Travel | Visiting the AAA coffee farm in Costa Rica with Nespresso…

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

Sitting down to a coffee in the morning is one of my most favourite simple pleasures and we all can relate to.  The whole ritual around it is so satisfying; from choosing your favourite mug, the coffee style (black, with milk or plant based milk),  in whatever method you choose to make it, it is something we all look forward to every single day.

But, how many of us actually think about what goes into making our morning cup of coffee?  I certainly hadn’t, until I was recently standing in a coffee plantation, visiting the AAA coffee farms in Costa Rica with Nespresso.  I experienced first hand what it was like to pick ripe red coffee cherries and seeing the processes that go into coffee farming and production.

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

Nespresso, as we all know, sells a plethora of capsules, from their every day lungo or ristretto to their single origin and limited edition coffee.  All sounds exciting, but exactly do they mean? Coffee is coffee right?

You may have noticed on this blog or via Instagram that I have been working with Nespresso over the past 8 months, as one of their global taste-maker ambassadors.  Part of this ambassadorship, was a trip to Costa Rica to visit the Nespresso coffee plantations and discover what exactly goes into those little capsules of coffee.

So, with that in mind, myself and my fellow taste-makers (Will DarbyshireLaura JacksonAlice LevineRobert & Christina MartinezMatthew Zorpas and the team from Wit & Delight, Stefani Arden & Colleen Eversham,) spent four action packed days exploring the different coffee farms and mountainous regions of Costa Rica, learning about sustainability.  I tell you it was a fantastic trip of a life time with a brilliant bunch of people to hang out with.

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

Our first trip was to the El Guapinol region to learn about sustainable coffee. Driving down the bumpy muddy track we were greeted by the local Nespresso team and the farmers.  We were introduced to the methods of farming, how bio diversity is key to the plantations success, and what it takes to become a Nespresso AAA farm.  In 2003, the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program was created with the Rainforest Alliance. This tailor-made coffee program makes sure that Nespresso sells the highest quality coffee whilst supporting sustainable livelihoods for farmers and their communities while protecting the environment.

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

So we could see the difference between the types of farming methods, we were taken to a Nespresso AAA farm and afterwards, taken to visit a non-AAA farm. There was such an unparalleled difference between the two.

The non-AAA was like a desert.  Poor, spindly looking plants, with yellowing leaves, and sparse coffee cherries.   The soil was unprotected, none of the cherries were ripe.  The plants looked full of disease – so unloved, it was such sad experience.  I couldn’t understand why a farmer would actively not choose to be part of the AAA programme.

Juan Diego, Nespresso’s green coffee manager of Central America, explained that it was all about education and that the older generation of farmers like to farm the way they always have.  The new generation of farmers were the ones who now realise that sustainability is the only way to farm.

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

Back on the Nespresso AAA farm the plantation seemed so alive. Lush green coffee trees grew 7 feet tall with dark glossy leaves, and thick with ripening coffee cherries.  The team explained that this farm had all the elements needed to make it one of their AAA farms:

What key elements make a AAA coffee farm in Costa Rica

  • Biodiversity – encouragement of a rich flora and fauna in the plantation. Using tree cover to protect the coffee plants, to provide root structure to ensure the soil doesn’t erode.  Plus the leaves falling from these trees and bushes provide a natural mulch to keep the moisture in.
  • Beans are hand picked by fully trained coffee operatives.  Only selecting the red ripe cherries, and leaving the under ripe to ripen later. Never stripping the plant.
  • Each year new plants are planted to replace any that have died or no longer produce coffee.
  • Nespresso agronomists & the Rain Forest Alliance educating farmers on social and environmental sustainability to the farmers.
  • Paying the farmers a fair price for their coffee, ensures that the social care of the farmers, their families and their workers are looked after.  Which in turns keeps them happy and they continue to farm with their best AAA practice in mind.

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

Soon it was our turn to have a go at picking the red cherries.  To be honest I was a little nervous, as I wanted to make sure that I picked the highest quality of cherries and not any dud ones (ones under ripe or had a defect like an insect had eaten it).  Strapping on a traditional picking basket to our waists we waded into the plants, each selecting a coffee plant to harvest.  After 20 minutes of picking by hand I had only just covered the bottom of my basket – such a labour intensive job.  I’ll leave it to the professionals I think!

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

We followed the journey of our coffee to the sorting station and then onto the coffee mill where the coffee beans were processed after harvest.  Such a fascinating place.  We learned to much about the  different checkpoints at the mill that monitor the coffee quality while it is being processed. Every hour they are checking the coffee bean’s quality and sorting out any defective beans so only the best is used to make the coffee.  Nespresso insists that the mill uses only all-natural, wood-fired ovens when drying their coffee beans, making them environmental friendly too.

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

The following day we visited the Nespresso AAA Farm of Edgar Fernandez. I think Laura got it right when she said it’s like Narnia.  Stepping into their farm was a magical experience… more like a garden than a farm. We all were spellbound by the abundance of this tropical place.

I met a toucan eating bananas, saw leaf cutter ants carrying their large leafy load in a line.  Blue butterflies floated through the canopy and large sweet lemons and pommellos hung from trees awaiting us to pick them.  Such was the diversity of flora and fauna, it didn’t seem like a farm.  Intertwined with all these lovely lush forest were coffee plants.

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed Nespresso costa rica Littlegreenshed

Coming home, the trip to Costa Rica has enhanced my enjoyment of my morning coffee.  I feel that I have a connection to those farmers and have developed a new found respect for the work that Nespresso, the Rain Forest Alliance and the farmers do to ensure the coffee we all drink every day is of the best quality.

Not only that, by drinking coffee that has been grown in this way we are also supporting the farming community, their families and the whole infrastructure of a developing country.  Providing a fair wage for families and giving kids a chance to go to school, be fed well and have a job at the end.  That’s got to be a good thing right?

Oh and my pal Will Darbyshire made this beautiful film about our trip.  And yes that is me planting my very own coffee plant.  Enjoy:


Thank you to the Nespresso team for being great hosts and inviting me on this trip – what an experience! If you are interested in reading all of my Nespresso collaborations please head over to these:

  • Nespresso at Cannes Festival
  • Cheltenham literary festival and coffee redefined

Collaboration Note:  This post was written in collaboration with Nespresso. All thoughts and opinions are always my own. Sponsored posts like these allow for Littlegreenshed to create unsponsored content. Thank you for supporting our partners! 

all images are by 2nd truth.

Lou Archell, a writer, photographer, stylist and founder of Littlegreenshed.  A UK lifestyle & travel blog

Lou is also a busy mum of two amazing boys and the founder of Sisterhood Camp – an annual creative retreat for recharging and empowering brilliant ladies, Lou is passionate about supporting and inspiring others whether through her workshops, writing, photography or lifestyle hacks.