The fertile volcanic slopes of Costa Rica provide rich soil and the ideal location for many coffee farms. The Doka Estate, located on the slopes of the Alajuela Poas Volcano outside of San Jose, produces some of Costa Rica’s best coffee beans. The Vargas family operates this farm with pride and care; their brand is Café Tres Generaciones (Three Generations Coffee), which conveys the family’s commitment to growing the best coffee trees in Costa Rica for over 75 years.
Important living history
To the Vargas family, coffee is more than a beverage, it is a way of life.
In 1929, Don Vargas was a small businessman from San Isidro of Sabanilla. He felt commercial business was in peril, so he sold his store and bought a small dairy farm. Twenty years later, he exchanged his dairy farm for a 2.8 hectares (6.9 acres) coffee plantation; he did not know anything about coffee growing. From this humble beginning, he started the Doka Estate. It would be thirty years before he would see the wisdom of his decisions.
The Doka Estate grew over the years to 1,600 hectares (~3,953 acres); in 1959, his sons assumed responsibility for operations along with their children and many employees. The commercial name chosen for the operation was San Eduviges, in homage to the Saint who provides shelter and food to families that do not have any. The company logo, “V” was formed by two coffee leaves representing the heart of family tradition, or the golden grain.
Today, the family is dedicated to developing production, roasting, and exporting quality coffee around the world while maintaining a balance between the soil and environment. Tourism also now plays an important role in the business to educate visitors about the importance of responsible agriculture and support of natural resources.
A short drive into the hills surrounding San Jose, Costa Rica, brings you to the Doka Estate.
A coffee expert provides guided tours daily, each filled with fun facts, operational details, and the scents of fresh coffee. The objective of the tours is to educate and inform visitors about the entire coffee production process, but fun and hands-on experience are also incorporated as you learn about the production, harvesting, processing, and roasting of coffee beans.
The Vargas family starts their plants from seed, the first stop in the tour. Visitors see how seeds are gathered and started in greenhouse-like seedbeds. As the guide shares information about the history of the estate, varieties of plants found on the plantation, and a short geography lesson to illustrate why the area is well-suited to coffee farms. This stop concludes with an explanation about plant development to the point of planting the seedling in the fertile soil to become strong producing plants.
Plants on the plantation are up to 20 years old. Every year about five percent of the plants are replaced with new seedlings and about twelve percent are pruned to ensure a healthy crop that is resistant to diseases. As visitors walk to the next stop in the tour, they pass plants in varying stages of ripeness. Some tours offer visitors the opportunity to pick up a basket and harvest the beans from the plants like the local laborers – a learning experience by itself that this is not easy work.
The second stop is the oldest humid coffee processing plant in the world. It was declared an Architectural Heritage for Humanity site in 2003; it is still operated by hydraulic power to this day. Here you witness the first classification of the grains. The beans begin their de-pulping process as they move through the grinders.
The third stop shows how the honey of the grain is cut in the fermentation tanks. This step is critical to the task of the coffee.
Finally the coffee beans are dried in the Guardiola or patios under the hot sun. Here, the beans are turned by hand using a rake-like tool to ensure even drying of the beans. Once dried, the beans are stored in the warehouse according to grade until they are exported. Some beans are peeled and roasted in country for local coffee sales.
The fourth and final stop of the tour is the roasting plant. Here the scent of fresh coffee harvesting is strong. The guide explains how the duration and temperature of the roasting process determines the type of roast. There are three main types of roast processed at the Doka Estate – blonde, medium, and dark.
Each tour lasts about one hour. Tours are available seven days a week. Reservations are recommended, but the tours are free.
Sampling and shopping
After the tour, visitors are invited to the Café Tres Generaciones where they can sample several different blends and roasts. The café is conveniently located adjacent to the Casa de Artesanias (House of Artisans) where you can find the coffee packed in sealed pouches as well as handicrafts made by local Costa Rican craftsmen for purchase.
In addition to the beans prepared for exportation, the Estate custom roasts several blends for guests and local markets. The award-winning blends include:
Peaberry AA – a medium roast coffee containing the caracolillo bean, which is more acidic and sweet than other beans; French Roast – a medium roast popular with Costa Ricans; Espresso Roast – a special roast for espresso machines, which can also be used in coffee makers for a strong, full-bodied coffee; House Blend – a favorite of the Vargas family, which combines the light roast and medium roast in equal parts; Breakfast Blend – a special blend of medium and light roast with a touch of Peaberry added in; and a Decaffeinated Blend – a medium roast processed through a natural decaffeinating process originating in Germany.
La Cajuela Restaurant
Located on the grounds of the Doka Estate, the open air La Cajuela restaurant offers a typical Costa Rican breakfast and lunch daily. Enjoy scrumptious tastes while surrounded by the natural beauty of the coffee plantation. Friendly staff provide outstanding service with a smile. For the outgoing guest, who speaks a little Spanish, they are also willing to share insights and information about the family and estate.
Bonsai and butterfly gardens
Just outside the restaurant are two attractions not to be missed.
The family has a special fondness for Bonsai created from materials found on the farm. The exhibit includes several plants, greenery, orchids, and water fountains. A stroll through the area is relaxing and soothing.
The coffee butterfly garden is home to about 15 species including the beautiful Blue Morpho and Owl Butterfly. If you look closely, you can find every stage of metamorphosis within the screened walls of the garden. The exhibit includes each butterfly’s host plant, several trails through the garden, and various watersheds. Guides are on hand to answer questions and point out specific highlights. It only takes about ten minutes to walk through the garden but one could spend hours here enjoying the marvel of these creatures.
Relaxing with a great view
The family and employees of Doka Estate welcome guests to relax and enjoy the beautiful grounds and views from their plantation. Relax with a cup of coffee or a buffet meal during your visit. Shop in the artisan store or walk with the butterflies. Whatever you chose to do, the goal is to enjoy.
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