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The Tradition of Coffee in Costa Rica

By Wilberth Villalobos Castrillo
Photos by Adam dietrich

Talking about coffee for most Ticos is almost like talking about soccer, politics or religion, or at least it accompanies one of these conversations and makes it more fun to hang out. We invite you to see what’s behind Costa Rican coffee and what makes it so special.


Wilberth Román, manager of Coopepilangosta in Hojancha, examines a coffee plant.

According to the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica (ICAFE), the first coffee plants appeared in the country around the end of the 1700s. Father Felix Velarde was chosen as the first farmer, who in 1816 had coffee plants on a plot located 100 meters north of the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Jose. That's how Costa Rica became the first Central American country that established this flourishing industry.

Costa Rican coffee is recognized worldwide for its quality. According to ICAFE, there are three factors that affect the national coffee quality: the type of bean, geographical and environmental conditions as well as advanced technology.

The bean: 100% of the coffee grown in the country is of the Arabic strain, of the Catuaí and Caturra varieties. This produces a higher quality bean and a cup with better organoleptic characteristics. Since 1989, ICAFE has prohibited by law the planting of the Robusta variety of coffee because it’s an inferior quality cup of coffee.

The soil and climate: The fertile soils of volcanic origin and their low acidity present ideal conditions for coffee production. Moreover, the geography and climate of the country is optimal for growing golden grains. Over 80% of the coffee area is located at altitudes between 800 and 1,600 meters with temperatures between 63° to 82°F, and with an annual rainfall of 78 to 118 inches.

Technology: The advanced technology that has been used by Costa Rican coffee producers for over 200 years has allowed the plantations to adapt the characteristics of each area of production. Methods such as manual collection and selection in which only the mature grain is chosen allow for better cleaning of the coffee. Also, the removal of the pulp is done on the same day as the grain harvest. Further, the process includes sun drying, one of the most in-demand systems in high quality world markets.

Conventional, Organic and Gourmet Coffee

In times past, coffee was drunk in the morning and afternoon mostly by adults. It also accompanied classic Costa Rican meals such as gallo pinto, tamales, rosquillas, and tortillas, among others. However today its consumption has diversified among a wider and more demanding public.

Ricardo Azofeifa, current national barista (coffee specialist) champion and 8th worldwide, said that “decades ago, coffee was usually consumed among adults and among medium to high social classes, but today I have personally seen a more open experimentation with coffee of all kinds of people. I see boys between the ages of 12 and 16 years drinking cappuccinos or flavored coffees. Ten or 15 years ago this was impossible,” he explained.

 
   
 
   
 
   
 

Azofeifa mentioned that although the conventional coffee, which is grown using traditional methods, is still preferred by most Costa Ricans, there is more and more acceptance of the cultivation of gourmet and organic coffee.

“The main difference between traditional and gourmet coffee is the quality of bean, which is fully mature and with excellent flavor. Also it is grown at altitudes above 1000 meters,” explained Azofeifa.

On the other hand, organic coffee is grown entirely naturally without the presence of chemicals or pesticides.

Jose Solis, barista of the Association of Specialty Coffees of Costa Rica, believes that coffee can be organic as well as gourmet.

“Organic coffee represents a long-term cost reduction for the producer because in the process no chemicals are used so it does not harm the environment. It also receives a higher price and is requested by the most demanding international markets,” Solis said.

Coffee in Guanacaste

Past the city of Nicoya, hidden among the low mountains of the canton of Hojancha 45 minutes away, is Coopepilangosta.

This business-cooperative has produced conventional and organic coffee for 50 years. Wilberth Roman, manager of the company, told us that they receive the beans from local producers who are in the high parts of the canton of Hojancha as well as some areas of Nicoya and Santa Cruz.

The result is Diriá brand coffee. The cooperative works with 167 production partners, and the activity benefits 850 people directly and 6000 indirectly. Diriá not only sells its products to hotels and local businesses but also exports to Europe and America.

Coopecerroazul Guanacaste is another coffee cooperative that is located in the mountains of Los Angeles de Nandayure, which has been producing Pampa brand coffee for 50 years.

