CAFE AND PORO TREES
From an Email sent Feb 2012
Your bananas and pineapples may come from Costa Rica, but its most famous export is café (coffee). Our property was once part of a cafétale (coffee plantation). Orosí Valley is noted for coffee, but the higher elevations in nearby Tarrazu and Tres Rios produce even finer acidity, body, and aroma. The mountains of tropical America now enjoy a near monopoly on the finest arabica coffees, because of their rich volcanic soil, stable sunlight, reliable rainfall, and ideal temperature.
First brewed in Ethiopia a thousand years ago, coffee found its way to Venice by 1615, Java by 1699, Martinique by 1720, and Costa Rica by 1779. In the 19th century, the Costa Rican government strongly encouraged coffee production, offering free plots of land to farmers to cultivate the plants. Coffee production in the Central Valley, still vital to the Costa Rican economy, has decreased in recent years due to urban sprawl, as the cities expanded into the countryside.
It is now time for the coffee harvest in the Orosí Valley. Coffee production here relies on cheap, seasonal labor, usually Nicaraguan immigrants, paid by the basket. They selectively pick the ripe red coffee berries from the tree by hand from October to February, because they do not all ripen at the same time.
At the beneficio, or processing plant, two green coffee beans are extracted from each cherry by pulping, the residue is removed from the beans by fermentation, the skins are peeled off of the beans, and they are sun-dried until golden. At this point, the beans can be shipped to their destinations for roasting, or roasted locally. Fifteen percent of Costa Rican coffee is sold to Starbucks, which roasts its own coffee, as do most other gourmet sellers.
Which brings me to the famous poró trees of the Orosí Valley. These spectacular trees are now in bloom across the coffee fields and beyond, displaying their handsome orange flowers. These fast-growing, broad-leafed trees are used to shade the coffee. Natural shade protects the coffee cherries from exposure to direct sunlight which could damage them.
The poró makes the ideal shade tree because the roots expel nitrogen directly into the soil, further nourishing the coffee. When pruned, the limbs of the poró grow out quickly, perfectly at pace with the rhythms of Costa Rica's rainy and dry seasons. This allows the coffee cherries to ripen more slowly and results in a more flavorful coffee. There are many enormous poró trees around our house, left unpruned after years serving the cafétale, glorifying our picturesque views of Costa Rica's most beautiful valley.