarenas.

We were not expecting a small town like Jaco to have a micro-roaster. This coffee shop not only had a roasting machine in the back shed, but also had not one, but two of the better baristas we’ve encountered so far in our travels. Our first day, we met Oscar who made us a couple of incredible capuccinos. We talked for a while about coffee and roasting, and he invited us to come over the next day to watch him roast.

The next day we met with Juan, the owner of La Casa del Café, and Oscar who had fired up the roaster for a couple of batches. It turns out that Juan had purchased a small coffee plantation in the Tarrazú area some years before. He had no intention of making a business out of it, but, well, sometimes those things happen with hobbies, don’t they?

Jaco_5426The Tarrazú beans that they were roasting were consistent ripe cherries collected from one or two small farms. The greens were beautiful, almost translucent on the outside. The Tarrazú region is at an altitude of over 4000 feet. Because of the high altitude, the beans are concentrated and compact. In the industry, they’re called Strictly Hard Bean or sometimes Strictly High Grown.

When prepared as a pour-over (drip), the Tarrazú has a bright acidity with a little bit of spice and a wonderful cocoa undertone. Can you tell I’m really missing this amazing coffee?

Juan also was the one who recommended that we spend a little time in Monteverde on our way north. We’re glad he did. If you find yourself in Jaco, stop in for a great coffee and say hello.

 

 

Have You Met My Great-Great-etc Grandfather?

ManuelAntonio_5637

Handsome devil, isn’t he? Runs in the family. This guy was part of a monkey gang, stealing food from beach-goers in the Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica.

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This is the view from the beach where the monkey gang hung out.ManuelAntonio_5609

It’s funny how we all will stop and try to figure out what a few people are staring at. While we were hiking through the park we stopped and took pictures of this tree whose leaves grew in perfect circles. While we were doing this, several people stopped and looked up thinking that maybe we were seeing some rare bird.ManuelAntonio_5590

I wish I had put something next to this huge dragonfly so you could see how big it was. I’d guess he was at least six inches. (And us men always know how big six inches is!!)ManuelAntonio_5606

 

 

Getting Directions to Someone’s House in Costa Rica Is Much More Difficult Than You Think

After our Jaco Jungle Jam stay, we headed south to Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park. We had reservations for an AirBnB apartment close to town (we thought).

As it turns out, Costa Rica does not have street names and addresses. After spending three fruitless hours searching for our place, we gave up. No one answered any of the three phone numbers we had. No one knew where the mythical Colina Molita Road was.

At a hotel on the main drag, a reception clerk who actually knew the woman owner helped us tremendously by also trying to message her. Finally, he called around and found us a reasonably priced hotel nearby.

At that same time, a car pulled up looking for us. The apartment owner, who was out of the country, finally got the messages and sent a car to look for us and bring us to the apartment. The apartment was okay, but with Costa Rica’s severely cut terrain, the road there was almost a mile off the main drag and had a quarter-mile of 50% grade down hill and up hill. Uh, no thanks. Deena’s knees were not smiling at the prospect of walking that each day. We stayed at the hotel.

ManuelAntonio_5583Lesson learned: Costa Rica does not have street names and addresses. If you rent rooms with AirBnb, make sure the owner sends you GPS coordinates. At our next AirBnB stay in Escazú, the owner answered the phone and gave the taxi driver explicit instructions. It went something like this: “Exit at the construction materials store, go toward the cement plant that’s no longer there for a couple kilometers, then it’s the driveway on the left about fifty meters before the bus stop with the big tree. It’s the yellow house but now we’ve painted it green.” How’s that for an address?

We spent a day in Manuel Antonio Park where we saw some fascinating plants and beautiful vistas of the Pacific Ocean. The monkeys there are apparently well versed in scalping tourists. We watched one run up and grab a whole package of crackers right out of a woman’s hand who was trying to make a cheese and cracker snack on the beach. They’re fast when they want to be, and not afraid.

Let me see if this tourist left his wallet in his shoe. I can trade it for food
Let me see if this tourist left his wallet in his shoe.

 

Stalking the Wild Quetzel in the Monteverde Cloud Forest

While in Jaco, we frequented a certain micro-roaster coffee shop. When we told Juan, the owner, that we were headed for Arenal, he said “Oh, you must visit Monteverde. It’s very special.” We did. At an elevation of about 4000 feet, Monteverde is high enough to have coffee plantations and cloud forest. We decided to hire a guide through the Curi-Crancha Reserve because they have very high powered telescopes and know what to look for. We were lucky enough to see a couple quetzels and managed to photograph one. The tucan we saw was not so cooperative when it came to posing for us.

Monteverde_quetzel