the world's smartest travel social network
El Toledo Organic Coffee Tour & Farm in Atenas, Costa Rica shows you all about coffee from bean to cup.
Christmastime is the peak of coffee picking season in Costa Rica. All over the green mountains of Atenas, in Costa Rica's Central Valley, you can find workers (mostly Nicaraguan) carrying their plastic baskets filled with red coffee berries to collecting trucks. The sweet-sour smell of coffee beans being washed and processed is prevalent at the beneficios de café, or coffee processing plants. And when they start roasting, the rich aroma fills the Atenas valleys.
Up in the cool, green mountain neighborhood of San Isidro in Atenas, El Toledo Coffee is one of only a handful of organic coffee farmers in the entire country of Costa Rica, and has the distinction of offering the only organic coffee tour in Costa Rica.
At 3,609 feet (1,100 m), the higher altitude in San Isidro provides perfect coffee-growing conditions and there are at least 700 coffee farms here – although only seven families in a small association produce organic coffee on about 40 acres. Costa Rica has become known around the world for its high quality coffee. Costa Rica’s highlands and mountains have perfect conditions for growing coffee: rich volcanic soil, a dry and a wet season, and relatively stable temperatures.
Coffee has played a central role in the town of Atenas’ 148-year history. From small independent coffee producers to the large cooperative of more than 1,000 coffee farmers with CoopeAtenas R.L., coffee is a principal business here.
The El Toledo Organic Coffee Tour and Farm is a small family business run by Gerardo Calderon and his wife, Rosario (Sole) Vargas, their sons Raul and Gabriel Calderon, and Gabriel’s wife, Ivette. Inherited from Gerardo’s father, Tito Calderon, 88, Gerardo changed coffee production after 60 years on the family’s nearly nine acres to being mostly organic 18 years ago.
“In Atenas I am the only farmer selling coffee that is organic,” said Gerardo Calderon. “Our motive was for health. It wasn’t for money or a fad, it was for health. I realized that working with chemicals will lead to suffering later in life.”
Gerardo then began adopting principles of permaculture – an agricultural philosophy of working with, rather than against nature. He began planting more species of trees and leaving trees in the plantation – mostly fruit-bearing to attract birds. The shade helps protect the coffee, the diversification lends balance against a monoculture, and tour participants love the bird-watching. He also plants beans and corn among the coffee trees for multiple crops.
“El Toledo Organic Coffee Tour, besides being a coffee tour, is dedicated to teaching people that we can live in harmony with nature,” noted Gerardo.
The Atenas coffee tours are held daily by reservation. Cost for the two-hour tour is $20 per person; and children under 10 years old are free. The very informative and well-done tour will show you how Gerardo and his family grow coffee, process the beans and roast them into three finished coffee products, all right on their farm. You also will learn how to make the perfect cup of coffee for your personal taste. You can buy El Toledo organic coffee on your tour, at the weekly Atenas Farmer’s Market, and at a few boutique hotels in Atenas.
For Gerardo, the tradition of coffee in Costa Rica has been a love affair his whole life. “My parents taught me to esteem and love the coffee plants because that is what gave us our livelihood,” he said. “But I learned to appreciate a cup of coffee and enjoy coffee that we produce and grow here on our farm. It’s the happiness of a moment drinking coffee with my family. It’s love.”