Costa Rican Coffee – History, Facts & Best Brands

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Costa Rican Coffee Guide

Every steaming cup of coffee you hold in your hand, carries with it a memory of its motherland.
So when you grind those beans. And when you brew your morning dose of caffeine and settle down into that first sip, you’re getting a slice of the soil, a whisper of the weather and sliver of the culture from where the beans are born. 

The coffee from Costa Rica is known amongst the community as being some of the best on the shelves today. We’re here to walk down the path the little brown bean took through the map of Costa Rica towards the rest of the world.

About Costa Rican Coffee

Costa Rica Coffee History

Coffee coasted into Costa Rica almost two and a half centuries ago. The rain-forested country emerged as the first nation in the whole of Central America to establish a thriving coffee industry. The weather conditions and local terrain in the country made for the perfect blank sheet for coffee to thrive.

By the mid 1800s the country’s government was working hard to encourage locals to get involved in coffee farming. They began offering farmers plots of land if they agreed to use them for coffee cultivation. They even made coffee one of the few commodities that was exempt from tithe payments. After that, it didn’t take long for coffee to take its seat as one of the primary sources of revenue for the country. By 1820 coffee grown in Costa Rica started leaving its shores towards other nations in Central and South America. By the 1900s the chief coffee growers in the country were well known people in society. Coffee took its place of pride, generating more revenue for the country than other exports like tobacco and sugar. In fact. up to eleven percent of the money generated in the country through exports can trace its roots back to coffee.

Since the very first steps into the country, the people of Costa Rica have always acknowledged and respected the coffee bean for all that it has and continues to do for economic and social growth in the country.

Costa Rica Coffee Regions

Coffee grows most comfortably in areas with high altitudes and warm weather. The country ticks both those boxes and then some. While more than half the coffee in Costa Rica grows in the various mountainous regions in the country; broadly split, coffee can mostly be found in eight areas. Each one brings forth its unique signature profile to the coffee leaving its farms.

  • Central Valley – This plateau served as ground zero. It’s the area where the first coffee farms took root when the brown bean made its maiden voyage into the country. The region has the most clear shifts between dry and wet seasons in the country, and is sitting on rich volcanic soil. The Monte Crisol mix; a favourite of many coffee drinkers, calls the beans from this region their home. Doka Estate, a coffee producer that claims credit for creating some of the best coffee in the country has an estate on the Poas Volcano slopes region for a century.
  • Turrialba – Sitting next door to the Turrialba volcano; this coffee region enjoys the added nourishment and flavour that comes from volcanic ash being a key ingredient in the soil in which it grows.
Coffee ready to be picked
  • Brunca – The perfect humid climate with altitudes ranging between 800 – 1,200 meters in the region make it the ideal cooking pot for Arabica coffee beans to flourish.
  • Tarrazú – The star player of the country. Tarrazú is the home for over thirty five percent of the coffee beans produced in the country. La Minita, one of the blends that has put Costa Rica on the global coffee map, originates in this region.
  • Orosi – One of the greener regions in the country. The varied foliage and fruits growing along with the coffee in the area work their way into the flavour of the beans shipping out of the territory.
  • Tres Ríos – Closer to the coast, this region enjoys an altitude that surfs between 1,200 to 1,650 meters. It also counts the Irazu Volcano its neighbour. The ash emitted from the volcano works its way into the soil, resulting in the perfect bed for coffee to thrive.
  • Guanacaste – Standing tall in the north of the country. The altitude in the region aid in creating some truly tempting blends.
  • West Valley – A small region not quiet on the country’s radar yet. However West Valley is the site that has over the years produced more than a few Cup of Excellence winners.

Characteristics of Costa Rican Coffee

While coffee born in Costa Rica all manifest the attributes associated with Arabica beans like being more light to medium bodied and having complex flavour profiles with a crisp finish. The region in the country the beans call their home does play a role in determining a few of the flavour traits.

The beans originating from Tarrazu for example stand heavier on the acidic side. While Brunca offers up milder blends with hints of citrus flavour. The West Valley with its award winning offerings presents smooth blends that hold a touch of toffee sweetness and finishes off with a floral fragrance. If you can taste stone fruits like peaches or apricot in your morning coffee, chances are high that the beans in the blend originate here. The blends that offer bold honey fragrances, and merge flavours of chocolate and varied fruit with a milder acidity branch out from the farms in Central Valley.

Tres Rios holds the monopoly for gourmet blends, targeting the coffee drinkers with more targeted tastes. The Irazu Volcano region has its neighbouring volcano to thank for the plum, honey nut and citrus tastes that bless their coffee beans. The region has been fondly christened the Bordeaux on account of the fine blends that exit the region. The coffee beans exiting the Orosi region of the country are very sought after for the intricately blanched smooth finish they offer.

All in all, Costa Rica manages to offer up a diverse range of flavour profiles that can suit any and all taste preferences. Guatemalan coffee, Colombian coffee and the coffee from Brazil though are larger coffee productions, but when it comes to quality of beans, Costa Rican coffee tends to grab the top place.

