Costa Rica Coffee: Your Definitive Guide

What is Costa Rica Coffee?

Costa Rica Coffee is coffee that is grown in Costa Rica, consisting of superior 100% Arabica coffee beans grown throughout various regions with perfect conditions. The price of Costa Rica Coffee tends to be on the higher side compared to coffee from other regions. However, the cost is justified by the high-quality output. Costa Rican coffee is loved by coffee connoisseurs around the globe - rightfully so!

In this guide, we’re giving you the complete lowdown on Costa Rican coffee. But before we get started, we’d like to introduce you to our amazing coffee subscription.


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Costa Rica Coffee = High Quality Coffee: Why?

Costa Rican coffee is considered one of the best in south/central America and around the world. Some defining factors making for the best coffee is determined by Costa Rica’s high coffee growing altitudes, the perfect temperatures, its tropical climate, the fertile soil and stable rainfall. Another unique aspect of Costa Rican coffee is the way it is harvested and processed. In pursuit of keeping up their reputation as a high-quality coffee bean producing nation, planting low-quality beans was outlawed in 1989, making it an absolute requirement to produce 100% Arabica coffee beans. Another decisive quality standard lies in the fact that coffee beans are hand-picked, ensuring that only the ripest beans are being processed.

Brief History of Coffee Production in Costa Rica

Coffee production played a pivotal role in Costa Rica’s history and it remained a vital economic driver to the country to date. Coffee production accounts for around 3% of the total economic output (GDP) and around 10% of the countries exports.

1779: The first coffee plants surfacing in Costa Rica originated from Cuba. They were cultivated in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, a region with perfect growing conditions.

1808: Commercial coffee production started. Costa Rica became the first thriving coffee producing nation in the Americas.

1820: The first exports of Costa Rican coffee were sent to south/central American nations. In 1843 the first exports were made to Britain, followed by the United States in 1860.

1829: The reliance and importance of coffee grew tremendously as exports and coffee sales started to exceed revenues from tobacco, cacao, and sugar.

1900: Coffee production competition increased from other nations of the Americas, such as Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil.

1939: Due to World War 2, coffee export to England stopped and the Costa Rican coffee industry took a hit.

1980: Coffee farms across Central America suffered blight and disease, ruining vast coffee plantations, and curbing the coffee production output significantly.

1989: High coffee quality standards were introduced by the Costa Rican government. Low-quality Robusta beans were banned by a law passed in 1989.

1995: While coffee production had increased considerably by the mid-90’s, coffee prices moved the opposite way for farmers.

2000 onwards: Price drops continued to impact coffee farmers’ profitability. Due to this and other factors, such as the blight and lower exports during WWII, the nation started to diversify its economy. More recently Costa Rica developed a thriving tourism and real estate industry, prompting farmers to sell their land. Despite of this continuing trend, Costa Rica’s coffee has remained very important to the nation’s economy and its premium coffee is enjoyed around the world.

What Does Costa Rica Coffee Taste Like?

Depending on the coffee region within Costa Rica, flavour profiles are fairly diverse. Costa Rica coffees have a clean, sweet and fruity taste with moderate acidity levels. Some of the typical flavour notes associated with Costa Rican coffee, are honey, chocolate, citrus, vanilla, grape and molasses. What you can expect, are vibrant and well-balanced fruit flavours with a clean sweet and light body.

Quick Overall Facts

 Geography & Altitude Highland valley regions (800-1,500 meters above see level)
 Best Coffee Regions Tarrazu, West Valley, Central Valley Tres Rios
 Harvest Mostly December to April
 Milling Process Washed, patio and drum drying
 Aroma Intense & full
 Flavour Profile Vibrant, floral, fruity, sweet & aromatic flavours
 Body Light body
 Acidity Mild
 Cost High green been prices compared to other coffee regions

 

3 Reasons Why Costa Rican Coffee is so Good

The Soil & Geography

Arabica coffee beans are the most difficult to grow because they are not as hardy as other coffee plants. But those delicate plants thrive in Costa Rica because of the fertile volcanic soil and tropical climate. The mountains and location lead to a premium coffee that is rich. 70% of the beans are grown in mountainous regions where the soil is enriched with ash from the volcanoes that provides the beans with better oxygenation and creates improved flavour. There are 8 regions that each grow beans that have their own flavour.

