When Bean Baron Danny O’Neill and Bean Hunter Paul Massard of The Roasterie hit the dirt in Costa Rica, the hunt for perfection is on. And so is the family reunion.
“Would anybody like a cup of coffee?”
The question posed to The Roasterie’s Costa Rica Class of 2013 is purely rhetorical.
Coffee—hunting, picking, air-roasting, brewing, savoring—is always on Bean Baron Danny O’Neill’s entrepreneurial mind, especially today as he peers from the plane window to the familiar mountainous landscape unfolding below.
According to the itinerary on my iPad, the next seven days spent experiencing the annual bean harvest with the founder/owner of Kansas City’s coffee darling are going to be highly caffeinated.
Eight of us deplane on a Sunday afternoon in San José, the capital of the country O’Neill considers his adopted home. The self-professed Bean Baron makes annual pilgrimages to this lush paradise he first discovered in 1978 as a foreign exchange student. While there, he plucked coffee beans in the cinematic beauty of the Costa Rican mountains around the Poás volcano, sipped the good stuff from thick, white mugs and tried to learn Spanish from a bunch of kids more interested in horsing around than teaching another kid their language.
“The villages are like scenes from ‘Cinema Paradiso,’” says O’Neill, referring to the film that depicts a nostalgic look at childhood in an Italian town. “I have nothing but fond memories.”
This expedition is particularly poignant for O’Neill. This year his company, which traces its origins to the basement of his Brookside home in 1993, celebrates 20 years of air-roasting farm-sourced beans from around the world. Today, O’Neill leads an entourage, including wife Carla and kids Terry, 7, and Sophie, 5, some Roasterie employees and a couple of KC businesspeople, on what he likes to call The Great Adventure.
It’s mid-January and the wintry weather left behind in Kansas City hours ago is a mere memory. We all blink in the bright tropical sunshine and eagerly shift into coffee-hunting mode.
Paul Massard, The Roasterie’s official Bean Hunter, sniffs the air like a dog on the trail of a remembered scent. O’Neill’s doppelganger from a coffee connoisseur perspective, Massard was born in Barranquilla, Colombia and raised in Naples, Florida.
Soft-spoken Massard, who joined The Roasterie in 2009, is fluent in Spanish and high-octane coffee talk. His passion for the bean, which he acquired during his days as an undergraduate at the University of Miami, is off the charts, which is a good thing if you work for O’Neill.
O’Neill’s “family”—the Costa Ricans he lived with during his initial trip in the late ’70s—meets us at the airport.
“Oh, hello.” O’Neill, his Iowa accent dangling in the air, is emotional as he bends his six-foot, eight-inch, lanky frame down to hug his petite, Spanish mama, who greets him as though they just saw one another yesterday. “It’s so good to see you.”
That familiar sort of feeling is a common thread throughout the week as O’Neill and Massard lead us to small coffee mills and farms, most of which The Roasterie has done business with for decades.
Sunday evening is spent in picturesque Ciudad Cariari, outside San José, in an elegant home on a former coffee estate. The boutique hotel is eco-friendly, part of Costa Rica’s signature and flourishing ecotourism industry.
O’Neill regards the first night of annual harvest trip as a highlight.
“We all relax,” says O’Neill. “It’s like letting the tension out of a rubber band pulled tight. We’re now on Costa Rican time.”
Dinner is traditional Costa Rican cuisine—flavorful rice and beans, tortillas, plantain, chimichurri with chips and lots of beer.
And coffee. I already feel it coursing through my veins, giving me life and energy for The Great Adventure.
“I’ve seen so many of these people grow up,” says O’Neill as we board a bus Monday morning for the drive into the picturesque, coffee-rich mountains. “Kids who were youngsters, picking coffee beans, now help manage some of the operations.” Movie-quality scenes zip by the windows as we…