Costa Rica Coffee Guide: This Is What Makes It Special
Why is coffee from Costa Rica so good?
How are farmers in this area able to consistently produce some of the best coffee in the world year after year?
It’s a beautiful combination of the right growing conditions along with a solid infrastructure in place.
This enables farmers to grow, process, sell and export coffee better than most coffee growing regions.
Costa Rican coffee holds a special place in many people’s hearts.
It’s no surprise that it’s one of the most popular coffee growing nations in the world.
Read on to discover why.
Facts About Costa Rica
Costa Rica was the First Central American Nation to Have a Coffee Industry
Coffee was introduced to Costa Rica in the late 1700’s and has thrived since then due to it’s ideal growing conditions.
Due to it’s head start, it is far more common to see quality coffee from Costa Rica than places like El Salvador or Honduras.
Even though Costa Rica does not produce the most coffee in Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras produce more), the country produces more high quality coffee than these other nations.
Coffee buyers are easily able to find the unique coffee they are looking for.
Costa Rica has 8 growing regions, each with a high elevation, yet all different from one another. Coffee was first planted in the Central Valley, where conditions are near perfect for producing exceptional coffee.
Along with high altitude, the region is blessed with volcanic soil and great weather; sunshine in the morning with rain in the afternoon. More than 80% of coffee grown in Costa Rica enjoys these near perfect growing conditions.
Costa Rica is known for processing coffee in one of 3 ways; washed, natural or honey.
Washed coffees represent most of the coffee produced around the world. The coffee cherries enter a wet mill and the fruit is forcefully removed by means of water and machines.
Fun fact: Costa Rican farmers process coffee naturally by leaving the fruit on as long as possible, allowing the coffee bean to receive as much character as possible from the fruit, before it is finally removed from the bean.
Naturally processed coffees are rising in popularity due to their unique flavor profiles as well as the high cost of water preventing some farmers from washing their coffees.
The honey processing method is a middle ground between washed and natural processing. At the outset, only a portion of the fruit is removed from the coffee beans while the rest is left to dry on the bean.
These coffees are sweeter with lively flavor notes. This method is growing in popularity in Costa Rica and is now spreading to other Central American Countries.
The flavor characteristics of coffee from Costa Rica can vary wildly. It depends on where the coffee was grown and how it was processed.
Washed coffees will taste very clean and mild. Flavor notes can include honey, and milk chocolate with a soft, bright fruit character.
Natural coffees will have more of a syrupy body with much more fruit character; berries, citrus, grape.
Honey processed coffees will feature less acidity and will taste much sweeter than coffees processed other ways. Lot’s of honey and molasses notes, with some fruit character depending on the degree of honey.
The most popular coffee from Costa Rica will come from the Tarrazu region. It is the largest region, producing up to 35% of the nation’s coffee.
The most popular coffee from The Tarrazu region? La Minita. This farm is known all over the world for producing exceptional coffee year after year.
Doka Estate is another well known coffee producer. This 100 year old estate, located on the slopes of the Poas Volcano in the Central Valley, produces some of the finest coffees in the country.
These coffees are tasted extensively to determine which coffee is the best. If you can get your hands any of these coffees, you would be very, very happy.
No Robusta Allowed
Costa Rica only grows Arabica coffee.
And when I say only, I mean it is illegal to grow Robusta in Costa Rica. Since 1988, Robusta has been outlawed in an attempt to encourage production of Arabica, the better and more profitable coffee bean.
Although this may sound great to the coffee aficionado that you are, it can be quite risky for farmers.
Fun fact: It is illegal to grow Robusta in Costa Rica
Arabica is much more susceptible to changing weather patterns and pests, whereas Robusta can stand up to pretty much anything.
So if something goes wrong, there might not be a bean to fall back on.
Current State of the Costa Rican Coffee Industry
Costa Rica currently exports about 90% of it’s coffee each year, which is about 12-15 million bags. Still, this is less than 1% of the world’s coffee.
