The pure and clean air of Costa Rica makes for a great atmosphere to grow coffee.
Costa Rica’s history is inextricably linked to coffee production: in fact, on the eve of the country’s independence from Spain, in 1821, free coffee seeds were distributed by the local government as a means of promoting coffee production to bolster the economy. Since it was first shipped to England in 1843, coffee has been one of Costa Rica’s key exports (it was, in fact, the ONLY export until 1890) and is linked to Costa Rica’s identity in a way that no other agricultural product is. The country’s producers were also some of the first ‘responders’ in the global movement towards quality in the cup; nonetheless, as recently as the 1980s, specialty coffee was barely understood, and Costa Rica’s production was largely lumped together as undifferentiated SHB and HB.View Coffees
Place In World For Coffee Exporter15th
Sacks (60kg) exported annuallyApprox. 1,039,000
Percentage of world coffee marketApprox. 1%
Other major agricultural exportsPineapples & Bananas
Typical varieties producedTarrazú, Central Valley, Western Valley, Tres Rios, Brunca, Guanacaste, Orosi & Turrialba
Key coffee regionsTarrazú, Central Valley, Western Valley, Tres Rios, Brunca, Guanacaste, Orosi & Turrialba
Typical harvest timesOctober - March
Typically availableMay – July
Today, Costa Rica has answered the calls of export buyers for greater traceability and remains a leader in the boutique ‘micro mill’ and microlot movements, which allow specific lots to be traced back to a unique farm or plot. In many ways, Costa Rica is an ideal contributor to the movement: the many and varied micro climates found throughout the coffee-producing regions in this small nation provide a wealth of distinctive flavour characteristics determined by coffee varieties, latitude, altitude, soil type, rainfall and variation in temperature. Furthermore, 90 percent of the country’s 50,000 coffee farmers work small farms of less than five hectares, which ensures small lot sizes by default.
Unique Processing Methods
The majority of farmers in Costa Rica do not have facilities to process their own coffee but rather pick their cherries during the day and deliver them to a private- or cooperative- owned mill in their region in the afternoon. In the past, these mills produced predictable, clean washed coffees – though not so much interesting or distinct. Then, in the mid-noughts, a small revolution took place with regards to processing and approaches to milling.
In 2006, during the Cosecha de Oro (Golden Harvest) competition, a producer named Juan Ramón Alvarado submitted two coffees that were very well-received and scored highly in blind cuppings due to their interesting, pulpy, berry-like profiles. The coffees took first and second place and turned out to be “Honeyed” coffees produced using a demucilage machine as opposed to being fully fermented and washed. This surprising win heralded a proliferation of coffees processed and marketed as different ‘honey’ methods across Costa Rica.
Costa Rican farmers using a demucilager can take off or leave on as much of the mucilage or “honey” as they like. Different designations of white, yellow, red and black honey are commonly used (though there are often minor differences from mill to mill) and commonly refer to differences in:
- the amount of mucilage left on the bean after pulping;
- how the beans are dried (i.e. direct sunlight or shaded conditions);
- the length of time and conditions under which the beans are dried.