Types

Types of coffee beans

Costa Rica is the sole coffee producing country in the whole world where it is literally illegal since 1989 to grow anything other than 100% Arabica coffee. 

The country follows something called the green coffee grading system.
This method is used differently in different countries. In Costa Rica it is altitude based and splits the coffee grown into categories based on height they grow at. It also divides coffee beans based on the hardness of the beans. 

The slots they sit in are:

  • Strictly Hard Beans (SHB) : These include all beans growing at a height above 3900 feet. 
  • Medium Hard Beans (MHB) : This slot incorporates all the coffee beans growing between 1,600 to 3,000 feet high.
  • Good Hard Beans (GHB) : This group covers all the coffee growing around 3,300 to 3,900 feet high. 

Variants

The country isn’t afraid of taking chances when it comes to their coffee produce. They’re constantly working to come up with new unique variants of the bean. Some of their success stories include SL-28 and the geisha. Local researchers are even working on genetically modifying the beans growing at home. The result is variants like the Villa Sarchi and Venesia. 

Growth and innovation is an important element through all the stages of coffee production in the country. Costa Rica is the country responsible for introducing the world to the honey processing method. The technique is a mid way point between natural and washed processes. It gets growers to leave part of the fruit on the bean while it dries adding to the sweetness of the overall flavour.

The Best Methods to Make Costa Rican Coffee

So you’ve decide to bag yourself some coffee beans from the country of Costa Rica. It’s finally time to get down to brewing. While there aren’t any hard and fast restrictions over which methods of brewing can and cannot be used. There are certain techniques that bring out the flavour better than others.
How you choose to brew your coffee can to an extent control the amount of flavour you’re able to pull from the beans. The method you choose will depend to an extent on the roast of the beans.

Chorreador Style

Also known as coffee in a sock. This apparatus has being used in Costa Rica for over two centuries. The name is an ode to the process of water trickling through the cloth bag that hangs above your mug. While there are a lot of newer methods of brewing that follow the same principles in a simpler manner. You can taste the difference by opting for the traditional method.

What You’re Going to Need

  • Coffee – Bag yourself a sack of some Costa Rican coffee. It doesn’t have to be a Cup of Excellence winner. Just whatever blend suits your palate best.
  • Kettle – Preferably a gooseneck kettle as it would offer you the most control over direction and flow rate of the water.
  • Sock – A sock. All we ask is you make sure it is clean.
A sock used in a Chorreador
  • A spoon for stirring
  • A grinder – If you’ve managed to get your hands on whole beans. There’s nothing better than freshly grinding your coffee before you brew.
  • A high wooden stand through which your sock will hang.
  • Your favourite coffee mug that makes the coffee taste just a little bit extra special.

What you Have to do

  • Start by placing your coffee mug underneath the sock so anything pouring through can be directly collected inside.
  • Freshly grind you coffee to a coarse consistency and place one tablespoon in the sack. If you simply have a packet of ground coffee and no grinder, measure out a tablespoon and place it in the sock.
  • For one cup of coffee, slowly pour 120 ml of hot water over the coffee grinds through the sock in a slow controlled circular motion.
  • That’s it. All you’ve gotta do now is wait till the coffee stops dripping. Then sit back and sip at your traditional cup of Costa Rican coffee.

French Press

If you want to stick to an apparatus you are more familiar with, the French Press is a good option to fall back into. While there is an entire prism of flavours exiting the country, blends that boast of a balanced body with a medium-dark to dark roast are experienced as a great French Press coffee. If you’re grinding the coffee beans at home, just remember to opt for a coarse grind setting. The method works wonderfully, extracting all the bright flavours from the beans into your caffeinated drink.

Pour Over

Using a Chemex to brew

Closer to the traditional Chorreador Style, pour over methods of brewing work best with a lighter roast. A Chemex, V60, or even the Kalita Wave, would do the job brilliantly. If you’re opting for this method, the coffee grind need to be at a medium fine setting for the best results. You might have to have a few go’s before you work out the kinks to get it just right.

Espresso

The medium roast blends offered up by Costa Rica work surprisingly well in an espresso. Locking in the right grind size is the key here. Play around a little, till you get the right fineness. Once you do. You will be able to pull an exceptional shot of espresso resulting in a surprisingly sweet flavour.

5 Best Costa Rican Coffee Brands

With the sure volume of varieties leaving the shores of Costa Rica. It can be confusing choosing the coffee that’s right for you. In order to make your life just a little bit easier. We’re offering up the five names on the top of every coffee drinkers list of favourite Costa Rican coffee.

1. Volcanica Costa Rican Peaberry

Bag of Volcanica Costa Rican Peaberry beans

Striding through first on our list we have the single origin, whole beans offered up by Volcanica. Like all the coffee in the country, these peaberry beans are hand picked and bursting with flavour.