The coffee industry in Costa Rica is far more developed than in most other coffee growing regions. Part of this is due to the existence of the Icafe (Instituto del Cafe de Costa Rica), the country's national coffee association.
Icafe established an export tax on all Costa Rican beans, which funds the organization.
Fun fact: Nearly 10% of Costa Ricans are involved with coffee production. Most of the coffee produced is by small family farms, rather than large scale operations.
They are then able to conduct scientific research associated with coffee plants, genetics, soil and water analysis, etc.
They invest in both the agricultural and the commercial aspect of the the coffee industry.
Another development of the industry here has been the production of micro-mills. These private milling facilities manage the processing of the coffees (mostly washed, sometimes natural).
These small, private mills help to keep lots separate which is ideal for coffee buyers looking for specific coffees and for farmers, who are able to sell for higher prices if their coffee is better than their neighbors coffee.
In other regions, coffees from the same area are all mixed together.
Best Brew Methods for Coffee from Costa Rica
The great thing about coffee from Costa Rica is that you can do almost anything with it and it will be great. Because most of the coffees from Costa Rica are washed, they are well suited to many different methods.
If you have a lighter roast, a filter brew, such as a pour over, will really highlight the mildly acidic flavor notes in the coffee. This will give you the cleanest, brightest cup.
These brew methods will help to highlight the balance of body and, flavor and sweetness present in Costa Rican beans.
You could also pull a great shot of espresso if your coffee is a medium roast.
The coffee’s medium body and mild acidity can produce an excellent shot to be enjoyed by itself or in a latte.
Where to Buy Beans from Costa Rica
If you have a favorite local roaster, chances are that they will have a great coffee from Costa Rica.
However, if you don’t have a go to spot, or if they don’t currently have any Costa Rican beans, check out these places to get your hands on some.
La Colombe is a specialty roaster that can be found all over the place these days.
Though if you don’t live near one, you can order coffee through their website and get free shipping on orders over $30.
They have a great variety of Single Origin coffees and you will likely always find a great Costa Rican.
These guys have been around for 20 years, finding great coffee around the world and roasting it well for you and for me.
Fresh Roasted only sells coffee that is, well, freshly roasted. Ordering coffee through Amazon is risky unless you are absolutely certain that the coffee is going to be fresh.
When you place an order, coffee is roasted, shipped to an Amazon warehouse and then shipped to you. So it might be 4-7 days before you get your coffee, which is still quite fresh.
They roast on environmentally friendly roasters and sell coffees that are often fairtrade and organic. They are committed to selling the best coffees for you and for the planet.
Sweet Maria's is the go to place for green coffee beans. If you roast coffee your own coffee, you probably already know about Sweet Maria’s.
Tom, the man behind Sweet Maria’s spends a lot of his time in the beautiful nation of Costa Rica.
He sees the potential this place has to continually improve their coffee growing and processing practices to produce the best coffee around.
You know that any coffee they sell is going to be excellent.
Most Suitable Roast Style for Costa Rican Beans
Coffee from Costa Rica is some of the most versatile coffee around. It has the potential of doing extremely well as a light roast, medium roast and a dark roast. These beans have the ability to please everybody.
As a light roast, Costa Rican beans will taste very clean with a sweet, mild acidity. Flavor notes can range from honey and molasses to grape and citrus. Brew through a paper filter to highlight these bright flavors.
Roasting a little more as a medium roast will emphasize a full body and a pleasant sweetness. This will make for an excellent drip coffee, great for anytime of the day.
And if you want a dark roast, Costa Rican beans will produce a nice, smooth dark roast full of flavor. These washed coffees will give you a clean, enjoyable cup that will do well through a french press or even as espresso.
There you have it. Costa Rican coffee is a mainstay in our daily lives. It is purchased by roasters all around the globe and is producing some of the finest coffees this world has seen.
Thanks to a solid infrastructure and the magical growing conditions, we should continue to see more, and better, coffee coming from this beautiful country.
Have you visited this coffee nation before? Have a favorite coffee from the region? Let us know in the comments below!