Cold Brew Coffee, 2022

Cold brew coffee experimentation, April 2020

Two years ago, when the pandemic had shut down the airports in Costa Rica and we had no clue how long that would last, we wondered how the artisans and the farmers who supplied our recently opened Authentica shops would fare. We had to ask ourselves what we were going to do with the roughly 7,000 pounds of coffee beans we had contracted to buy from that year’s harvest. The most obvious move was to start roasting in the USA, so we could deliver to customers who had bought from us in Costa Rica and wanted to continue buying.

Cold brew coffee was a brief experiment at the time, but with sufficiently robust results to convince us that when travelers returned we would offer samples. The time has come.

Coffee, Birds & Bees

Seedlings from coffee picked in early 2021

On a couple of acres of mountain land in Escazu, on property that once was part of a larger coffee farm, we have been preparing to plant a thousand or so coffee saplings, which will eventually become trees among trees. Above are the thriving seedlings from 2021 germination, and below the early stage of germination from this year’s pickings.

Germination of coffee picked in early 2022

Coffee culture has been a long time in the making, so the slow pace of the Organikos arc has not intimidated me. And yet, if I could speed it up, I would because of the variety of beneficiaries.

Today an article by Cristen Hemingway Jaynes on the website EcoWatch brings to my attention a team of researchers who I will pay more attention to. Some are here in Costa Rica, at CATIE; the others at University of Vermont. Their work makes me appreciate the value of getting on with this:

Birds and Bees Make Better Coffee, Study Finds

Birds and bees work together as pollinators. DansPhotoArt on flickr / Moment / Getty Images

For many people, one rich, pleasant smell signals the start of a new day more than any other: coffee. Different techniques have been used to get the best cup of the caffeine-rich liquid, from a French press to the pour-over method.

A unique new study has found that the secret to better coffee is really in control of the birds and the bees. Continue reading

Bananas, Maturity & Gravity

I had the intuition: if I do not harvest these bananas on my schedule, they would do it on their own. And so they did. I came home, looked out the kitchen window, and there was the entire story laid out. Maturity. Gravity pulled them down.

In these two images you can see what maturity means to a banana plant. The bananas are not ripe, but they are heavy enough to pull the entire plant down to the ground.

Normally I would have supported the bunch of bananas with a bamboo pole, then carefully chop the bottom of the trunk so the entire structure slowly makes its way down. Even then, no matter how careful I might be, the structure might come crashing down. And thankfully the bananas are still firm enough that almost no damage is done to them. A few got knocked off, but even those will be fine in a couple weeks when they all start turning yellow. Until then, that entire bunch sits in the dark of a tool shed.

Making Things, Giving Things & Keeping Things

A northern fulmar in flight near Boreray, an uninhabited island in the archipelago of St. Kilda. Photograph by Philip Mugridge / Alamy

Last week I read an essay explaining the allusive power that human-made objects can have. It got me thinking about St. Kilda. Reading four years ago about that place and its people spurred my imagination sufficiently that the following year I committed to a challenge. The challenge was created by the speed of change impacting travel culture, and the tendency of travel retail to homogenize over time.

Things you might see in the Authentica shops

Local artisans all over the world were finding their goods displaced in shops oriented to travelers by things made in faraway factories.

Specifically, the commitment was to support local artisans by creating a venue for selling their goods to travelers. Perhaps utopian is a concept too big to apply to this commitment; anyway, maybe the word quixotic is more apt. Authentica offers human-made things for travelers to take home with them, within the context of a travel-retail complex that operates with very different resources and intent.

We understand why the replicas are made, and why people buy them. We refuse to confuse understanding with acquiescence.

The scoop and the bird clip in the image above, two such things I also wrote about two years ago, are examples of local culturally relevant artifacts that we hope will not be outsourced to a factory in another part of the world. The coffee in that image is another example, with a twist. What I like about coffee as a memento is that it is at the intersection of tangible and intangible. It is quintessentially Costa Rican, but once you enjoy the entire bag you no longer possess that thing. As you consume it, it tells you something about Costa Rica. When it is finished you possess a memory of the coffee, and of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica, Never Old

A tapir in Braulio Carrillo national park, near San José. Costa Rica’s policy of paying citizens to protect and restore ecosystems is credited with reversing deforestation rates, which threaten the species. Photograph: Michiel van Noppen/2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The stories we use the title Really to highlight are among the heavies. Too much malfeasance, too often. Reading stories about Costa Rica‘s remarkable achievements related to the environment never gets old:

