On this day, we were on our own in Monte Verde without our guide, Orlando. We began with another terrific breakfast, provided in the reception area of Cabinas Capulin before setting out for the Don Juan coffee and cacao tour. The Don Juan tour was billed as “three tours in one:” coffee, sugar cane, and cacao. The sugar cane portion seemed like an afterthought, and the coffee portion was good, but for me the highlight was the cacao portion.
Having been on this tour, it is amazing to me that people ever figured out how to turn coffee beans into food. The plant germinates in a green house for two or three years before being planted in the ground. The plant is only good for 25 -30 years. This coffee plantation pulls out the plant at 25 years and plants a new seedling. Of those 25 years, they only get 15 harvests. The beans must be hand picked, because the beans ripen at different rates. Our guide said that the pickers might visit the same plant 15-20 times during the six-week harvest season. Then the bean goes through a six or seven step process in which the various layers are removed to reveal what we know as the coffee bean, which is then roasted. The roasting time determines the flavor of the coffee. Our guide asserted that light roast provides the best, non-bitter, non-burnt taste. She also said that longer roasting times, such as “dark roast,” does little to make the coffee stronger, despite popular misconception, while giving the coffee more of a bitter taste. Except for Sam, none of us are coffee drinkers, so we found this presentation and tour interesting, but not overly so.
This particular plantation is small. They only sell to the US via internet sales. The major coffee brands in the US only buy from large plantations. I tried a cup of the light roast at the end of the tour. I still don’t like coffee, but the Don Juan light roast was less terrible than other coffee I have tried.
The next step of the tour was showing how sugar cane is pressed to create a sugary water. This sugary water can then be processed into sugar. In this part of the country, most of the sugar cane is processed into rum.
By far the most interesting portion of the tour was the discussion of cacao. The cacao pod was surprising. When our guide cut the pod open, what came out looked like meat. Tom commented that if he had seen this before ever seeing chocolate, he might not have ever eaten chocolate. The meat-like stuff you can see in the picture is peeled and processed into the cacao nut. This nut is then roasted. The nut is often then processed to separate the cacao powder from the butter. The butter is used in cosmetics, generally. The powder is then used to make chocolate. Our guide talked about how you have to look at the label to make sure that the chocolate has a lot of cacao in it and is not adulterated with “chocolate flavors” and other additives. Apparently the pure cacao has many health benefits. the good stuff is 90 something percent cacao with a little of the cacao butter added back.
She mixed the cacao a few different ways for us. The Aztecs thought this was the food of the gods. Sugar cane and coffee are not indigenous to this part of the world, so the Aztecs did not mix the cacao with sugar. They mixed it with chili powder and perhaps cinnamon. This mixture was then stirred into hot water. Because the pure cacao has a number of health benefits, the Aztecs felt stronger and satisfied. We tried it this way. It was really good! Then she mixed in a little brown sugar from their sugar cane, and this mixture was terrific. During this portion of the tour, she showed us a number of ways that the cacao is processed and used. I found this portion of the tour the most interesting — plus, we got to sample stuff!
After the tour was over, we rode in a traditional Costa Rican ox cart back to the mandatory gift shop. The ox cart, originally from Europe, probably Italy, holds a special place in Costa Rican culture. It was the first major transportation system that brought coffee from the mountains to the coast. Costa Rica was exporting coffee before it was an independent country. Each cart is individually painted and is a work of art in its own way.
Following the coffee tour, we set out on a hike along a trail on the grounds of our cabins. The Cabinas Capulin is also a working farm, so along the trail there were some parts of the farm to view.
It has rained every afternoon since our arrival, so the ground was slippery. Sam’s stumbling and near falls were very funny.
The trail was well marked. We weren’t very quiet during our walk, so we didn’t see any wildlife. There was one point where we heard a lot of birds in a distant tree being quite loud, but we never saw the birds.
There seem to be very few flying, biting insects in this area. We were wandering through the cloud forest without applying any bug repellant, and we were never bothered by mosquitos, flies, or other insects.
Upon our return from our hike, Tom and I played with the frisbee for an hour, and then I made grilled cheese sandwiches on the hot plate in our cabin. We then spent a relaxing afternoon reading and taking a siesta in our cabins.
This was the only afternoon / evening since we arrived without torrential rain. We took advantage of this clear weather to book a night nature walk through the forest with a guide. Armed with flashlights, we ventured into the forest. We saw a sloth, some snakes, a few sleeping birds, and some interesting nocturnal insects. It was a little pricey for what we saw, but it was worth doing once.
We returned to our cabin to snack on some popcorn and relax before bed.