High Altitudes & Ideal Climate

The high altitudes in Costa Rica mean that there are a range of micro-climates and ecosystems making different regions the ideal climate for different varieties of beans. In Tarrazu you can enjoy beans that are heavy and more acidic, in the Western Valley you have subtle apricot and peach tones and in Brunca the coffee is more moderate. There are 2 seasons, rainy and dry and temperatures stay pretty consistent, between 17 degree Celsius and 28 degrees Celsius. That combined with the high altitudes and heavy rainfall creates the perfect place to farm the beans.

Harvesting, Milling & Processing

Costa Rican coffee beans are hand-picked by expert farmers who know when the beans are mature and ready to be processed. This means the harvesting is not rushed, the beans are not damaged, and only the ripest are picked. That is how Costa Rican beans always have the best flavour. The same can be said of the very precise and careful processing they then go through after.

Growing Regions

Costa Rica consists of eight different coffee regions, each of which produces unique flavour profiles and coffee characteristics. The regions altitude ranges from 1,000 meters above sea level (lowlands), typically producing lighter coffee and 1,200+ meters above sea, where coffee is more aromatic, acidic and therefore stronger.

Tarrazú

Tarrazu dates back to the ancient Huetar Indian tribe which once lived in this area. It is considered the cream of the crop of all coffee regions in Costa Rica, accounting for around 35% of total Costa Rican coffee production. This coffee region is made up of small farms, covering 22,000 hectares of land. The quality of the coffee beans comes as a result of the rich soil, high growing altitude, perfect temperatures, ideal climate and the distinguished processing methods. In comparison to other beans, Tarrazu coffee typically contains a higher amount of caffeine.

Dominant Flavour Notes: Chocolate, Fruit & Vanilla

Growing Altitude: 1,200 - 1,900 meters above sea level

Types of Coffee Beans: 100% Arabica (Primarily Caturra)

Harvest Period: November-March (dry season)

Acidity: High, very fine

Location: Situated in the western part of the centre of Costa Rica and South of San Jese, Tarrazu is located in a highland valley.

Central Valley

Blessed with fertile volcanic soil rich in minerals, ideal weather conditions and varying levels of high altitudes, Central Valley coffee has earned itself a place amongst the best coffee producing regions around the world. Due to the high altitude, the coffee beans have a slow maturing process, producing solid and porous beans and leading to higher acidity levels. Beans with a high acidity are known for their aromatic flavours. Central Valley beans are famous for their chocolate, fruit and honey tasting notes. 

Dominant Flavour Notes: Chocolate, Fruit & Honey

Growing Altitude: 900 - 1,400 meters above sea level

Types of Coffee Beans: 100% Arabica (Caturra & Catuai)

Harvest Period: November-February (dry season)

Acidity: Gentle citric acidity

Location: Located south of San Jose (capital of Costa Rica), the Central Valley is situated on a plateau surrounded by mountains and volcanoes.

Western Valley

The West Valley gave birth to the first coffee plantations in the country. It’s coffee production accounts for nearly 25% of Costa Rica’s total output. Due to the various microclimates across the Western Valley, it offers a wide variety of flavours ranging from Chocolate to Vanilla, Peach, and Honey. The Western Valley produced a number of Cup of Excellence winners, cementing it’s place on the world coffee stage.

Dominant Flavour Notes: Chocolate, Vanilla, Peach, Orange & Honey

Growing Altitude: 1,200 – 1,700 meters above sea level

Types of Coffee Beans: 100% Arabica (Caturra & Catuai)

Harvest Period: December-February

Acidity: Balanced citric acidity

Location: Located in the far west of Costa Rica’s coffee growing regions.

Turrialba

Turrialba is one of the most well-known of the famous coffee producing regions in Costa Rica. The beans here are known for their larger size due to the special conditions created in the valley with early ripening and multiple blooms. The coffee here is ready earlier than other regions. It has a smooth aroma, light body and mild acidity with orange, vanilla and floral tones. Coffee growing is a vital part of the economy there and often the coffee is grown alongside the sugar canes and with the paddocks.

