Exploring Costa Rica
Part 1 – Coffee
While visiting Costa Rica with my family in January, I felt that the trip was a perfect opportunity to write about aromatherapy-related local products. I quickly found out that Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) naturally grows in the area – its unmistakable aroma floats in the air every day after 5pm (how delicious!), but I couldn’t pinpoint a farm or a distillery to visit. Then I realized I had nearly forgotten about two ingredients we commonly use in aromatherapy, that are precisely what Costa Rica excels in growing: coffee and cacao!
Our trip took us to San Jose, La Fortuna, Monteverde and Montezuma. While the latter is my favorite place to stay and enjoy the beach, Monteverde is a rich, luxuriant, humid jungle that holds one of Costa Rica’s greatest prides: coffee plantations. We had the opportunity to visit the farm El Trapiche – meaning “the sugar mill” – used to press the juice out of sugar canes – where we found coffee, sugar cane, and a few plants of cacao in a greenhouse, as the region of Monteverde is too cold and too windy to properly grow cacao.
Coffee – from plant to cup
Coffee grows within the borders of the “coffee belt” that includes Latin America (Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil), Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya), and parts of Asia (Sumatra, Papua New Guinea). The Coffea genus belongs to the Rubiaceae family, the two most popular species being arabica (Coffea arabica) and robusta (Coffea canephora). Costa Rica exports 80% of its production to Canada, Japan and Australia, and keeps 20% for its own consumption.
It takes 3 years for a coffee plant to produce fruits, that are harvested during a 3 to 4 month period. The pickers in the El Trapiche plantation use a wicker basket attached to their waist, and then pour the collected fruits into a cafuela, a steel box that typically contains about 13kg of coffee. From these 13kg, only 3kg will be sold, the rest (made up of peel and mucilage) is used for compost.
Coffee shrubs can suffer from too much sun exposure, and from a beetle know as broca, that farmers in El Trapiche deal with in an eco-friendly way, using water and pheromones. But even with responsible farming practices, the situation in coffee plantations is alarming: populations of bees and butterflies are not what they used to be.
There are several ways to dry coffee fruits once harvested:
- Natural process: dried with the peel, for fruity notes
- Honey process: the peel is removed and the beans are dried with the sweet mucilage, for less acidity
- Washed process: the skin and mucilage are all removed using water and fermentation
The peel, called cascara, can be used in an infusion known as “coffee cherry tea”, but is mostly used for compost.
The raw beans, that do not yet possess the famous aroma, are then sorted by size. The medium size is considered the best quality, while bigger and smaller beans are destined for the instant coffee and food industries.
The roasting process is where the magic happens, and for that reason, coffee beans are widely purchased unroasted, for companies to finish processing using their own methods. Roasting coffee is an art and there are “master roasters” who are considered to have the greatest skill. We can usually find three types of roasts available: light, medium and dark, depending how long the beans are left in the roaster.
The secret for brewing the best coffee? Buy the beans fresh roasted if possible. If not, then buy the beans whole to preserve freshness, and grind them just before brewing your coffee. I am an adept of the French press, which keeps more of the essential oils in the brew, and offers a more vibrant experience of the aroma – and a stronger effect on the body!
I use coffee oil in my practice (Cold pressed Coffee Oil, Coffea arabica, from Zayat Aroma, Canada) mostly for its energizing aroma, but also for its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, healing and lipotropic (helps catalyze the breakdown of fat during metabolism in the body) effects. I included it recently in a recipe to help digestion, with great results.
Coffee grounds are also fun to use for scrubs: they are great to enhance micro-circulation in the skin and to prevent cellulite.
Anti-Aging Coffee Serum
Coffee oil is packed with antioxidants, which makes it a wonderful oil to use in a daytime face serum – so you can also enjoy the energizing effect in the morning!
Here is a face serum recipe (2oz or 60ml) that is a true antioxidant powerhouse for your face:
50 ml Jojoba oil
1 tsp (5ml) Pomegranate oil
1 tsp (5ml) Argan oil
8 drops Coffee oil (Coffea arabica)
8 drops Clary sage essential oil
8 drops Frankincense essential oil
Stay tuned for Exploring Costa Rica Part 2, Cacao!
And, as they say in Costa Rica… Pura Vida!