This post was updated January 2018.
Costa Rica Coffee History
When you hear about Costa Rican coffee, you will probably think about good quality and strong flavor. Both thoughts are correct but this reputation is not a coincidence, Costa Ricans take their coffee very seriously and are proud of what we call our golden beans.
History says that back in 1720, the first coffee beans where brought to Martinica and then to Costa Rica at the end of the XVIII century. Due to the ideal climate in the mountains of Costa Rica, coffee became one of their largest exports and an important part of their economy.
Costa Rica was the first country in the area to develop the coffee industry and since then, the government was motivating farmers to grow coffee. Sometimes they even gave land to the farmers without cost in order to increase the national production and it is actually a law that farmers can only grow one certain type of coffee in order to keep the quality top notch.
Costa Rica Coffee Facts
Coffee was such an important product for Costa Rica that laws were passed pertaining to it’s cultivation. Back in 1989, it was prohibited by law to cultivate the Robusta coffee due the poor quality. After this, the Coffee farmers decided to stop producing another kind of coffee called Catimores.
All these efforts were made in order to produce only Arabica Coffee, of which the variety Caturra and Catuaí are the ones we use in Costa Rica. More than 80% of our coffee plantations are located between 800 meters and 1600 meters altitude, planted with fertile volcanic grounds, and temperatures from 17 to 28 Celsius degrees. This is the perfect environment to produce an excellent product. Coffee plants do not like extremely hot weather and thrive in a higher altitude.
Costa Rican coffee has won plenty of international contest and certifications. In Japan, the winner of the world coffee competition used Costa Rican coffee to make his winning cup, saying that he only uses Costa Rican coffee because it is the best in the world.
Costa Rica Coffee Brands
The most sold Costa Rican coffee brands are the 1820, Cafe Rey, Dorado and Britt but you will find many different brands in the supermarket. These are the standard brands made by large companies.
Costa Rica Coffee Tours
If you want to try a specialty coffee from a certain area, then you must take a coffee tour at a beneficio, or a coffee plantation. This is because many coffee plantations are very small or they only sell their coffee at the plantation because they export it.
It’s very interesting to see the fusion between old and new technology because they use both ways to process coffee – by hand and by machine. You can see the entire process of coffee from bean to cup which is a lot more work than you could imagine. We learned so much about coffee on coffee tours in Costa Rica and I highly recommend it for anyone who loves coffee.
The best coffee tours are in the Central Valley (San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago) and Monteverde. We have done coffee tours in Turrialba as well which was great. We especially love the Doka Coffee tour since we love their coffee!
Another activity that is part of our culture is to collect coffee. My mom and her brothers did this when they were young to make money and nowadays they pay from $1.80 to $2 for a basket. It is a tough job but a good collector fills around 15 baskets a day.
Most of the Costa Ricans don’t collect coffee as a job anymore because the pay is very low and there are easier jobs available. The ones in charge are seasonal workers that come from Nicaragua and some rural parts of the country.
When I was a kid, I remember going to my grandmother’s house and something I will never forget is the coffee smell in the house every afternoon. It is a Costa Rican tradition to drink coffee around 3 pm and the secret was the way how my grandma brewed coffee.
Costa Rican Chorreadors
Costa Rican use a chorreador to make coffee which is their traditional coffee maker. A chorreador is essentially a wooden stand and they use a cloth “sock” as a filter.
Although most Costa Rican use the normal electric coffee makers now since it’s a lot faster, the chorreador gives a much richer flavor since it’s all by hand and the “sock” they use as a filter retains more flavor. When it comes to the Costa Rican coffee flavor profile, I would say much of it is an earthy or a fruity flavor.
Here is a video of the traditional way to make coffee. If you love coffee, you must try it made this way! It’s one of the essential experiences to have in Costa Rica 🙂
You can buy a painted chorreador for about $20 with the sock and if you plan to use this to make coffee, make sure to buy plenty of socks!
Costa Rican Coffee for Souvenirs
Coffee and chorreadors are one of the best souvenirs in Costa Rica to bring back as you can find them everywhere and it’s a cheap gift. As for the best coffee to bring home, 1820 and Britt are the two most popular. You can find Britt everywhere since they’re the most commercial so if you didn’t have time to do any souvenir shopping, don’t worry. They have a huge store in both SJO and LIR airport.
Learn more about the food and drink of Costa Rica here.
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