Costa Rican Coffee: History, Tours, Brands, and Tips
¡Pura Vida! That’s Costa Rica’s tourism motto and national slogan. It loosely translates to enjoy life. Anyone who has been there will tell you that there’s no better way to enjoy life than sipping a fresh roasted Costa Rican coffee in between visits to the country’s lush jungles and stunning beaches.
Located in Central America (between Panama and Nicaragua), Costa Rica enjoys a temperate climate. When combined with the country’s hilly terrain and rainy seasons, the climate provides ideal conditions for growing health coffee plants and producing premier coffee beans.
Coffee is ready to be harvested at Doka Estates Plantation in Alajuela, Costa Rica
Many Costa Rican coffees offer a rich aroma, superb taste and a flavor that will definitely excite your taste buds. So how why is Tico coffee so good? Here’s a summarized history of the Costa Rican coffee industry.
Brief History of Costa Rican Coffee
The excellent quality and strong flavor of Costa Rican coffee didn’t come by chance. It took time and plenty of hard work to achieve both (rich flavor and unmatched quality).
The first coffee beans came to Costa Rica from Martinique way back in 1779. Because of its mountainous topography and tropical climate, coffee did so well in Costa Rica that it soon became one of the country’s largest and most important exports.
By 1829, coffee was bringing in more revenue than sugar, tobacco, and cacao. In a move to encourage production, the government offered coffee farmers free land. At the time, Britain was the biggest consumer of Costa Rican coffee; a trend that continued up until WW2 when it finally made its way to the global market.
Coffee was such a crucial export for Costa Rica that laws were legislated to ensure its good quality. In 1989, the government passed a law prohibiting the cultivation and production of Robusta coffee due to its low quality. Soon after, farmers voluntarily stopped producing Catimores coffee because it wasn’t of good quality either. The government ban on second-rate coffee beans was slightly loosened. However, farmers remain committed to the Arabica coffee bean in almost place where coffee is grown.
TIP: Almost all Costa Rican coffee is of the superior, Arabica, variety.
While not the largest coffee producer in the world, Costa Rica boasts of arguably the best coffee beans globally. That’s why multinational companies like Starbucks have coffee plantations in Costa Rica. That is to say every time you walk into a Starbucks (or any other coffee shop for that matter) there’s a high possibility you’ll get to taste some of that Costa Rican goodness.
Why Costa Rican Coffee Is Among the Best in the World
Wondering why coffee lovers and enthusiasts all over the world travel to Costa Rica for a treat? Well, it’s the best coffee in the world, and here are four reasons why:
Quality Arabica Beans
Costa Rica Coffee Experience
Well over 70% of all Costa Rica coffee plantations are located in the country’s mountainous regions; popularly known as Costa Rica’s coffee growing regions. Besides providing a stunning backdrop, the high altitude areas have fertile volcanic soil and temperatures that range between 17 and 28 degrees Celsius.
Without getting into technical details, let’s just say that the volcanic ash and temperate climate oxygenate coffee beans perfectly giving them a rich aroma and tasty flavor.
Much of Costa Rica’s coffee plantation land sits at 4,000 feet in elevation or higher. This gives them the distinction of being high grown.
High grown beans are harder than their lower elevation counterparts. The higher density of bean adds more flavor because each bean has more sugars.
Quality Arabica coffee
You don’t need to be a coffee pro to know that Arabica is the best type of coffee. Now here’s where it gets interesting: of all the countries in the world, Costa Rica is the only place to establish a law forbidding the cultivation of anything other than the highest quality arabica coffee bean. While that law has recently been relaxed, the overwhelming majority of Costa Rican coffee production is from arabica beans.
It may be the most difficult to farm, but Arabica coffee yields the best beans. When ground, the beans produce full-bodied coffee flavors that are rich in taste.
Costa Rican Coffee Experience
First, they farm the crop in the most fertile and ideal lands. Then they leave the beans to grow to full maturity. When it’s time for picking, Costa Ricans do the whole process by hand. Rather than picking all the beans at once, each one is inspected individually to ensure that it is ripe enough to produce a rich flavor. That is how they ensure that only the best make it to the processing plant.
The Best Costa Rica Coffee Tours
As long as you are in Costa Rica its only routine to go on one or two Costa Rica coffee tours; more if you have the time. They provide an excellent opportunity to see how coffee is produced and to taste some exclusive brands and flavors.
