Costa Rican coffees are easy to like, with good sweetness and tasting generally quite juicy. Where washed coffees can have a rather light body and taste very clean, the newer micro mill honey processed coffees are fuller and exhibit citrus, grape and tropical fruit flavours.
Capital: San José
Coffee in Spanish: Café
Population: 4.930 Million (2017)
Tons Produced: 89500 (2016)
Main Coffee Growing Regions
Tres Rios, Cartago
Coffee in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a strong performer when it comes to specialty coffee. With a heavy focus on coffee as a national industry, history of experimentation and a purveyor of high quality, it's no surprise. Farms are mostly small and coffee is processed in microlots in micro mills, making it highly traceable.
As with most coffee producing countries, Costa Rica is at threat with Global Warming. Average temperatures have been steadily increasing, resulting in the widespread arrival of the coffee borer beetle in 2001. Borers lay eggs in the coffee fruit and reduce yield. Extreme rain events and hotter days (on average a degree Celsius hotter than 100 years ago) have put more strain on farms and reduced the land available for growing coffee. Yeilds have decreased over the decades. Urbanisation has also played a part in farming area decline.
Despite these threats, Costa Rica's recent record for battling deforestation is strong. A stable government with effective bans is paying off after decades of aggressive deforestation. More shade grown trees will also help protect coffee plants from extreme weather.
Having begun exporting coffee in the 1830's, Costa Rica has a long history in it's organised trade and development. After claiming its independence from Spain in 1821, the government gave tax breaks and land to anyone who grew coffee. In 1833, Costa Rica's national coffee organisation, Icafe, was formed to help with the agricultural, commercial and export growth of coffee. Emphasis on high quality was taken and in only this year (2018) has a 30-year ban on growing robusta been lifted. This is to contend with the future threats to arabica coffee in the next half century.
As a relatively rich coffee producing country, farmers have a little more money to process their own coffee. It also means wages for locals are higher, resulting in the employment of poorer Nicaraguans and Hondurans during the harvest season.
There is much experimentation with processing methods in Costa Rica, with many farmers operating their own micro mills. This is a specialty coffee buyer's dream, offering the chance to find exciting new profiles but not without risk. The farmers can roll the dice experimenting, especially if asked to do so by major specialty roasters. If the bean doesn't cup well after processing, the farmer can be left with large quantities of coffee they can't sell, or which they lose money on. However, results can be great with Costa Rica consistently producing fantastic coffees, particularly honey-processed beans.
This, when coffee is traded fairly, will also provide greater profits for farmers and help keep the variation and good practices alive. It's a necessity as it becomes harder for coffee farmers around the world to make worthwhile profits on their produce. Farmers in Central America have been switching to other crops and also leaving the farm altogether.
Grading of Costa Rican coffee is done by the density of the bean based on the altitude it grows at. Coffee beans grown at higher elevations are more dense than those grown closer to the sea. The classifications are as follows:
SHB, Stictly Hard Bean - Grown above 1188 Metres Above Sea Level
GHB, Good Hard Bean - Grown between 1005 -1188 MASL
MHB, Medium Hard Bean - The rest
The Panamanian Geishas we have all come to know was carried away from Costa Rica in the 1960's. Since they blew up in the 00's, Costa Rica has taken again to high quality geisha and SL28 varieties, both which can create exciting and complex profiles.
Other common varieites include Caturra, Villa Sarchi (a mutation of bourbon endemic to Costa Rica), Villa Lobos and Venesia, a mutation of Caturra.
Costa Rican Coffee Culture
Coffee is regularly enjoyed after meals, coming with heated milk on the side. As with many coffee producing countries, the best coffee is exported to countries and businesses which will pay more. However, there is a lot of high quality coffee in Costa Rica.
Locals brew coffee with a cotton, sock-like cloth called a chorreador, or Sander (pictured), which hangs on a stand. Ground coffee is placed into the cloth and water is poured over, much like the pour overs many of us use at home. Water passes trough and into a carafe. Chorrear translates into English as the verb to drip, trickle or gush. Don't forget to try this brew method when travelling in Costa Rica!
Cafe culture has also been changing fast in recent years to accommodate for the global rise in specialty coffee. This has seen the invention of the Vandola, something you could consider an improvement on the Chemex. Brewed in much the same way, the ceramic Vandola has a spout for pouring the coffee on the upper side of the rounded bulb in which the fluid sits. There is also a handle for ease of pouring.
And finally, eco-tourism is huge in Costa Rica, tourism generally making the greatest contribution to the country's economy. Visiting coffee farms is included in many packages where you can see examples of coffee cultivation and processing. There they'll hopefully let you try their home roasted coffee, if you're nice.