Billionaires, princes and prime ministers are among those keen to learn from the Central American country, which has long put nature at the heart of its policies

If there had been a popularity contest at Cop26, the Costa Rican president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, would have been a clear winner. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeff Bezos, Boris Johnson and Prince William all wanted to speak with the leader of the tiny Central American country, eager to bask in its green glow. Continue reading

Where Dollars Do The Most For Climate

Wood artisans take remainders leftover after the creation of larger artifacts, and recycle them by tumbling until smooth. An excellent alternative to polished stones, these “renewable pebbles” are available in the Authentica shops in Costa Rica.

We have been offering options on how to spend, while visiting Costa Rica, in ways that benefit the environment here. Small potatoes, but it is what we do.

Much more important for the planet as a whole, and for all humanity inhabiting it, is spending, or rather investing, that can have truly global impact. Robinson Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic, and author of the newsletter The Weekly Planet, has this useful guide for citizens of the USA:

Allison Bailey / NurPhoto / AP

A New Estimate of the ‘Most Effective’ Way to Fight Climate Change

Climate-concerned donors should focus on helping to pass climate policy, not offset their emissions, an advisory group says.

On a dollar-for-dollar basis, where will your money do the most to fight climate change? Continue reading

Entangled In Costa Rica

If you have visited Costa Rica, or been fortunate enough to live here, you might have already become entangled with the country’s many opportunities to support conservation. For many decades foreigners have been welcomed to join in the country’s marine and terrestrial conservation initiatives. Many of those foreigners adopt the country as home after getting entangled in all kinds of good ways.

The first eight minutes of the video above are bliss: several young people are introduced, each of whom has become entangled. Along with those introductions, some stunning photography and videography showcasing Costa Rica’s nature, helping you to understand the entanglement. At 8:14 you see the dictionary definitions of entangled. The next 17 minutes are a case study in industrial fishing’s unintended consequences. Not surprisingly, this has already received lots of awards, but they ask you to share freely, so please do. And if you want to support financially, that will be appreciated as well.

Thanksgiving, Organikos & Authentica At Year 3

Introduced at the Authentica shops in Costa Rica on Thanksgiving Day, 2021

The base of the lamp at my desk is a ceramic bird that serves as a year-round reminder of Thanksgiving. And the ceramic coffee artifacts on my desk serve the same purpose, reminding me each time I sit to work that there are constantly plenty of reasons to give thanks.

We opened two Authentica shops in Costa Rica on Thanksgiving weekend 2019. Sophomore year for both Organikos and Authentica was mettle-testing. We passed. If flying colors were not evident enough in how we passed, here they are in the label for our newest coffee. First introduced last month to a group of students at Cornell University, whose tasting notes we have appreciated receiving, as of today it is available in our shops in Costa Rica.

So, thanks for all that.

Poro Canopy Growth

Last image like this that I posted was showing the sugarcane along the berm. In the centerground of the photo above, which I just took, and in earlier photos with a similar view, you can see some of the maturing poro saplings planted last year.

Having mentioned in yesterday’s post the idea of supplementing poro shade with solar panel shade, today I am sharing some images of these young trees after planting the seedlings one year ago.

Most have grown to be between four and eight feet in height.

In addition to the seedlings planted, some larger specimens were planted that came from branch cuttings from the best poro on the property.

For example, this tree above is from a branch we pruned that was about four inches in diameter; the one below from a branch even thicker.

Solar panels would be in very good company.

Auténtica @ Authentica

We have just placed these books on display in the two Authentica shops in Costa Rica, one at Marriott Los Suenos and the other at Marriott Hacienda Belen. The author, Isabel Campabadal, has been an author and chef for nearly five decades, and is a perfect fit with one of our aims as merchants: respect traditions and respectfully update them with all that the modern world offers.

Verdant, Drenched & Down At Ground Level

During the last six weeks or so of rainy season in Costa Rica, the word verdant is the perfect word for describing coffee plantations, especially those with long-lived canopies. The photo above, which I took while visiting a coffee farm in the Turrialba region, shows a mature canopy and coffee that is thriving under it, as are the lichens and moss on the gigantic rock in the foreground. Greenest this time of year, the coffee will have red cherries ready for picking within the next two months as the rains subside.

At home, potted flowers that have been providing color on a rock wall near our terrace are getting that drenched look.