Daniel Chávez, Coopecerroazul manager, said that in recent years the company sought to diversify their production, so that the cooperative, in addition to receiving and processing coffee, could use other raw materials such as oranges and wood, which is used as firewood to heat the plant’s kiln.

“We produce as much organic coffee as conventional. It's a living for us and is of great economic importance to the community. I have made a living at this for 24 years, and for me it is the best way there is,” said Chavez.

Olivier Barrantes has been a coffee producer for 25 years. He is a resident of Huacas in Hojancha and affirmed the importance of coffee to the community. “From six in the morning I’m at the plantation cutting, spraying, watching the shades, planting, gathering — there is always something to do at the plantation, even if it’s not the high season,” he said.

 
Coffee dryers at Coopecerroazul in Los Angeles de Nandayure are used to
dry out beans before storage or roasting.
   
 
   
 
Silos at Coopepilangosta, and the main farm building where coffee beans
are dried and roasted.

Barrantes said that in high season the community benefits greatly economically. During the previous harvest, the pay for one crate of coffee was 1,000 colones. “There are people here who are very skilled and hard working and in one day can fill up to 20 crate. You do the math as to how much that is per month,” he said.

The Best Places to Drink Coffee

NICOYA
     
At Café Daniela, located on the city's main street across from Instituto Jiménez, a cup of Britt coffee, black or with milk, costs between 400 and 600 colones.
     
  Next to Librería Ayales, Cafetería D’ Melón offers a wide variety of iced and hot coffees such as cappuccino, and delicious pastries and desserts. Their prices start at 1,600 colones, with some coffees that include ice cream and cream. Hot coffees start at 700 colones. All their coffee beverages are made with freshly ground coffee, medium roast, tailored for those who are looking for a quiet place to enjoy a gourmet coffee.
     
Located on the park's east side, Soda El Parque offers coffee and cappuccino with prices ranging from 700 to 800 colones.

SAMARA
     
  Top of the list is El Cafecito, located upstairs in the Mini Plaza, where they use gourmet whole bean coffee from Café Rey.  Among their most popular coffees are espresso for 1000 colones, cappuccino for 1500, cappuccino frappelate (an iced coffee with ice cream) for 2500 and Amor Amor (espresso with brownie and ice cream) for 2750 colones.
     
  Café Carola, located next to Mini Super El Delfin in Cantarana, serves Costa Rican organic coffee, as well as Italian cappuccino, espresso and iced coffee with ice cream. Prices range from 500 colones for a small cup of coffee to 1000 colones for a specialty coffee.
     
  Samara Organics, located at the Natural Center Gym and Spa, serves French and dark roast organic coffee.  Their regular Americano coffee is 850 colones, and their cappuccinos are 1200 colones.  Other popular coffees are the espresso, latte macchiato, and mocha served either hot or cold.
     
  Panaderia El Maná, located across from Century 21, serves 1820, “the best coffee of Costa Rica,” according to the ladies that work there, at 500 colones black and 600 colones with milk. Their espresso (800 colones) and cappuccino (1200 colones) are made with Europa 93, an Italian roasted and ground coffee blend.  

NOSARA
     
  The Guiones landmark Café de Paris offers coffee ranging in price from 700 colones to 1500. They offer different types from espresso and lattes to regular coffee, and they have take away as well. The espresso is the more watered-down ‘long espresso type,’ so for those looking for an Italian style ‘short espresso’ you may be better off at the next spot.
     
  Seekret Spot in Pelada is on the main road leading to the beach. It offers a nice quiet refuge and lives up to its name. Inside you can find coffees ranging from Americano to espresso in prices from 800-1000 colones. They use coffee imported from Italy, for an authentic taste in their espresso-based drinks.
     
  Harmony Hotel is good for those looking for gourmet coffees, although with a slightly higher price tag. The Juice Bar offers espresso, Americano, cappuccino, iced coffee and macchiato. Coffee here ranges from 1000 colones to 2000 colones depending on the type.
     
  Organico is across the road from Café de Paris. The mini-mart has a café offering regular drip coffee made using Britt Organics. It comes in two sizes, small and large and costs 500 or 700 colones respectively.

 

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