Dominant Flavour Notes: Floral & tangy citrus flavours

Growing Altitude: 500 – 1,400 meters above sea level

Types of Coffee Beans: 100% Arabica (Caturra & Catuai)

Harvest Period: July - March Acidity: Soft acidity

Location: Located in the Cartago province of Costa Rica

Brunca

It is the tropical and humid climate of the region of Brunca that sits in the lower and central areas that means its coffee beans are especially complex in their range of flavours. It has mild acidity and citrus tones and ranges from very sweet to very mild. The Brunca region is comprised of Perez Zeledon, Coto Brus and Buenos Aires. In Perez Zeledon, there are a range of micro-climates and altitudes and the beans grown here satisfy even the most toughest of coffee experts. Coto Brus is in a valley on the slopes of the Talamanca range of mountains and is situated at a slightly higher altitude. Buenos Aires coffee growth is mostly at the bottom of La Amistad International Park.

Dominant Flavour Notes: Sweet and complex citrus flavours

Growing Altitude: 600-1,700 meters above sea level

Types of Coffee Beans: 100% Arabica (Caturra & Catuai)

Harvest Period: August - February

Acidity: Mild acidity

Location: Located in the south of Costa Rica near the border with Panama.

Tres Ríos

Tres Rios is found a few kilometres to the east of the capital San Jose and has a very rich and lush soil thanks to the volcano ash from the Irazu volcano. It has good retention of moisture and is well oxygenated. This is where the unique gourmet drink is produced called the Bordeaux of Costa Rica. The beans are physically harder and have a closed fissure, so they are referred to as a Strictly Hard Bean. The drink has a good body, a very pleasing aftertaste and balanced, fine acidity with some sweet tones, citrus and nuttiness.

Dominant Flavour Notes: Citrus, fruits and nuts

Growing Altitude: 1,200 – 1,650 meters above sea level

Types of Coffee Beans: 100% Arabica (Caturra & Catuai)

Harvest Period: November - March

Acidity: Fine and balanced acidity

Location: Situated east of San Jose, the Costa Rican capital

Orosi

The coffee beans in the region of Orosi are known for being homogeneous and large ranging in color from bluish green to a deep green. The climate is humid, it is a rainy region, in what is one of the older regions in Costa Rica, dating back to more than 100 years. This along with the lush plant life mean that the coffee produced tends to have a cocoa flavour along with intense aromatic tones. It is a very balanced coffee in its low acidity and sweetness. The region is found in a valley 40 km away from the capital of San Jose. Due to the higher parts of the mountains and protected forests, the region’s conditions are not affected by over development.

Dominant Flavour Notes: Cocoa/Chocolate

Growing Altitude: 1,000 – 1,400 meters above sea level

Types of Coffee Beans: 100% Arabica (Caturra & Catuai)

Harvest Period: September - March

Acidity: Low/Smooth Acidity Location: Situated south-east of San Jose near the Irazu Volcano

Difference Between Costa Rica Coffee and Other Beans?

Due to the rich volcanic soil, high elevations and the climate Costa Rica can successfully grow the most aromatic and flavourful coffee beans there are. While only being responsible for 1% of the world's entire coffee production, that 1% is focused completely on quality. They even have laws in place so that farms can only grow high quality Arabica beans. The coffee from Costa Rica varies in flavours, body and acidity because of the various regions mentioned. But in general, the coffee tends to be more robust in its aroma and sweeter in its taste. Interestingly the coffee also tends to have a higher content of caffeine than most other beans!

Costa Rica Coffee Production & Export

  • Costa Rica provides 1% of the world's coffee producing 1.5 million 60 kg bags a year on average.
  • Costa Rica is the 8th largest coffee producer in Latin America and the 15th largest producer in the world.
  • More than 30% of the labour force in Costa Rica is employed in the coffee industry.
  • The largest growing regions are Cartago, San Jose, Puntarenas, Heredia and Alajuela.
  • Varieties produced and exported include Caturra, Typica, Gesha, Villa Sarchi and Bourbon.
  • Coffee was first exported to England in 1843 and for 47 years was its only export partner.
  • The country has about 50,000 coffee farmers and 90% of them work on farms less than 5 hectares large.
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