Our day trip to the Poas Volcano included a stop at the Doka Coffee Plantation, situated on the fertile lower slopes of the volcano, an easy day trip from San Juan. The best coffee is grown at the relatively cooler altitudes you find between 800 -1600 meters (2600-5200 feet) above sea level.
Doka Estates is the largest and one of the oldest coffee plantations in Costa Rica and offers a nice place to stop for lunch and learn about everything involved in the growth and production of coffee. It's been run by the same family for the past 70 years.
The tour starts with a a step-by-step explanation of the coffee growing process, from seed germination to the planting and harvesting of crops. It takes a number of years before a coffee plant starts bearing fruit.
We visited towards the end of the coffee picking season (typically September through late February) and the bushes were filled with lots of ripe and unripe "cherries" (the pit of which yields the valuable coffee beans).
Doka has the oldest Wet Mill in Costa Rica, some of it's equipment being more than 100 years old. During your tour you can see the stages of separating and preparing the coffee beans.
The first step involves washing the cherries in a lot of water. The best coffee cherries sink, while lower quality fruit (e.g. unripe, insect-damaged) floats.
The next step involves shelling the skin and pulp of the best cherries and washing them, and from here they go into a fermentation tank to get rid of sugar.
After this, the beans are dried. The best coffee results from sun-drying rather than just machine drying, and the estate has large drying area. Beans are normally spread out to be dried in the sun and are sifted by a rake every 45 minutes. When rain threatens, they are raked into piles and covered with a tarp.
After they are dry, the are put into large bags and sold for export to roasters around the world -- especially the USA, South Korea and Japan.
Once the Tour is over, you are invited to try the different roasts of coffee, and are of course given the opportunity to purchase coffee to take with you, which we did -- makes great gifts (around $9.00 a bag, and it's v-e-r-y good coffee)
Doka has a nice restaurant where we had a buffet lunch that day, the food being very good.