How To Make Coffee, Part 2: The Factory

After touring the fields and gardens of the coffee plantation at Hacienda Real, we walked over to the on-site factory where they process the beans. 

Workers use baskets to hold the red, ripe coffee berries as they pick them. When they have a full basket, they head back to the factory and pour their baskets into the square metal box for measuring (an exact number of kilos). When it's full, the box of coffee berries is then dumped into the hopper:


The berries pass through the hopper into a large holding bin, where they are rinsed with clean water piped in from the river. The rinsing is mostly for cooling the berries off from their time in the warm sun:


From the hopper, the berries pass through this giant food mill to remove the first two skins and layers of pulp. If you look at the orange square in the middle, you can see the spiral-shaped auger (which you will recognize if you use a food mill for any tomato processing or applesauce making). The pulp and skins pass through the tube toward the machinist, and they are eventually used for compost. The remaining beans pass into the gray chute:


From that chute, the beans are moved down a level into the sorters, which divide them by grade (size). You can see the holes in the black tumbler through which the beans pass as they are sorted:


Once graded, the beans are held in large storage tanks to ferment in water. The length of fermentation time determines how sweet the coffee bean will be. Below is one full vat of fermenting beans, which shows that the factory is only just beginning to get going for this season:


After fermentation, the beans pass through a series of dryers to reduce the humidity level in the bean. The first is a pressure dryer, which squeezes water out of the beans:


The water drips out the bottom, but the beans pass through a conveyor to the left and into some ovens. These ovens are fueled by the dry, discarded hulls of the coffee beans and other organic tinder from the farm to reduce waste:


The factory here uses mostly machines to dry the beans, because it rains so often in this part of Costa Rica, especially during the coffee season. But the beans do also spend some time drying the really old-fashioned way, in the sun:


Once dried, coffee beans are a light, golden tan and smell like dried hay:


They still have two remaining skins. One is a hull that is easily removed (for later use as fuel): 


The other skin is a greenish gray, and needs to be rubbed off the bean. Both of these final hullings happen by machine.

Finally, the coffee is bagged in burlap sacks:



Once bagged, the coffee is stored in a large wooden silo:


The silo is also home to a family of bats, who are encouraged to live there thanks to their impressive insect-hunting skills:


Most of the beans sold by Hacienda Real are sold unroasted and in large quantities to buyers from all over the world. Shipping them unroasted helps conserve their flavor and aroma, and also allows each company to roast them in the manner their customers prefer. Most Costa Rican buyers prefer a medium roast, while Americans tend to roast theirs darker. Hacienda Real supplies organic Arabica beans to McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts, but those companies achieve their blends (and a cheaper final product) by mixing beans from many suppliers. Still, odds are good that at some point in the recent past you've sipped some coffee that started here in Costa Rica.

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