Background to the Costa Rica coffee origin
Costa Rica is a stable democracy and is a land that is as diverse as it beautiful. This little country has it all; from mountains and volcanoes to rainforests that buzz with life and coastlines with great beaches and surf. The nation is comparatively wealthy in Central America and is unarmed and peaceful. Hardly surprising then that Costa Rica is sometimes referred to as the ‘Switzerland’ of Central America. With such an impressive backdrop, Costa Rica has cashed in on tourism and around 1.5 million visitors are drawn to its shores, forests and mountains each year. Historically coffee has most certainly played a part in the development of the
country, though its importance to the economy today is less significant.
The Costa Rica coffee origin first saw coffee back in the 19th century when the government subsidised free coffee seeds to encourage its production. Export to the UK started in 1843 and for fifty years, coffee was the sole export of Costa Rica. Coffee drove infrastructure such as hospitals, rail roads and schools. In 1830 the wet process was introduced and by 1903 nearly two hundred mills were dotted around the Costa Rica coffee origin.
Speciality coffee in Costa Rica
It might be said that the Costa Rica coffee origin is famed for its coffee, as it is generally known as a coffee producing nation. However, in the speciality coffee sector this country’s fame had faded and stood in the shadows of Central America’s best producers; El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico. The reason behind this was that very large mills had developed big brands and they bought up the coffee from small farms to be blended and in doing so these smaller lots lost their identity – in both name and the cup. This meant that we were generally left with good, consistent and clean coffees that are great for blending or generic roasting. However, there are good coffees to be found. The soil is rich and fertile thanks to thousands of years of volcanic activity, there’s high altitude, good varieties and cultivars and the necessary expertise is certainly there.
We have more recently seen an increase in the number of micro-mills in the Costa Rica coffee origin. These mills are generally controlled by the farmer and give much better traceability and selection control. It is these micro-mills that many speciality coffee roasters are seeking in order to find their coffee, not the large mills. Farmers such as the Zamoa family are making our exporter/importers jobs far easier by recognising the potential that the speciality market can bring. I’ll post more on the Zomora’s later.
Costa Rica coffee growing regions
The capital city, San Jose is located here and is the most populated and longest existing coffee region. It is typically divided into the sub-regions of San Jose, Heredia and Alajuela. Atlitude: 900 – 1,600 masl. Harvest: November – March.
This region is divided into two sub-regions, Coto Brus whcih borders Panama and Perez Zeledon. Altitudes: 600 – 1,700 masl. Harvest: August – February.
This is a large region that shares farming with beef rearing. The coffee here is grown at low altitude, so we rarely see great coffee from here. Altitude: 600 – 1,300 masl. Harvest: July – February.
This is a very small coffee growing region, but has been in existence for over a century. Altitude: 1,000 – 1,400 masl. Harvest: August – February.
This region is the best known and has the highest regard of all Costa Rica regions. It’s high altitude and distinct dry season during harvest allows for some exceptional coffees. Altitude: 1,200 – 1,900 masl. Harvest: November – March.
This area benefits from the effects of the Irazu volcano, but suffers form its proximity to San Jose and its increasing urban sprawl. Lower coffee volumes are subsequently being grown here. Altitude: 1,200 – 1,650 masl. Harvest: November – March.
The first coffee farmers settled here in the 19th century and can be split into six sub-regions. The coffee varierty, Villa Sachi is named after a city in one sub-region. Altitude: 700 – 1,600 masl. Harvest: October – February.