Drenched does not have the same beautiful implication of verdant, but it will have to do. I cannot find a prettier alternative to describe the look of flowers that have absorbed as much water as possible and now just let the morning mist roll off.

I was surprised to find this nest while tending to some overgrown grass yesterday. It was right by a post of the fence that protects the land we are replanting. The surprise was a nest at ground level. According to Seth these are most likely eggs from this bird. Good luck, eggs. Good luck, birds.

Costa Rica’s Insects In The Limelight

Green Orchid Bee, Euglossa dilemma. Pablo Piedra

Some of our favorite topics–Costa Rica & insects & photography–are covered in this interview:

A Longtime Military Photographer Has A New Passion Project: Bugs

Digger Wasp, Sphecidae
Pablo Piedra

Field Cricket, Gryllus assimilis
Pablo Piedra

Pablo Piedra is a military photographer turned insect fanatic. After retiring in 2019 from 22 years with the military, he moved to Costa Rica with his family. Here he started doing macro photography of the country’s native bugs as a way of staying creative during COVID-19. His wife Daniela helps him look for insects and his son Jaden loves the final results.

How did you transition from being a military photographer to an insect photographer?

After my retirement in 2018, I began working as the Multimedia Director for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) in Arlington, VA. In 2019, my family moved to Costa Rica and I became a freelance multimedia content creator. Continue reading

Adventures In Blue

Blue morpho butterfly

The last time I posted about a blue insect you could see the blue. In the case of this butterfly above, all the blue is on the upper side of the wings, hidden in this view. To wrap up the thoughts started a couple days ago, I share a few more photos that for me qualify as visual micro-adventures.

Probable identification: one of the 50 or so species of the Trametes genus of fungi

I do not know the species of this fungi, but I find it remarkable that it comes to my attention just after the surprise of seeing a blue morpho butterfly, not commonly seen on this land in Escazu. Remarkable because some of the colors in common, including an unexpected hint of blue.

View to the east from Escazu as sun sets

Likewise, by the end of a day on this land, dusk may not produce a classical awe, but in the context of the various shades of brown it is something to still see some blue.

All In A Day’s Microadventures

A New Hampshire lawn in June. John Tully for The New York Times

Emily Pennington has shared recommendations from some experienced folks about alternatives to the well-known spectacular adventures, such as hiking the Grand Canyon. She recommends trying microadventures in this article subtitled How to find a sense of awe and discover a miraculous world right outside your door. Early on she writes about what we are often looking for in the places we travel to :

…Researchers often describe awe as an emotion that combines an experience of vastness with both pleasure and a fear of the unknown. While many of us might consider these moments rare, ephemeral and tricky to reproduce, a few scientists are finding that this reverence is a skill that can be cultivated and has remarkable mental health benefits.

“Awe basically shuts down self-interest and self-representation and the nagging voice of the self,” said Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. “That’s different from feeling pride or amusement or just feeling good. It’s like, ‘I’m after something sacred.’”

I have spent most days since early March 2020 looking for awe at or close to home, so I could relate immediately to what she was writing about in this article. A typical day starts with this view:

Start of a day’s microadventures

If you cannot imagine being awed by that, stop reading here. I will seek more awe as the day continues. Continue reading

Sugarcane On The Curvy Berm & Other Wonders

Sugarcane planted with vetiver grass mulching cover

The saving grace of the period from March, 2020 to the present day has been this few acres of land needing attention and care. Saving grace means that by giving attention and care to the land, I was simultaneously tending to my own wellbeing. The therapeutic value was such that by September, half a year of cloudy outlook was giving way to an urge to send postcards to the world. It was an urge urged by tending that land. As we began the second year of the venture that supports that land, all kinds of regenerative initiatives kept coming to my attention. And now it is nonstop planting around the curvy berm.

When Life Gives You Sugarcane, Plan For Lemonade

On the first day of this platform’s new decade I posted about harvesting sugarcane for the purpose of expanding the stock. Since then I took the long stalks and chopped them in to about 70 pieces, each between one and two feet long.   Here is what it looks like to plant it. Tops of stalks grow best inserted at a diagonal, as seen on the left of the image below, one serving as a hat stand. All other segments get planted horizontally in the soil, just a couple inches below the surface.

After covering each segment with compost-enriched topsoil, I cover the entire area with freshly cut vetiver grass. This protects the topsoil from the heavy rains typical this time of year, and at the same time allows the nutrients from the decomposing grass to fortify the topsoil.

