Costa Rica Diary: Agritourism

by Rachel Creager Ireland

The last activity we did in Monteverde was a tour of El Trapiche, which is an agritourism plantation that grows coffee, sugar, and cacao. This was one of the tamer of our adventures. Our guide (whose name escapes me, but you can see pictures of him on their site linked above) was excellent, very knowledgeable and confident. The tour was quite well-done, and we all enjoyed seeing how these plants grow and become the foods we eat. We took a leisurely walk around the farm while chewing chunks of raw sugar cane, which was tasty though too fibrous to eat whole. We also sampled the fruits of both coffee and cacao, which were also surprisingly sweet and tasty, if not terrifically fleshy. We tasted raw beans of both, and the only surprise there was that anyone ever figured out that fermenting and/or roasting those could lead to a food or beverage so fabulously palatable as coffee and chocolate.

We were treated to a demonstration of the traditional ways of pressing sugar cane. They had a water-powered sugar mill, which was fun to watch. There was also an ox-powered mill, and I admit I was a bit distressed to see oxen wearing on their massive necks a gaily-colored yoke that I probably couldn’t even lift. They only had to walk around the mill once, though, and they didn’t seem any more inclined to stop than they had been to start. Everyone was a safe distance to avoid getting splattered when one of the oxen let out an abundant stream of urine. I think that part is usually machine-powered these days. Then we made the traditional form of sugar by stirring the thickened juice until it hardened into a paste. We took a block of it with us, and used it when we baked and cooked on the rest of the trip.

We harvested coffee beans from a field, and we watched the various machines that sort and roast the beans. We tasted cacao beans in different stages of fermentation. Now, if you’ve ever looked up the etymology of the word chocolate, whatever you found wasn’t true. Forget about the Aztecs and the Mayas. In fact, the word is from cacao and some Latin-derived version of milk. So, if you see a product that is called chocolate, but doesn’t have milk in it, it is really only sweetened cocoa, called chocolate because, you know, marketing. If it doesn’t have milk, it isn’t chocolate.

Please don’t tell that to the people at Chocolove. Or this fabulous lady.

We tasted a shot of guaro (distilled spirit of cane), which was more alcoholic than rum, and nearly came back up as fast as I tossed it down.

To settle that, we finished our tour with a delicious little taco filled with a vegetable called arracache, a drink of cane juice and lemon, and a cup of coffee.

We bought coffee to take with us in the shop. Rowan bought a baseball cap that said “Costa Rica.”

And we were off to La Fortuna.


Note: Kevin’s and my photos got mixed up on iphoto, so I have no idea who took which. They’re probably all Kevin’s. Also, since Rowan is wearing the Costa Rica baseball cap on the tour, she can’t have bought it in the gift shop at the end. Oh, now I remember, I think she bought it in Santa Elena the day she made friends with a stray dog and it followed us into the supermarket/souvenir shop . . .