The Costa Rica coffee industry began in the late 18th century, primarily for export to British markets worldwide. The industry grew steadily, becoming the nation’s number one export by the early 20th century. Today, Costa Rican coffee is one of the world’s most prized coffees.
Coffee Growing Regions
Costa Rica has seven coffee-growing regions and over 130,000 large and small coffee farms. The diverse topography and soil throughout the country gives a distinct flavor to coffee beans grown in each region. The most productive of these regions are the following:
- Tarrazu – Tarrazu is located in the south central region of Costa Rica. The region’s high altitude (3950 – 5590 feet) and volcanic soil help to produce hearty and superior coffee plants. Tarrazu coffee farms account for more than half of the country’s coffee production.
- Tres Rios – Another high altitude region in the southern part of Costa Rica. Coffee grown here is noted for its smooth finish.
- Orosi – A middle altitude region with fertile soil and an exceptional climate.
- Turialba – Nestled amidst the larger south central Costa Rica growing regions, coffee from this medium-altitude area is noted for its smooth acidity and good aroma.
Cultivating Costa Rican Coffee
The flavor profile of Costa Rica coffee varies somewhat from region to region, but in general it is characterized by its bright citrus and berry flavors which fade into chocolate or spice flavors. Coffee from Costa Rica is known for its full aroma and high caffeine level.
Most Costa Rican coffee is Arabica coffee (Arabian coffee), a hearty, high-elevation plant that originated in Ethiopia and was made popular in Saudi Arabia over 1000 years ago. The majority of Costa Rican coffee comes from an Arabica hybrid coffee bean, called caturra. This bean thrives in the high plateaus of Costa Rica and yields a rich, potent, almost chocolate-tasting brew.
Coffee plants take about three to four years to produce the flowers that eventually produce the coffee beans. The best situation for coffee plants is dappled shade, to insure that the plant does not produce too many beans and stretch the plant’s nutrients too thin.
Coffee beans, called “cherries,” begin dark green and ripen to a deep glossy red color. Most coffee beans are picked by hand, as inferior coffee results from beans picked too early or too late. The actual coffee beans are two seeds within the “cherries.”
The Costa Rican coffee industry was one of the pioneers in producing organic coffee. Organic coffee is shade-grown so as to preserve the tree canopy, sun-dried to eliminate the need for industrial waste and energy use, and grown without pesticides and fertilizers.
Where to Buy Costa Rica Coffee
Costa Rican coffee is sold as whole beans and ground coffee and may be found at gourmet coffee shops, organic food stores, and better grocery stores as well as a variety of online food retailers, such as igourmet.com and amazon.com. Expect to pay around $9 to $15 per pound for Costa Rica coffee in the United States.