It occurs to me: this time next year we will be sweetening the lemonade. A year prior to planting poro saplings we planted several citrus saplings and they are already bearing fruit now; one more year will mean plenty of sweetened juice to go around.

Year 10, Day 1

As we start another decade of posting here I will share two photos. The one above shows the outer layer of sugar cane that sheds, on the ground to the left of the stalk of cane that was planted about 18 months ago. The photo below shows the height of the cane today.

I posted this view six months ago, where you can see how green the leaves were in the drier summer time versus the rainy season we are in now. I will harvest these stalks to plant more sugar cane, rather than to produce sugar, and once the ground is prepared for that planting I will illustrate here how it is done.

Milkweed, Monarchs & Meaning

A monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant in Vista, Calif. Gregory Bull

We feature monarch butterflies in our pages to highlight conservation challenges, and milkweed is often part of the story. Claire Fahy’s story below reminds me that the link between the insect and the plant, and the effort in California to repair that link, is one example of why we created, and why I continue to post on, this platform. A short statement of purpose might be something like: in hope there is meaning. June 15 will mark the 10th anniversary of the first post, and I intend to start the next decade with a more regular series on our regeneration efforts on a few acres of land here in Costa Rica. Because it provides a sense of meaning, among other reasons. So we thank those in California who are doing the same on a 200x scale:

A coalition of conservation groups have partnered with the state to add 30,000 milkweed plants in an attempt to restore the species’ population.

A consortium hoping to rescue the Western monarch butterfly is planting three varieties of milkweed: showy milkweed, narrowleaf milkweed and a desert milkweed. Rob Cardillo for The New York Times

Known for their windowpane wing design and bright orange color, Western monarch butterflies add a dash of magic to the California coast, where they spend the winter. Now a coalition of conservation groups, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the environmentalist organization River Partners are working together to extend a lifeline to the monarchs, whose population has been dwindling drastically.

The groups have embarked on an effort to add 30,000 milkweed plants across the state to provide the butterflies with places to breed and acquire the sustenance for migration.

The Western monarchs’ California population has fallen 99 percent since the 1980s, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. A major factor in that drop has been a decline in milkweed caused by farming and pesticide use. Milkweed is vital to monarchs as a place to lay eggs and as a food source for their caterpillars. Continue reading

Ants, Food Raids & Evolution

Image #1 Army Ants reproduced with permission from “Army Ants: Nature’s Ultimate Social Hunters” by Daniel J.C. Kronauer; Image #5 painted clonal raider ants photograph by Daniel Kronauer. Credit: #1: Daniel J.C. Kronauer, #5: Daniel Kronauer

It is rainy season, therefore the season for starting the growth cycle of some plants, in Costa Rica. It is always ant season here. Some of the trees we planted last year, mostly citrus varieties but also pomegranate, have become feasting locations for ants who devour their leaves and haul them off.

My assumption, seeing this constantly during the 25 years since we moved to Costa Rica, has always been that ants are primarily vegetarians So, today a bit of ant-wonk from a team of scientists at Harvard University, summarized on Phys.org’s website, to correct my assumption (the video alone is worth visiting the source article):

How army ants’ iconic mass raids evolved

Army ants form some of the largest insect societies on the planet. They are quite famous in popular culture, most notably from a terrifying scene in Indiana Jones. But they are also ecologically important. They live in very large colonies and consume large amounts of arthropods. And because they eat so much of the other animals around them, they are nomadic and must keep moving in order to not run out of food. Due to their nomadic nature and mass consumption of food, they have a huge impact on arthropod populations throughout tropical rainforests floors. Continue reading

Blue Bugs Signal Approval

We are having an early change of seasons in Costa Rica, where in the Central Valley the rains do not normally begin until May. In the last week we have had rain several times, which is unusual for April, but would be quite normal in the first half of May.

During the dry season I let patches of green grow without cutting, as a way to see where there may be subterranean water that will be useful in the future for irrigation.

In one such location some grasses grew that resembled bamboo, and once I started moving them recently dozens–maybe hundreds–of these blue bugs started fluttering about.

At the intersection of my sweatshirt and glove one settled long enough for me to get a good look, but I have no recollection of ever having seen this type before. Part of our purpose of the replanting we are doing has been increasing biodiversity on this little bit of mountain terrain, and today I got a buggy blue signal of approval.