Coffee in Costa Rica traces its roots to the late 18th century, when it was imported directly from Ethiopia and introduced to the Central Valley, a giant plateau that covers roughly one fifth of the entire country’s landmass. The high altitude, nutrient rich soil and perfect year-long temperature make it naturally ideal for Arabica plants.

Seeing the benefit of an economy structured on exporting coffee to Europe, the Costa Rican government has been strongly supporting coffee growing since the early 19th century. Despite freely giving land away to any farmer who would harvest the crop, the local “Coffee Baron’s” manipulation of the system led to inequality in wealth and power early on, which formed an almost feudalist system in some parts of the country.

The History of coffee in Costa Rica

After declaring its independence from Spain in 1829, Costa Rican farmers would ship their coffees first to Panama, then to Chile where it would be rebranded as “Café Chileno de Valparaiso” and exported to Europe. This continued until the mid-1840s, when a British ship captain sent hundreds of bags of coffee with the original labelling directly to England, where it sparked a country-wide interest in Costa Rican coffee. This formed the strongest partnership Costa Rica would have in coffee for the next hundred years, with England becoming the primary exporter of the country’s coffee from the mid-19th century to the beginning of World War II.

Coffee in Costa Rica today

Today, Costa Rica produces less than 1% of the world’s coffee, and coffee makes up a little more than 0.1% of the country’s agriculture exports, however it maintains its reputation as one of the finest coffee growing countries in the world. Known for inventing and innovating the honey method of processing coffee, as well as its 8 recognized growing regions and long and staggered harvest season. Costa Rican coffees are well known for their flavour and quality and fetch high prices at auctions, especially coffee varieties like gesha grown in the central region of Tarrazú, which have often placed highly and even swept the top spots at the annual Cup of Excellence competition.

What does Costa Rican coffee taste like?

While the usage of honey processing will often greatly expand what a Costa Rican coffee can taste like, what’s for certain is that they will be intensely sweet, like brown sugar or syrup, and will have a very rounded and pleasant body while not being too heavy. In the acidity you will usually find hints of citrus and tropical fruits, they are very rarely malic or dry.

June 12, 2023 — Zara Snitman

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