For you who cannot start a day without a good strong coffee, or finish your lunch with that appreciable bitter taste, you have come to the right place. Costa Rican coffee is considered one of the best coffees in the world. We speak knowingly.
Coffee in Costa Rica
History of coffee in Costa Rica
Originally, coffee was produced exclusively in Africa and mainly in Ethiopia. Then, at the end of the 17th century, the mayor of Amsterdam gifted the King of France Louis XIV with a coffee plant that soon found its place in the royal botanical garden.
The French naval officer, Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu, saw this plant in the royal garden and asked the king for a cutting, which he refused. Therefore, the officer stole a plant before leaving by ship for the French colony of Martinique. The journey was difficult, but despite the storms, riots and pirate attacks, the plant arrived safely after 20 months of navigation.
Three years later, there were coffee plantations throughout the Caribbean and King Louis XIV pardoned Gabriel and appointed him Governor of the West Indies! A beautiful story that ends well. It was then at the beginning of the 19th century that the English colonists from the Caribbean established coffee in this Central American country and more precisely in the Central Valley around San José.
After the abolition of slavery in 1824, the first Costa Rican president, Mora Fernández, wanted to develop his country by giving up parcels of land (up to 5 hectares) to anyone who promised to grow coffee there. This is how this food has become the first resource in Costa Rica. Today, Costa Rica has the best coffee yield in the world.
The discovery of these plantations is an activity in Costa Rica that should not be missed under any circumstances because this product is an integral part of the country's culture.
Coffee culture in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a small country. In terms of production quantity, it cannot compete with others such as Brazil. Thus, the country refuses to practice intensive farming, but prefers to concentrate its efforts on the quality of the products offered, grown with respect for the development of local populations. Almost 90% of its production is exported, mainly to Europe and the United States.
Producing Robusta coffee is prohibited in Costa Rica. You will only find 100% Arabica. Okay, it's for the best. What are the stages of coffee cultivation? In Costa Rica, it is still very traditional.
Flowering takes place from March to May. The pretty white flower that smells of jasmine and is sometimes used in cosmetics. After pollination, the flower falls to reveal the cherry, this green fruit that turns red when ripe.
The cherries (red seeds) are harvested exclusively by hand with simple baskets between November and March to collect only those that are very ripe. Therefore, this requires several passes on the same coffee tree, as the cherries do not ripen at the same time. Longer, more tedious, but that's what (among other things) the quality of Costa Rican coffee does. The harvest is a time shared by families. The children are on long vacations at the moment and participate in the coffee harvest. A traditional moment that punctuates rural life to be shared with the family.
The Cajuela is the unit of measurement of coffee that is approximately 12.9 kg. Collectors, who usually come from Nicaragua, are paid between 1000 and 3000 colones for a Cajuela. On average, a collector brings in a dozen trunks a day. The boxes are joined 20 by 20 to form a Bushel, or about 227 kg of fruit.
The seeds are then poured into a large tar filled with water. The first selection is made by density. Flowing seeds are the best. A second selection is made by size using 2 sieves of 2 different sizes.
Then 3 categories of seeds are defined:
- Large, dense seeds are reserved for export.
- The less dense and medium-sized seeds (i.e. 5% of the production) are kept for the local market or for mid-range brands.
- Small seeds (10% of production) are reserved for the local market or low-cost brands.
After sorting the grains, they are placed in a machine with a rotating drum to separate the seed from the pulp. The beans are then dried on concrete slabs on the ground. They must be "raked" to move and turn every 45 minutes, for 4 to 5 days. Sometimes if the weather is rainy, it happens that they are dried in the oven.
Once dry, the grain is left to rest for 3 to 4 months so that it acquires more flavor: this is the maturation.
Finally, the last and no less important step is the roasting that the brands themselves usually carry out. There are 3 types of roasting:
- Clear: 15 minutes
- Medium: 17 minutes
- Dark: 20 minutes
The more the coffee burns, the more bitter and strong it is.
Where are the farms located?
Coffee needs warm days, cool nights, and fertile soil. The volcanic soil and the climate of Costa Rica between 1000 and 1800 meters of altitude are very favorable conditions for this culture.
The 8 regions that exploit coffee are:
- Central Valley
- Western valley
- Tres Ríos
The plantations are located in height, so plan to rent a car with a powerful engine, or even a 4x4 to get there.
Coffee with Unique Flavors
What coffee to choose ?
