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 

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