Costa Rica Coffee: History, Buying and Brewing Tips
If you haven’t tried a cup of coffee from Costa Rica, you’ve been missing out. This nation consistently produces some of the highest quality Arabica in the world, and once it hits your tastebuds; you’ll agree.
Some say coffee from Costa Rica has the best flavour profile from central America; others say it has the best flavour profile in the world. In this guide, you’ll learn about the local coffee industry, what to expect, how to brew, and where to get some amazing beans for a great price.
Facts About Costa Rica Coffee
Coffee produced in Costa Rica is quickly shipped to coffee lovers across Europe, the United States, and all over the world. Here’s what you need to know about this industry.
Costa Rica Was The First Central American Nation to Have a Coffee Industry
Costa Rica’s contribution to Central American coffee growing history is important. Coffee was introduced to Costa Rica in the late 1700s and has thrived since then due to ideal growing conditions.
Given this 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.
Costa Rica Coffee Growing Regions
Here’s a list of the largest coffee regions in Costa Rica. Even though the country is a thin strip of land surrounded by coastline, the mountainous regions of the middle reach ideal heights for growing amazing coffee beans.
Each region produces beans with their own distinct flavors:
- West Valley
- Tarrazu (produces the best coffee, consistently)
- Tres Rio
- Central Valley
Coffee was first planted in the Central Valley, where the nation’s capital and largest city, San Jose, is located. 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 farmers in Costa Rica enjoy these near-perfect growing conditions.
The most popular coffee from Costa Rica comes from the Tarrazu region. It is the largest region, producing up to 35% of the nation’s coffee. The most popular coffee from Tarrazu? La Minita, known worldwide for producing exceptional coffee.
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.
Costa Rica holds a Cup of Excellence Competition every year to determine the best coffee of the year (1)
If you visit Costa Rica, be sure to sign up for one of the many coffee tours that will let you visit a beneficio, or coffee plantation, and sample their products.
Coffee Processing Methods Used in Costa Rica
Costa Rica beans are processed 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. Washed coffees will taste very clean and mild. Flavor notes can include honey and milk chocolate with a soft, bright fruit character.
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. Natural coffees will have more of a syrupy body with much more fruit character; berries, citrus, grape.
Honey processing is a middle ground between washed and natural processing. Only a portion of the fruit is removed, while some of the inner layer – the mucilage, or honey – is left to dry on the bean. These coffees are sweeter with lively flavor notes. Honey processed coffees will feature less acidity and will taste much sweeter than coffees processed other ways. Lots of honey and molasses notes, with some fruit character depending on the degree of honey.
Costa Rican farmers leave 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.
Robusta Coffee Is Illegal!
Farmers in Costa Rica only grows Arabica coffee. And when I say only, I mean it is illegal to grow Robusta in Costa Rica! Since 1989, Robusta has been outlawed to encourage growing Arabica beans. Although this may sound great to coffee aficionados, it can be quite risky for farmers.
A law was passed in 1989 prohibiting the planting of low-quality beans, encouraging Costa Rican farmers to pursue true excellence
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.
The Current State of the Costa Rican Coffee Industry
Costa Rica currently exports about 90% of its coffee each year, which is about 12-15 million bags. Still, this is less than 1% of the world’s coffee (2).
The coffee industry in Costa Rica is far more developed than in most other coffee growing regions. Part of this is due to ‘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. They are then able to conduct scientific research associated with coffee plants, genetics, soil and water analysis, etc. (3)
Of the entire population of Costa Rica, 10% is involved in coffee production and coffee makes up 90% of produce from the country.
They invest in both the agricultural and the commercial aspect of the coffee industry. Another development of the industry here has been the introduction of micro-mills, which manage the processing of coffee (mostly washed, sometimes natural).
These small, private mills help to keep lots separate which is ideal for coffee buyers looking for specific coffees as well as for farmers, who can sell at higher prices if their coffee is better than their neighbours.
Where To Buy The Best Costa Rican Coffee
If you have a favorite local roaster, chances are that they will have a great coffee from Costa Rica. There are many online coffee brands claiming to sell the best Costa Rican beans, but unfortunately, many of these claims are untrue, and you might end up with a blend.
If you’re unsure where to start with finding good quality beans check out this list. Otherwise here are verified resellers of authentic, high quality Costa Rica beans:
Volcanica Coffee is one of my favorite online retailers of gourmet coffee beans at the moment. With super fast, free shipping (with orders over a certain amount), roasting AFTER you order, and a commitment to quality; it’s hard to go wrong.
Currently on offer is a Costa Rican Peaberry – where the finest beans of the crop are hand-picked – only the top 5% making it. Hailing from the prized La Isabela Estate (Tres Rio region – pacific coast) and shade-grown at 5200 feet in a rain forest certified area, this organic coffee offers a balanced yet intense fruity, citrusy flavor that is mild, sweet, and bright.
Pick up a surprisingly affordable bag of Costa Rican Peaberry from Volcanica here.
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.
Pick up a bag of Fresh Roasted brand Costa Rican here.
Sweet Maria’s is the go-to place for green Costa Rica 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.
Check out their premium green Costa Rican beans here.
How To Brew Costa Rican Coffees
You can do almost anything with whole-bean coffee from Costa Rica and it will be great.
Because most coffees from Costa Rica are washed, they are well suited to many different brew methods.
If you have a lighter roast, a filter brew such as a pour over coffee highlights the mildly acidic notes in the coffee. This will give you the cleanest, brightest cup. If your coffee is a medium, medium-dark to dark roast, it would be great using a French press or an automatic dripper.
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.
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, and the roasting process leaves plenty of room for error if you’re a novice.
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 any time 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.
Most coffee in Costa Rica is grown in Volcanic soil at high elevations in cool climates. Most of these small-lot farms are in the San José, Alajuela, Puntarenas, Heredia, and Cartago areas. The cherries are often hand picked, washed and then dried in the sun or by a machine.
Tarrazu Coffee comes from The Tarrazu region of Costa Rica. It is defined by full-bodied richness and beautifully balanced acidity. Tarrazu is located south of San Jose near the Pirris River basin. Coffee cupping experts agree that coffee from this region is the highest quality coffee in the country, and possibly even Central America.
You can make traditional Costa Rican by using a ‘Chorreador de cafe’ which is the Costa Rica version of pour over coffee. Hot water and grounds are filtered through a filter into your cup. If you can’t get your hands on a Chorreador , any pour over coffee maker will do.
Pura Vida, Amigo (Pure Life, Friend)
There you have it. Costa Rica coffee Beans are purchased by roasters all around the globe, producing some of the finest coffees this world has seen). Thanks to solid infrastructure and the magical growing conditions, we should continue to see more, and better, coffee coming from this beautiful country.
- Alliance For Coffee Excellence and Cup of Excellence. (2019, May 22). Retrieved May 31, 2019, from https://allianceforcoffeeexcellence.org/
- Cafe Imports: Costa Rica. (n.d.). Retrieved May 31, 2019, from https://www.cafeimports.com/europe/costa-rica
- ICAFE; Instituto del Café de Costa Rica. (n.d.). Retrieved May 31, 2019, from https://www.icafe.cr/