Before the Bean

This is part two of a series about sustainable coffee processing methods in Costa Rica (See part one). Before we get to the coveted bean we know as coffee, there's a bit of sticky work to be done. The bean actually sits inside a pretty red cherry and only makes up about 18% of the fruit. The other 82% is consists of a sugary membrane, a red outer skin, pulp and parchment that all must be removed to get to the bean.


While there are many methods of doing this, (watch for future posts and tastings on wet and dry processing), at the end of the day, the by-products need to go somewhere. Traditionally, much of it was simply dumped into the rivers, causing environmental havoc (depleting oxygen and killing off life in the river) and contributing to climate change.

Costa Rica’s 50,000 coffee-producing families and 145 coffee mills are already feeling the effects of climate change, experiencing an estimated 2 percent loss in productivity annually. That’s a big impact, considering coffee is Costa Rica’s third largest export and employs 28% of its workforce. And so--the good news!--many producers are taking up the charge by finding inventive ways to put these by-products to use:

  • Dried pulp and husks are now providing fuel for the machines used to dry the beans (reducing the need for firewood or other fuels); Some farms are even feeding the organic material into a biogas generator to create methane and using it to generate electricity.
  • Pulp is also being composted into natural fertilizer (decreasing the need for polluting nitrogen-fertilizers), or used as feed for certain livestock.
  • Parchment is now going to make paper or being used for fuel.
  • And even the sugary mucilage is now being used to make some pretty good, albeit experimental, coffee cherry liquor.

Essentially, everything is used in some manner--saving costs to the mills, providing organic material to the soil, preserving valuable forests, and increasing production. 

When purchasing Six Depot coffee, we’re looking at all aspects of the process and are really excited about the efforts of our growing partners. And if we find a way to get our hands that coffee cherry liquor, we'll let you know! 

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