Yesterday we had the opportunity to take a tour of Mi Cafecito Coffee Cooperative, and learn about the agricultural, processing, and business side of organic, fair-trade, shade-grown coffee. Mi Cafecito in Spanish means little coffee break with snack – it’s an affectionate term, like a pleasant little coffee break. Coffee needs to be grown between 600 and 2,000 meters of altitude, and in rich volcanic soil. Mi Cafecito is the public face of the Sarapiqui Coffee Cooperative, which has 137 small growers that work together to process and sell their coffee. We first went to see the coffee plants – the bushes themselves are about 6 to 8 feet high. The beans ripen gradually, so over a several month period they have to go back to the same plant over and over to pick ripe beans. Coffee beans that have turned red are called first quality coffee, and those are the ones you want to pick. Coffee beans that are green are second quality coffee, and if picked when green are lower quality than the red ripe beans. Coffee does well in partial to almost full shade, and if trees are left among the coffee they provide many benefits. Sometimes rainforest trees are left over the coffee, and other times different trees, such as bananas are planted. Banana trees amongst coffee plants offer several benefits – they provide shade, they provide a distraction fruit for birds so they don’t go after the ripe coffee beans, and they slowly release water to the coffee plants during the “drier” season of growing. One of the benefits to having trees in your coffee plantation is that many species of wildlife can survive in and among your coffee plants. When in the grocery store and you purchase shade grown coffee, you are supporting native tropical wildlife. We saw three different types of bird’s nests in the small sample plot of coffee growing at Mi Cafecito, including a tiny hummingbird nest with a baby hummingbird inside! Once the red coffee “berries” are picked, they are placed in a big machine to pull the cover off the actual beans. This is what the inside of the coffee “berries” look like. You can see the two coffee beans! The beans are then dried in three different ways: First, they are air dried in the sun for 1 week. Then they are placed in a drying machine for two days. Finally they are stored to cure in a storage area with 12% humidity for 5 to six months. The beans are then packaged and shipped green (unfinished) to their destination if it is out of Costa Rica. Green beans will stay fresh for up to a year, while roasted coffee is only good for 4 to 6 months. Although I really enjoyed all of our tour, the last part was my absolute favorite. We got to have our Cafecito, our little coffee break. We drank fresh-roasted coffee and had Costa Rican pico de gallo (very different than Mexican pico) and queso fresco with fresh tortillas. A really enjoyable day!