We already told you : the motivation of Costa Ricans is to offer you quality coffee. So, you will never be disappointed with the Grano de Oro (Grain d'Or). However, you should choose a coffee that suits your palate because no, not all of them taste the same, which differs depending on the region of Costa Rica where it is produced:
- Some consider that Café Tarrazu is the sacrosanct coffee of the cafes. It is produced in very rich volcanic lands at high altitude, which gives it a particularly intense flavor with complex aromas that explode in the mouth.
- Coffee grown in the Tres Ríos region is known for its acidity and density. Perfect when you like strong coffees.
- In the Central Valley, the climate is much more changeable between periods of drought and periods of heavy rains. That is why you have to be imaginative for growers who make a coffee with a strong character despite a medium acidity but with good body and a perfectly balanced presence of sugar.
- In the Western Valley, farmers have repeatedly won the "Cup of Excellence" award, an award coveted by coffee growers. Here coffee is very popular for its sweetness, its sweetness (but not too much) and its floral aromas. A pure pleasure!
It also happens (regardless of the region) that cherries give only one seed instead of 2. It is called a caracoli or cranberry. This is actually a genetic error, but these seeds are carefully reserved for separate roasting. As you can imagine, it is more expensive because it is rarer but with a unique aroma that is very popular among great coffee lovers.
We recommend Doka coffee, whose most famous brand is Tres Generaciones.
Finally, the coffee that breaks all aromatic records is the "under shade". When you see this mention on a package, go ahead! they are actually coffee plants that have grown in the shade. Therefore, the maturation is much longer, which gives the coffee more time to develop its aromas. The Café Britt brand is one of the few that offers it.
Regardless of the variety you choose, coffee in Costa Rica adapts to any type of coffee machine and can be used as ground coffee in a filter or espresso machine, as well as beans in a machine with a built-in grinder.
The benefits of coffee
Are you one of those people who need 1 or 2 coffees to start the machine in the morning?
Who without this precious asset does not feel ready to face a long day? We also understand you... The effectiveness of coffee and more specifically caffeine to wake us up is no longer to be proven. However, beyond that, coffee is good for your health in other ways. In 2005, a French researcher discovered that coffee would lower the risk of diabetes and colon cancer.
Be careful, don't drink 2 coffee pots in the morning knowing this. We are talking about a moderate consumption: about 4 cups a day (still).
Coffee is also believed to delay the onset of Parkinson's disease ... to your coffee makers! There is a coffee naturally low in caffeine but just as good and with the same benefits: it is Bourbon Pointu coffee from Bourbon Island that is none other than Reunion Island and is produced in Costa Rica. The Tres Generaciones café calls this café Laurina.
Other uses of Coffee Trees
As one Monsieur Lavoisier said: "Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed." This truth applies to the coffee tree. In fact, every 20 to 30 years the roots of coffee trees are exchanged for new plants. The wood of this tree is highly appreciated by restaurateurs and roasters for the flavor it can give to food. Decorative objects or jewelry are also made with its wood to the delight of tourists.
The same goes for the pulp. Do not think that they throw it away and forget it. It is first composted and then used in the fields to improve the soil structure.
Finally, some people try to work with Fleur de Café for use in cosmetics. Charlotte Robert, from Switzerland, had launched her brand “Fleur de Café” but ceased its activity. You can still find their products in some souvenir shops. We do not despair of someone taking over the investigation, that seems quite promising to us;)
Visit a Coffee Plantation
Hacienda Alsacia – Starbucks Plantation
Not all of them can be visited, but those that can teach you many things. They are even very often actors during the visit to let them know the work done by the farmers. You will be given a basket so you can collect coffee beans. Then you will be explained how traditional machines work to separate the grains from the pulp. Then you will see the beans that are dried and the machines that produce the coffee. Obviously, at the end of the visit you will be offered a tasting, a coffee that could not be fresher. Here is a list of some Costa Rican plantations that you can visit:
- Doka Plantation - Central Valley, on the slopes of the Poás volcano, 40 minutes from San José.
- Don Juan - Puntarenas Valley, 1500 meters above sea level in Monteverde. The plus for those who don't like coffee: we also introduce you to chocolate production ... ;-)
- Rio Jorco - Tarrazu: The oldest plantation in Costa Rica.
- Café Cedral - Cerro Chirripó 3h30 from San José.
- Hacienda Alsacia - Starbuck Café - On the slopes of Poás, 50 minutes from San José
Each visit introduces you to the manufacturing process in a friendly atmosphere and you will even share a meal with the employees. Some offer you to sleep on site and present hiking trails to explore around the plantation. We love !
Far from dreamy beaches, coffee plantations take you to a whole new world full of history, tradition, and culture. We highly recommend that you go, taste and share these moments with the locals. An unforgettable experience, you can be sure.