this most recent trip to coffee country took me to Costa Rica, where I met with many of our suppliers from West Valley, Central Valley and Tarrazu regions. what struck me most this trip, and perhaps more than any coffee trip in recent memory, was the actual relationship to the harvested cherry or fruit. we in the coffee buying world have an obsessive and compulsive sense of red ripe cherry. buyers look for uniformity from the pickers baskets down to receiving stations. from a micro-mill to the largest mills in the world, somehow us buyers expect a level of redness (or perfect pear yellow with the amarillo cultivars of coffee that ripen to a yellow or even an orange hue). we will pay higher prices if we see these perfectly handled and coddled cherries.
i will never forget my clash with this obsessive/compulsive drive to see perfection lifted from the trees themselves to aqua pulpers or pre-pupling stations at the mills around the world. i was riding on the top of a coffee receiving truck that actually drives to where the pickers are and logs in what each picker has harvested for the day. at the end of our 2 hours of watching the receiving right in the fields, we were asked if we could be gentlemen and let the women ride in the front cab and with us guys up on top of the giant Chevy truck with a hydraulic lift to dump out at least 2 or 3 thousand pounds of cherry at time. so, of course, we jumped up top and drove up the incredibly hilly and rocky road that makes up the mountainous territory that is Tarrazu. with the sun beating down on us and a sunset due to stretch out across the western scape, we bumped our way up the dirt road and i watched as 6 or 7 workers sit atop the mass of cherries, grind their feet into the cherry (as did I) for proper footing so that we would not fall off the 10-15 ft drop at the top of the truck’s walled storage area. workers threw cherry back and forth at each other, a shovel was deeply plowed into the center of the truck’s load of coffee and other tools and work materials. it was like a big bed of money and just, well, coffee. as simple as that. no romance, just a hard’s day’s work in an industry that has been through so many ups and downs. i found it funny that we would be so passionate about something that really, in all realistic views, feeds people on one end of the coffee chain and nourishes the souls of others who are so in love with the beverage that is coffee. at first i tried to not “damage” or dive too far into the mass of coffee cherries, but at some point as i looked down my entire foot was submerged under the coffee and my jeans were soaked with its pulp. it was like quicksand, but far more alluring and colorful.