Costa Rica Coffee

May 16, 2023 by
Costa Rica Coffee
Solai Coffee LLC, Peter Kuria
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Coffee is the main cash crop and one of the major exports in Costa Rica. Thus it plays a big role in their development and economy. The country exports 90% of its coffee yearly, contributing only 1% globally to coffee demand. About 10% of Costa Rica’s population depends on coffee production.
The accessibility of cheap labor promotes the high production of coffee in Costa Rica. The Costa Rica location is pleasantly suitable for good-quality coffee growth.

The History of Coffee in Costa Rica

Coffee was established in Costa Rica in the 18th century and was fetched from Cuba. Costa Rica was the first country to have coffee beans instituted in Central America. The government kept the production of coffee beans until the late 19th century when it began exporting coffee to South America and other countries in Central America.
In less than ten years, the income inspired by coffee exports surpassed that of sugar, cacao, and tobacco. The success of coffee production in the country transformed the lives of several citizens engaged in farming and exportation during that time.

To promote the production of coffee in the country, the government provided free land to farmers in the 19th century. In 1989, the government of Costa Rica declared the planting of Robusta illegal. The aim of passing this law was to put the country in a position to produce Arabica coffee only, known as the most exceptional coffee bean. It was until 2018 that the government changed the law due to the hardships faced by the farmers. However, Arabica continues to dominate in Costa Rica.

Production of Coffee in Costa Rica

The exportation of coffee in the country continues to be significant to the economy, making Costa Rica the 15th largest coffee producer in the world. The production of coffee in Costa Rica depends on the cheap labor available. Mainly, immigrants from Nicaragua are employed in coffee plantations. Over 85,000 small-scale farmers are involved in the production of coffee in Costa Rica.

Compared to other regions globally, Costa Rica has an advanced coffee industry. This is due to the Instituto del Café de Costa Rica, the national coffee association. This association is financed by a coffee export tax permitting them to conduct scientific research on coffee production.
Coffee berries are mostly handpicked from coffee plants and then transported to processing plants (beneficious). Generally, the coffees produced in Costa Rica are mildly acidic.

Costa Rica has cooperatives that advocate for fair trade for the farmers. Per, about 45,000 farmers in Costa Rica are registered with cooperatives involved with fair trade organizations. These fair trade organizations aim at securing greater rights and wages for small-scale farmers. Fairtrade certification stimulates social, economic, and environmental sustainability; therefore, farms supervised by fair trade organizations must observe health, safety, and environmental regulations.

Some cooperatives are a part of secondary cooperatives that work on large scales to boost living standards, crop assortments, reforestation of rainforests, and development and education projects for the coffee farmers’ communities.

Coffee Growing Areas and Climate in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has eight major coffee-growing regions, each generating coffees of distinct flavors and characteristics. These zones experience climates that are excellent for the thriving of coffee. The soils are volcanic, moderately acidic, and very fertile in such areas. Higher elevations, especially those between 1,200 and 1,700 meters, have cooler and pleasantly suitable climates for the growth of high-quality coffee and altitudes below 1200 meters for lower-quality coffee. Let’s take a look at these 8 regions:

  • Orosi

This region experiences a humid climate, and it is abundantly green. This favors the production of smooth coffees with a balanced profile.

  • West Valley

This region encounters dry and wet seasons, which are different. Usually, the climate is not very severe under any circumstances in the year. The flavors of coffee from this region are depicted by Café Britt as fine, honey, and a scent of vanilla.

  • Guanacaste

It is located in revitalizing mountain terrain. The region is known for producing smooth coffee beans with light acidity and flavors having salty notes and acidity.

  • Brunca

The region experiences humid and tropical climates. Coffee beans produced here have flavor profiles of notes of citrus ranging from mild to immensely sweet.

  • Tarrazu

It is the most famous and desirable region in Costa Rica for the production of coffee. The region produces up to 35% of the coffee nationally. Coffee beans from this region make up some of the most high-priced Starbucks cups of coffee. The flavors of these beans are chocolate, vanilla, orange, and dried fruit.

