Raw Sugar Cane Processing using Manual Press

This article shows how we harvest sugarcane or sugar cane from our garden and make sugar cane juice on a manual hand press or trapiche, as it is known here in Costa Rica.

This is the sugarcane we have planted in our garden. It grows to a height of 8-10 feet. We only use the heavy cane part for juice and remove the top 1/4 and all of the leaves before chopping into 3 foot sections. We have two different varieties of sugar cane planted. The purple type shown below consistently gives us more juice. The other variety is green in color and is much skinnier. We will only be re-planting the purple variety. There is some science to the amount of pigment in the canes due to the chlorophyll content (green) and how it reacts with the environmental conditions of certain area’s but it doesn’t matter now does it because this is the only soil we have.

Sugar Cane field

A cane of raw sugar

Cleaning the Raw Sugar Cane Before Juicing

The individual canes grow up and then eventually fall to the side due to the weight. The nodules that come in contact with the ground start to grow roots and would eventually grow another stalk if left there. The first step in cleaning the sugar cane is to cut off all of the roots from the sections. The bud is left exposed underneath. When we want to re-plant we simply take these section ends with buds and place back in the ground in a shallow canal. Gently covering it with only a handful of dirt. In the second photo, you can see the root band that encircles the node very close to the bud. Sugar cane will also eventually have flowers that look like feathers at the top which produce seeds but we have never let ours grow that long.

Raw Sugar Cane process

Sugar cane node

Clean thoroughly with a scrub brush and water. Any dirt that is left on your cane when you put it through the press will end up in your juice. We normally prepare and clean 3 stalks before pressing. This gives us 2 full pitchers or about a gallon of juice.

Clean Cane Sugar


Raw Sugar Cane

Our Manual Press or Trapiche

This is our sugar cane cleaning and processing area that sits behind our guest cabin. We had been searching for a hand press or trapiche for about a year when we came across this one which was sitting out in the elements gathering rust next to a road side restaurant that serves fried pork chunks. The owner of the eatery is a really nice guy who looks like an overweight, 55 year old Karate Kid because of his Japanese flag headband he consistently wears. We stopped to eat there a few times to get to know him before asking him if he wanted to sell his trapiche. He liked the idea that we were growing our own cane and said that we could have it for $60 USD, which was a steal. He could have taken it to a metal recycling center and gotten that much out it. It is basically just two heavy, textured rollers attached to a hand crank with a stand.

Metal Roller Sugar Cane Press

So Barry cleaned it up, added some rust proof paint, a new tray for the liquid and cemented it into the ground. He put in a sink along the wall and added a roof so now we have a great little place to clean all of our food that comes from the garden.

Raw Sugar Processing

Raw Sugar Process

Putting the Raw Sugar Cane through the Press

It is best to have two people using the press at the same time. One person feeds the cane through and the other turns the handle, which can be difficult depending on the thickness of the cane.

Raw Sugar Cane Press

Raw Cane Sugar

Filtering Sugar Cane Juice

We run the cane through once, then fold in half and run it through a second time. The juice is captured in the tray underneath, runs through a filter and into a pitcher. We drink this straight or use it as sugar water to make other fruit juices for fruits that need a little sweet added like lime or araza. When we need to make sugar “crystals” or dry sugar we  just cook this juice down until all the water is cooked off and only the pure, raw cane sugar is left. You can see a picture of the Tapa del Dulce in our Costa Rica Corn Bread post.

Sugar Cane Juice

Remember the white shiny stuff you buy in bags is not sugar. It is a bleached, sub-standard, simple sugar food product with no nutritional value.

More Fruits and Foods of Costa Rica 

17 comments on “Raw Sugar Cane Processing using Manual Press”

  1. Hampton Black Reply

    Hi Kimberly. Can you describe the process of going from the raw sugar cane juice to the dry form. You said you just cook the juice down until all the water is evaporated and only the raw crystal is left. Can you just elaborate on this procedure a little more. I want to be able to “make” sugar crystals from sugar cane and not just the juice. How much yield is there from this process as well (estimate). Thank you

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Hampton – We have never made crystals and I believe that to be a chemical process. We made a solidified, cooked down sugar that you can then grind, shred or shave to use for coffee, cakes, etc. To do this you put all of your sugar cane juice in a pot and put that pot over an extremely hot heat source. You want the juice to boil hardily. You must constantly mix and after some time (depends on how much you are doing) it starts to thicken and become a honey consistency. When it is really thick you spoon it into wooden or metal molds. We have only used wood. I would investigate if metal can be used to make sure there is no chemical residue on the sugar block. Let cool.

      We are not mass producers. We only make what we harvest so I would have no idea what a good yield would be. You always start with double the juice you think you will need though. The boiling burns off a lot of water.

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      This press is so heavy that I don’t believe that you could order one and have it sent from very far away. You may want to ask an iron worker to make one for you.

  2. Mike Reply

    H! Really enjoy your page/projects. I’m going to make a cane press. Can you give me a idea how far the rollers are spaced apart. I’m still not sure if I’m going to make them adjustable or not. Thanks!

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Hi Mike – The rollers are about 1/2 inch apart but the teeth make the passable space 1/4 inch. We sometimes have to cut our canes lengthwise so it will pass through the press. If you make one we would love to see it. Please post a picture!

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  5. Darby Reply

    I just love reading about what you two do. Amazing. I wouldn’t know a trapiche if I saw one…but the drinks sound good to me.

  6. Casey Reply

    Very cool Kim! We have a few volunteer canes here on the finca, but we’ve not put any effort into cultivating them so far. The last couple of years we’ve had a lot of waste firewood that we trade to the local trapiches for some tapa dulce blocks. Lately, my sister has been getting some excellent blackstrap molasses from the trapiche locally. Normally, the farmers feed this to their animals! It’s rich in iron as it comes from fully mature cane.

    That press looks like a new project for me, lol.

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      The nutritional value of natural cane is like reading a Flinstones vitamin bottle (without the sugar!). Barry made some syrup for mint juleps. It was Dee-lish. We also use it on our sweet potato pancakes.

  7. Marlene & Caryn Reply

    Love the articles!! Tell me how to do fruit drink from Carambola (star fruit) Just wash it and put in blender with water???

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Yep. The skin is totally edible. Depending on the age of the fruit, you may want to cut the brown edge off before adding to the blender. It’s a little tart so use bananas or mangos with it.

  8. Joseph Reply

    Great post! When I was a kid, my dad would bring home stalks of sugar cane. My brothers and I would chew on them all day. I never knew how to juice them. Now I know! Are trapiches still made? It seems to be a rare thing to find.

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      J – I see them around here in Limon but only because I was looking for one. There is a big trapiche in San Miguel that is horse powered. It’s not actively used but it is very interesting to see.

  9. carolyn tait Reply

    love this like crazy! remember the sugar cane and ginger drinks on zanzibar? you guys could set up a booth. ha ha! i hope a visit to CR is in the cards for me at some point. i love every single thing you guys are doing. <3

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      C- Here on the Caribbean side they have a sugar cane, ginger, lime combo that is to die for. They call it Hiel (E-L) and in the Central Valley they call it agua de sapo (Frog Juice).

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