Costa Rica is a Central American paradise, with lush rainforests, active volcanos, and incredible wildlife. But there is another reason to add Costa Rica to your travel bucket list: Coffee. Costa Rican beans are revered by coffee connoisseurs, baristas, and aficionados worldwide.
History of Coffee in Costa Rica
The coffee industry has played a vital role in Costa Rica’s rich history, culture, and society for over 200 years. Coffee was first introduced in the late 1700s. The tropical climate and fertile volcanic soil are perfect for producing quality coffee beans. In the early days, free land and coffee plants were given to anyone who wanted to cultivate “the golden bean,” which became an essential part of the country’s economy. Costa Rica now harvests and exports nearly 200 million pounds annually around the globe. It is the only country in the world where it is illegal to produce anything other than 100% Arabica—the highest quality of coffee beans.
Los Volcanes Plantation Coffee Tour
Miguel Castro Murillo and his wife, Jeanette Calderon Vazquez, are third-generation coffee producers with coffee in their hearts and souls. Dedicated to the highest quality and environmentally friendly practices, Los Volcanes Coffee Fina is a family-owned organic shade-grown coffee farm nestled on the outskirts of the Poas Volcano in the Central Highlands.
The family is the guardian of a long coffee tradition, cultivating coffee in mountains of Costa Rica, which has been the source of their livelihood for more than three generations. Los Volcanes has been recognized as achieving the highest level possible in sustainability certification.
Miguel led our happy band of travelers on an hour-long ramble, where we immersed ourselves in the earthy comfort of the farm. Sharing his depth of knowledge, we learned about the different techniques used to grow and harvest their organic coffee. We connected with the farm in a tangible way, sensing his pride and passion in every word he spoke.
From Seed to Cup
Starting from a seedling in the nursery, we learned what it takes to successfully grow and nurture the bean to flourish during its lifespan. A combination of distinct dry and rainy seasons, volcanic soil, cool temperatures, and high altitudes make for excellent quality beans.
It takes approximately nine months from blossom to the ripe cherry ready to harvest. The beans must be hand-picked with experienced workers, choosing only the red cherries among the unripe green berries.
The harvested cherries must travel quickly from the fields to the beneficio (processing plant) within 24 hours for optimum flavor. They are then washed, separated from their skins, dried in the sun, and roasted with each beneficio using its own methods.
Next, we moved on to the roasting room. We learned how the beans are roasted at a specific temperature over an optimal time, continually tested using a guide to achieve the desired roast. The fragrant air wafting in the room had the intoxicating aroma of freshly roasted beans. Taking our beans to the grinder, we could hardly contain our anticipation to taste that first cup.
Brewing and Sampling the Coffee
In the cafe, Miguel set up a table with the traditional enameled cups and a Chorreador—a simple two-part device used to prepare coffee the traditional Costa Rican way. The word means ‘to pour coffee,’ and that’s what it does; a bolista or a small cloth sock is pushed through a hole in a wooden stand, filled with ground coffee, and poised over the cup or pot. Hot water is poured into the cloth bag and slowly filtered into the container.
Finally, it was Time to Taste
We learned how the experts discern and rate gourmet coffee by participating in a “coffee cupping” session. Miguel instructed us on the proper way to evaluate the coffee using all our senses. We started by sniffing the coffee, inhaling the aroma. Next came slurping it loudly, aerating it as it spread across our tongue and hit our tastebuds. Full-bodied and smooth, I tasted fruit and subtle notes of chocolate and honey. Like wine, you can find endless flavor profiles in coffee as each harvest is different.
Spending time at Los Volcanes and learning about Costa Rican Coffee from seed to final sip was an educational, fun Pura Vida experience. Ticos take growing coffee seriously; I have a new appreciation for what it takes to produce the perfect cup of coffee.