At this old plantation along the slopes of the Poás volcano, a young tour guide pulls some of the few remaining cherries from the branches of hearty green coffee plants and delves into a detailed monologue about the various layers of the coveted produce — from the squishy fruit down to the seeds that ultimately get roasted, crushed and brewed.
Reynaldo González knows the subject well, having started as a field worker 10 years ago at the Doka Estate, situated just north of the country’s central valley region. He explains the difference between the two beans that grow inside the fruit known as a coffee cherry and the single beans found in the peaberry. The peaberries are sweeter because the sugar that should be shared by two beans is concentrated in a single bean, producing more mild, mellow brews. Yet they are considered to be of lesser quality than the regular two-bean variety.
Ask him which of the beans on this farm offers the best brew, and the answer is left up to the consumer.
“It’s the one you like,” said González, 28. “It’s like wine. It depends on your taste. The best coffee is the one you like the most.”
Like wine, coffee is back on the public radar as a healthy treat.
Once touted as potentially harmful, coffee — up to five cups a day — is linked in new studies to a number of health benefits, from diminishing the likelihood of dying from heart disease and developing Type 2 diabetes to helping with depression and weight loss. None of the studies are definitive, and researchers have yet to pinpoint exactly what makes coffee good for the body, but many point to both antioxidants found in brewed coffee and caffeine in moderate amounts as beneficial.
An advisory committee of health and nutrition experts that make recommendations to U.S. health and agriculture officials who will issue the 2015 Dietary Guidelines this year recently addressed caffeine intake for the first time. According to their report, “strong and consistent evidence shows that consumption of coffee within the moderate range (3 to 5 cups a day or up to 400 mg a day of caffeine) is not associated with increased risk of major chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer and premature death in healthy adults.”
González has his own theory: “You’re supposed to drink coffee black to get all the benefits,” he said. “If you add sugar or milk, you spoil it.”
For former coffee drinker Kim Kerry, who was visiting the farm from New Hampshire, the new coffee-is-good chatter is kind of a bummer.
“My doctor told me that for many years, he had to tell patients not to drink coffee,” said Kerry, 60. “Now he has to tell them to drink a lot. I used to be a coffee drinker, then I switched to tea. I wish I had known about the health benefits.”
Still, she indulged in the coffee samples and nibbled on the chocolate-covered seeds, promptly proclaiming them “delicious.”
Along a tour through the 470-acre Doka Estate, González shared some interesting tidbits about the ancient seeds:
▪ Costa Rica, by law, only produces Arabica coffee. The beans grown here can be found in the United States and Europe under various brand names, including Starbucks, Peet’s, Green Mountain and Maxwell House.
▪ The Doka name comes from the original German owners in the 1920s. The plantation has been family-owned since its inception and has gone through three generations, thus the name for its own roasts, Café Tres Generaciones.
▪ It takes four years for coffee cherries to actually produce coffee. The older the plant gets, the less productive it becomes. Coffee plants can live for 30 years, but only produce for 20.
“We try to avoid pesticides, but when we have to use it, they are eco-friendly,” González said.
▪ Beans go through long process before they end up as part of the dark liquid in a coffee cup. After they are picked off the shrubs (harvesting season runs from October through February), they go through a water mill to separate cherries from peaberries (aka floaters). The fruit is peeled off the beans, which then go through a washing and rinsing process and must dry for five days before the beans, retained in their final parchment layer, are stored in 130-pound bags for aging and shipment. Beans in the aging process with parchment are good for three years. Once the parchment comes off, the beans need to be roasted within a year and a half.
▪ The lighter the coffee bean, the stronger the caffeine. The darker-colored beans roast longer and often emit an oil. They have less caffeine but also are less acidic and have a stronger coffee flavor. And in case you’ve ever wondered how many beans it takes to make a hearty shot of espresso, it’s about 40.
Roaster Hugo Leon is a firm believer of coffee’s health benefits.
“Es buenisimo,” he said. “Coffee activates me. But it has to be plain, nothing added, to be good. It’s excellent to prevent diabetes. If you drink coffee, it’s hard to get diabetes.”
Massachusetts residents Jim Russell, 64, and his wife, Dot, 65, are both casual drinkers, maybe two cups a day. They, too, have accepted reported health benefits as truth.
“It’s definitely good for you,” said Jim. “Just the lines outside of Dunkin Donuts tell you.”
His wife said she was glad to read somewhere that it’s good for dementia, because her mother died of complications tied to dementia.
“Your own body is a good study,” Dot Russell said. “I need two cups of coffee, or at least one a day. Otherwise, I get a headache.”
Marlene Sabau, originally from Peru but now a resident of Toronto, dismissed all studies — both those that previously warned against drinking too much coffee and those now urging increased consumption. She’s been drinking coffee since she was a child.
“At one point they said that if you drink coffee, you would not be fertile. Well, I proved that wrong with two kids,” Sabau said. “These studies change all the time. I really don’t care what they say. We all have to die at some point to leave space for somebody else.”
1 tablespoon freshly ground coffee
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
8 slices bacon
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground sirloin
8 slices smoked provolone or Gouda cheese
8 hamburger buns
8 slices red onion
8 slices tomato
Mix first six ingredients, through sea salt, in a small bowl; reserve. Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp; transfer to paper towels to drain, then break in half and reserve. Gently mix chuck and sirloin in a large bowl. Form meat into 8 patties, each about 3 1/2 to 4 inches in diameter and 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick. Using thumb, make a slight indentation in center of each patty. Prepare a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle 1 coffee rub evenly over the tops of each patty, then place patties on grill, rub side down. Grill about 4 minutes or until slightly charred, then flip. Place 2 bacon slice halves on each burger and cook 3 minutes. Top each with 1 cheese slice, cover and cook until cheese melts, about 1 more minute. Place burgers atop bottom halves of buns, top with onions and tomatoes. Serves 8.
Source: Adapted from Epicurious.com.
2 cups boiling-hot water
3 tablespoons instant-espresso powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
3 tablespoons Tia Maria (coffee liqueur)
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup dry Marsala
1 pound (2 1/2 cups) mascarpone cheese
1 cup chilled heavy cream
36 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers; from two 7-ounce packages)
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
Stir together water, espresso powder, 1 tablespoon sugar and Tia Maria in a shallow bowl until sugar has dissolved, then cool. Beat egg yolks, Marsala and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water using a whisk or handheld electric mixer until tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. Beat in mascarpone until just combined. Beat cream in a large bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Fold mascarpone mixture into whipped cream gently but thoroughly.
Dipping both sides of each ladyfinger into coffee mixture, line bottom of a 13-by-9-by-3-inch baking pan with 18 ladyfingers in 3 rows, trimming edges to fit if necessary. Spread half of mascarpone filling on top. Dip remaining 18 ladyfingers in coffee and arrange over filling in pan. Spread remaining mascarpone filling on top and dust with cocoa. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours. Let tiramisu stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving, then dust with more cocoa. Serves 8 to 10.
Note: You can substitute 2 cups freshly brewed espresso for the water and instant-espresso powder. Tiramisu can be chilled up to 2 days.
Source: Adapted from Epicurious.com.