  • Turrialba

Due to the presence of the Turrialba active volcano, thsoils here are very fertile. Coffee beans produced from this region exhibit a soft aroma, light acidity, and smooth body. Some people describe the beans as ‘delicate.’

  • Central Valley

This area, encompassed by Heredia, San Jose, and Alajuela, experiences distinct rainy and dry seasons. Coffee beans produced from this region are depicted as balanced with flavors of chocolate and honey, and fruit flavors.

  • Tres Rios

The soils from this region are enriched due to the presence of the Irazu volcano. Coffees from here are balanced and mildly acidic.

Environmental Impacts of Coffee Production in Costa Rica

Despite the production of coffee in Costa Rica being a major revenue source, it brings about environmental nuisance. The main impact of coffee production on the environment is the pollution of rivers. This happens during the processing of coffee beans, where water becomes contaminated with the by-products from coffee beans. This affects aquatic life. Deforestation is also a major environmental concern due to cutting down forests to plant coffee. The government has passed regulations in the past to protect the environment.

The Quality of Costa Rican Coffee

Since Costa Rica contributes a very small part of the global coffee demand, the government emphasizes much on producing high-quality coffee beans to obtain higher prices and maximize the production of their farms.
Planting and selling low-quality coffee is illegal and punishable in Costa Rica. This is why coffee exported from here is of very high quality.

Coffee Processing Methods in Costa Rica

Coffee beans in the country are processed in three common methods. These are the natural method, the washed method, and the honey method.

  • The Natural Method

This is the oldest and simplest way of processing coffee. Farmers spread freshly harvested coffee cherries on drying beds under the sun in this method. Cherries are dried perfectly. However, this takes time and effort to complete. Generally, it takes about 35 days for the cherries to attain the required moisture level(11%). Cherries have to be flipped and covered at night to ensure that they dry evenly.
The natural processing method permits flavors and sugars from the coffee cherry and skin to be soaked up by the coffee beans, which results in a complex flavor profile.

  • The Washed Method

This is a common method employed all around the world. This method harvests cherries, and the pulp is extracted from the beans. The beans are then sorted by passing them through large drums of water. Once sorting is done, the beans are moved to a fermentation tank filled with water. Beans stay in this tank until the mucilage is dissolved completely.
This process lasts for 12 to 48 hours. After fermentation, the beans are dried either by sun-drying or machine-drying. It takes around a week to finish the process.
This method results in beans with a balanced flavor profile.
The washed method is preferred because it only takes a week to process the coffee.

  • The Honey Method

This method is rare but commonly used in Costa Rica. The technique needs expertise and precision to get right. The term ‘Honey Method’ does not actually come from honey. It usually refers to the mucilage layer of the coffee bean. The layer is thick and slimy hence the term ‘Honey.’
In this method, the cherries harvested are extracted from the bean, and some mucilage is left on the bean. After this, the beans are spread on drying beds for 10 to 15 days.
Coffee beans processed using this method have more acidity.

Best Ways to Brew Costa Rican Coffees

There are several methods for brewing coffee from Costa Rica, and they are such as:

  • The French Press

It is an immersion method preferred by households and experts. This method is very popular. This is because the technique lets you taste all the bean flavors. The French press machine is cheap and easy to use.

  • The Vandola

This coffee brewing method was created in Costa Rica. It is a handmade drip filtering method in a jug made from clay. This material lets coffee acquire various flavors because it sticks to the permeability of the clay.

  • The Aeropress

The machine is affordable and portable. This method results in a cup with less residue. The machine applies hand pressure to force the hot water over the coffee beans to brew.

  • The Pour Over method

This method does not require machinery since it involves gently running hot water over coffee grounds. This method produces coffee with flavors and aromas.

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Costa Rica Coffee
Solai Coffee LLC, Peter Kuria May 16, 2023
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