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Expedition to Costa Rica provides education about coffee beans

01/28/2014 4:34 PM

01/28/2014 4:35 PM

It all started almost a year ago while having a cup of coffee at The Roasterie Café downtown with Danny O’Neill, owner of The Roasterie Coffee Co. in Kansas City.

O’Neill had just returned from another trip to Costa Rica with his family and coffee bean team along with a few customers and asked me if I had ever tasted a coffee cherry or picked one for that matter.

I had to admit, I have been to Italy over 45 times, visiting hundreds of olive farms, vineyards, wineries and liqueur factories, prosciutto and cheese producing farms, artisan balsamic attics, salt flats, coffee and candy factories, cooking schools and more but I had never harvested a coffee cherry. Was this an invitation or a tease from Kansas City’s Bean Barron?

The next day I received a formal invitation from Danny’s brother-in-law Eli Rami to join the “Roasterie Team” in Costa Rica the following January. Was he serious, a “Coffee Bean Expedition” to Costa Rica? This could be interesting.

I have known O’Neill since 1993 when he first produced a blend of coffee for my father at the old Jasper’s on 75th Street. We were introduced through a friend, Doris Hanks, from The Best of Kansas City.

O’Neill’s passion for coffee was evident from the first day I met him, discussing the origin of the coffee bean, the farmer who harvested it and his unique “Air Roasted” process, something that started way before he roasted his first batch in the Brookside basement of his home.

O’Neill was an exchange student in Costa Rica in 1978, an excursion to a country for an Iowa boy who could not speak one word of Spanish, an adventure for a 17-year-old who was greener that a coffee bean before roasting. This is where he met his host family and Momi and the rest of the story is history. It surrounds the day he picked his first coffee bean in the mountainous coffee-growing region around the Poas Volcano — a story of love and forming relationships with farmers and families, brokers and other people with the same passion.

And so my friends, I gladly accepted the “Coffee Bean Expedition” and it came last week for this chef and 10 other passionate coffee enthusiasts.

I was sent a short email with air travel info and a brief summary of the trip and what to bring: hiking boots, T-shirts and a backpack. Was this chef prepared, you’re asking? You better believe it.

From Kansas City International airport, we traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica and seven hours later we arrived to mid-80 degree temperatures and were whisked away on a bus to the open-air Terrazas de Golf boutique hotel, a former residence overlooking a manicured gold course.

We were greeted with open arms by the innkeepers Cecilia and Mario with freshly squeezed, local pineapple juice and a platter of potatoes and tortillas, so delicious after a day of travel. I could feel it already, it was happening. If this is what Danny felt when he first arrived in Costa Rica over 35 years ago then it all began to make sense to me. I “got it” at this point, I really “got it.”

On the terrace of the hotel, sipping pineapple juice and enjoying the breeze of the Costa Rican wind, our passionate coffee bean leader, O’Neill, explained our itinerary, our journeys to schools and farms, meeting farmers and picking coffee cherries — a promise of experiencing the whole bean process. We would travel to the tops of the mountain, visited a volcano, met the growers, make coffee bean angels, rake beans, experience Costa Rican cuisine and for sure drink a lot of coffee.

I had no idea at this time what the week would really bring but I was excited and ready to experience how a coffee cherry becomes a “Cup of Joe” from bean to cup. Stay tuned my friends, the bean journey has just begun!

Cecilia’s Costa Rican Gallitos de Papa 2 tablespoons of olive oil 2 potatoes, pealed and cubed 1 clove garlic 1/2 cup of minced onions 1 pinch of cumin 1/2 teaspoon paprika Sea salt to taste Cracked pepper Fresh coriander to taste 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Heat olive oil in a saute pan. Add potatoes and onion and cook, adding garlic half way thru cooking, turning and stirring as needed until tender. Add seasoning and fold with lemon juice. Add a touch of hot water at this time to “cream” potatoes as Cecilia told me. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, season with more salt if desired and serve with fresh tortillas and sour cream.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.

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