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Costa Rica's coffee farmers find another way to grind out a profit

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Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor/File

(Read caption) As they ripen, these green coffee beans will turn red.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Costa Rica has long been synonymous with a cup of rich coffee, but as the production and the export of the black-gold crop fall, farmers are turning to tourism to boost funds.

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At El Trapiche family farm in Monteverde, in the mountains north of the Central Valley, the tours started four years ago have been so popular that new guides are being trained. Over the course of two hours, visitors witness the different stages of coffee production: growing beans covered in red flesh, harvesting, drying, shelling, and roasting.

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At $20 to $30 a ticket, the tours earn valuable wages for El Trapiche and the many other coffee farms open to visitors. Coffee was long the country’s No. 1 agricultural export, but has dropped behind bananas and pineapples in recent years owing to aging coffee plantations and competition from other coffee-producing countries such as Vietnam.

As Costa Rica remains a hugely popular destination among world travelers, coffee tours have become an easy way for farms to boost their funds, explains Jairo, one of the El Trapiche guides. But with an estimated 40 percent of coffee plants 20 years old or more and soon to go out of production, the tours are only secondary to renewing the plantations.