If there is one thing that I love in the world-its coffee. Ask my husband, as I push him out of the way to get to my coffee pot each and every morning. If you look back at my blog post “New Year’s Resolution-Not” you will see that coffee is at the top of the list of food/drink I cannot live without. We were on a cruise in the southern Caribbean and the opportunity came up to tour a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic. I was all in.
The ship docked in Puerto Plata and we boarded a bus for the trip to the mountain coffee farm. We traveled past the resorts, and headed up dirt roads, winding our way up into the mountainous canopy. This was not just a touristy-tour. We were going to assist in the planting of coffee seeds for a new crop of coffee trees.
We arrived in the town of Pedro Garcia, a rural town in which coffee growing is its mainstay. The area in the past had suffered a blight on the coffee trees called “coffee leaf rust” This fungus would cause all of the leaves to brown and fall off, killing the tree. With the loss of so many coffee trees, the people of Pedro Garcia began to leave the area. In order to help the towns like Pedro Garcia, the government stepped in with a reforestation program to bring the coffee trees back. Towns like Pedro Garcia are uniquely suited to grow the particular variety, Arabica Tipica, given the climate, altitude and the canopy required.
Coffee Tree Facts
Coffee trees are rather a finicky plant. They have to be grown at high elevations, no lower than 350 feet above sea level. They also need to be grown under other higher trees. Coffee farmers will co-mingle their coffee trees with higher growing crops like citrus and avocado. A coffee tree is more like a bush, and grows to about 11 feet in height. It takes a coffee tree 3 years to begin bearing fruit. The tree will bear productively for up to 20 years, with one harvest per year. But here is the fact that blew me away:
How many pounds of coffee does one coffee tree produce annually? Ready?
That’s it. Three pounds of coffee per year. So the 25 pounds of coffee I personally drink in one year requires NINE trees. According to a San Diego State University study, the USA consumes 12 million pounds of coffee annually. Which comes out to 4 million trees needed to supply that demand. Yikes.
On to the planting. We were brought to an area with a large amount of compost. Small black bags with drainage were filled with the compost, and a coffee seed was pushed down into the center. The bags are then brought to a nursery, which is shaded with netting to filter the sun. The trees will grow in the nursery for about three months before being transplanted into the field. Our groups set to work, and planted 359 seeds into the bags. Our tour leader told us our group had set the record for planting the most seeds!
Compost and the Seedling Starter Bags
After planting, we went to see how the coffee is processed. The beans are hand-picked and spread out to dry for several weeks. They are raked several times in order to dry evenly.
Once dried, the beans are hulled. The beans are run through a hulling machine to remove the outer husk. The hulls are then ground up and used as natural fertilizer.
Hulling Machine & Box for Dried Beans
After hulling the beans, known as “green beans” are sold to coffee buyers. In Pedro Garcia, the beans are loaded into a wooden box that holds approximately ten pounds of beans.
The beans are then roasted to the desired level. Once roasted, the coffee is ground and ready to be brewed.
At Pedro Garcia, the farmer demonstrated how the beans are ground locally with a giant mortar and pestle. The thumping noise from the grinding alerts neighbors that coffee is brewing, and a gathering usually happens. After grinding, the two local women brewed the coffee through mesh bag, and served the fresh coffee for us to try.
Roasting the beans, the mortar & pestle, me pounding the beans, brewing the coffee.
In a word, heaven. Rich, beautiful aroma, intense flavor but not bitter.
We were then treated to a local stew that consisted of root vegetables and braised meats. The broth was fortifying, and the meats were tender and flavorful.
The view from the porch where we had lunch was spectacular. Rain showers were rolling through the mountains and valleys. We were treated to this beautiful rainbow below us.
Our adventure took place at the Tubagua EcoLodge. Tim Hall, owner and founder, has created a place to relax and to learn about the ecology of the area. He is passionate about continuing the agricultural legacy of Pedro Garcia and offers a variety of programs at the lodge. He is hoping that the expanding interest in Eco-tourism continues to grow and will bring more people to visit Pedro Garcia.
For me, while it was fascinating to learn more about coffee farming, I was very glad for the opportunity to contribute to the reforestation project. Farming here is such hard work, and by us providing labor, the farmer was able to get trees started and actually make money at it. I was happy to spend my dollars this way, as opposed to buying a Tshirt or yet another refrigerator magnet. Plus, I got to see where my coffee comes from. We are so disconnected from all of our food sources. Every time I have coffee now, I think of the trees I help plant. I am hoping I started enough trees to cover my consumption.
If you would like to take a trip like this, look at the many ecotourism trips that are available around the world. You get to learn, and you get to contribute.
What could be better?