As you’ve probably already guessed, these tours happen in Costa Rica coffee plantations (also known as beneficios). The plantations are mainly located in the coffee growing regions.
There are a total of 8 regions, but the most popular are Tarrazú, Brunca, and Valle Occidental. While Tarrazú is famous for producing coffee that has a heavy aroma and acidic taste, Brunca produces coffee with moderate flavors and tastes. Valle Occidental, on its part, is known for having coffee beans that have a peachy aroma. You can choose a region depending on the type of coffee flavor you prefer.
If you want to stay in touch with the American heritage you may consider touring the Alsacia plantation that is owned and operated by Starbucks. Other plantations include Heredia, San Jose, Cartago, Alajuela, and Monteverde. They all feature a high altitude, lush greenery, and outstanding backdrops.
It’s highly recommended that you join a guided coffee tour if you want to gain the most while in Costa Rica. There are so many options, but your best bets are Golden Bean Tour in Turrialba, Doka Estate Tour in Alajuela, Finca Rosa Blanca in Heredia, Tio Leo Tour in Liberia, San Luis Tour in Monteverde and La Fortuna Tour in Arenal.
Here is a more detailed list of recommended coffee tours in the Central Valley.
While all the tours and destinations are great, you may want to put the mountainous regions like Arenal on top of your list. There’s barely an experience as satisfying as sampling different coffee flavors while surrounded by the scenic beauty of Costa Rica.
Which Costa Rica Coffee Brands Should You Bring Home?
Your tour won’t feel complete if you don’t bring a few coffee souvenirs. One thing that you should definitely bring home is a bag or a hundred bags of Costa Rican coffee. But, which is the best coffee in Costa Rica?
Arguably the most recognizable of all Costa Rican coffee brands, Cafe Britt is loved for offering tasty single origin coffee in a variety of roasts and blends. One of its blends, the Tres Rios, is a particular favorite among coffee lovers. A medium roast, Tres Rios, is grown near Volcan Irazu and has a citrusy and honey-nut taste.
TIP: If you forget to buy coffee during your trip, you can grab a few bags on your way out, at the large Britt store inside of the SJO airport.
There is a large Britt Coffee shop in the SJO airport
Located in Tarrazu, Coffee Beanery is a coffee estate known for producing truly supreme coffee blends. Its standout product is the famous La Minita. A medium roast, La Minita is so popular that most people assume it is the roasting company when it is in fact roasted by Coffee Beanery. Regardless, the blend has a sweet chocolate and caramel flavor that tickles taste buds.
Tucked in the mountainous Monteverde region, Artifx grows its beans in the pristine conditions of the famous Cloud Forests of Costa Rica. The company’s pioneer brand is the Monteverde coffee which takes its name from the region where it is planted. This blend is a light roast with a cedar, floral and fruity taste.
Brewing Coffee in a Chorreador
One of the many things that you may come across on your Costa Rica tours is a chorreador. Sounds unfamiliar? Well, it’s a coffee brewing device that has been used by Costa Ricans for over 200 years now.
Built with a wooden stand that also holds the coffee cup, a chorreador features a sock used to brew coffee. Simply place the beans in the sock and pour hot water to make coffee.
The quintessential Tico way to make coffee: in a chorreador
Despite the availability of modern coffee makers, many Costa Ricans still prefer to use a chorreador. That is because it is simple yet brews rich and tasty coffee when used right. The trick lies in getting your measurements right. Be sure to use a single tablespoon of ground coffee with about 4 ounces of hot water. It will be ready to drink once the coffee has finished dripping from the sock.
Tips for Preparing and Brewing Costa Rican Coffee
Interesting as it is to use a chorreador, chances are you won’t ditch your modern coffee maker for the more traditional one. In fact, the chorreador will probably be the secondary coffee maker.
The good thing about Costa Rican coffee beans is that they are so rich. You can do anything with them and use any machine, the coffee will still be great. That said, a lighter roast is best made using a filter brew (e.g. a pour over) to highlight the slightly acidic taste of the coffee.
On the other hand, if your Costa Rican coffee is a medium or dark roast, use an automatic dripper or French pressing to do a body balance. Your medium body coffee will taste sweet, whether by itself or as a latte.
So there you go, time to grab a mug and enjoy some Costa Rican coffee. Don’t forget to plan your tour and get the beans straight from the source.
Coffee Beans: Matt Davis https://www.flickr.com/photos/matt-davis/ (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Britt Shop in SJO: Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Chorreador: Sharalds [Public domain]