The coffee is grown with due consideration to both the people behind the scenes, as well as the soil the coffee is growing on. The blend is both Fair Trade, and RainForest Alliance Certified. Growing at an altitude of more than 5,200 feet at the La Isabela Estate, in the Tres Rios region of the country. The shade grown beans when brewed result in a deliciously light cup that carries tinges of sweet fruit, and just a hint of bright citrus.

The coffee is roasted right to a medium brown, after which it is immediately packed to preserve shelf life. The people at Volcanica are so sure you’re going to love what they have to offer. They’re providing a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee.

2. Café Britt – Costa Rican Tres Rios

A bag of Café Britt - Costa Rican Tres Rios coffee

Coming in second is a name almost synonymous with Costa Rican coffee itself. For thirty five years, Cafe Britt has been committed to bringing us the best coffee the country has to offer.

The company offers coffee growing in the celebrated Irazu Volcano region of the country. The volcanic ash that is part of the soil helps nourish and add flavour to the coffee as it grows. The result is a rewarding medium roast medium roast with delicately woven flavours of citrus, nuts, allspice and sweet honey, with a punch of plum to pull it to the end.

Café Britt® - Costa Rican Tres Rios Valdivia Coffee...
  • SINGLE-ORIGIN COFFEE FROM TRES RÍOS - Medium...
  • OVER 30 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE - Founded in...
  • 100% COSTA RICAN ARABICA - Single-origin...

The coffee is carefully sealed in a triple-layer aluminium bag after being roasted in order to guarantee freshness. If you’re not sure on how to get the best out of this particular blend. The V60 has proven to be the perfect match to pull out all the flavours from these beans for a truly rewarding cup.

3. Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC

A bag of Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC coffee beans

Next in line we have single origin beans originating in the famed Tarrazú region of the country. Growing in farms that lie between 1,300-1,600 meters high, these beans fall into the category of strictly hard beans. The medium roast is filled with the sweet mix of honey and chocolate flavours. 

With due attention and respect to the impact of the activity on the environment. The beans are sustainably sourced. Once the beans are hand picked, they are roasted in an environmentally friendly loring roaster.

While it is considered best to grind the beans fresh at home just before you brew. The blend is also available in pre ground packages incase you don’t have a grinder at home. 

4. Little River Roasting Costa Rican La Amistad Coffee

A bag of Little River Roasting Costa Rican La Amistad Coffee beans

Bringing a familial element into our list, is the next blend that called the family run estate of La Amistad its home.

The blend is composed of a natural sweetness melding the classic flavours of fruit with milk chocolate to form a comforting cup of coffee with a thick syrup-like finish and a crisp fruity after taste.

The farm boasts of producing a zero carbon footprint through its coffee production practices. Organic coffee is the only type grown here. This means there are no artificial pesticides or herbicides interfering with the growth and flavour of the coffee.

The unique flavour of the blend makes it amiable to both hot and cold brew options.

5. Cafe Britt Tarrazu Coffee

A bag of Cafe Britt Tarrazu Coffee beans

Coming in to close our list is Cafe Britt once more. This time around, their blend originates in the region of Tarrazú. Offering a roast darker than the others on our list, this blend boasts of a flavour profile highlighting the alluring flavours of cacao and grapefruit

These high-mountain grown beans are certified as strictly hard bean along with being kosher and gluten free. This means they are all hand picked in farms that stand at a minimum height of 4,500.

The fragrance of dark chocolate that raises as this coffee brews is so intoxicating. It can push even the most hardened tea drinker out there to convert to caffeine.

The beans are available in both whole as well as pre ground options. So if you don’t have a grinder at home, you don’t run the risk of missing out.

Café Britt® - Costa Rican Tarrazu Montecielo Coffee...
  • SINGLE-ORIGIN COFFEE FROM TARRAZÚ – Medium...
  • OVER 30 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE - Founded in...
  • 100% COSTA RICAN ARABICA - Single-origin...

FAQS

What is the Cup of Excellence Competition?

It is a contest held every year in countries all across the globe to recognise and acknowledge the highest quality coffees produced.

How much coffee does Costa Rica export?

The country exports 90% of the coffee they grow. At last count, Costa Rica stood as the fifteenth highest coffee-producing country in the world

What is the coffee harvest season in the country?

Coffee is harvested between August to January in Costa Rica.

What processing methods are used on the coffee after they are picked?

Depending on the region the coffee is growing in, the beans are either washed, naturally processed or honey processed.

Why is the Costa Rican coffee so expensive?

Cost Rican coffee grows at higher altitudes and thus takes longer to ripen which in contrast lowers the production quantity. This reason makes the growing of this coffee expensive.

At the End of the Day

Coffee from Costa Rica holds a special place in the hearts of caffeine lovers all over the world.
The people of Costa Rica are very aware of how much the tiny bean has done for them and their country. The coffee industry is responsible for employing ten percent of the country’s population. While the region doesn’t break any kind of global records in production. After all, they contribute only close to one percent of the global coffee supply. What the country lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. There are some true global treasures that the country has introduced to the world. What’s more, they’re always working to find and create something better. And for that we are forever grateful.