Coffee Culture in Costa Rica
Costa Rica's coffee tale began in 1798, when acreage and coffee plants were gifted to anyone willing to cultivate the crop for export. The country's mineral-rich volcanic soils, cool mountain climates, and shaded fields provided ideal conditions for growing the sweet, red "cherries" that could be roasted into the rich, caramel elixir so valued in Europe. Over the next several decades, coffee became the principal export – and a major source of income.
By the time Costa Rica had gained independence from Spain and declared sovereignty from the Federal Republic of Central America, the nation's coffee barons were the new elite. In the mid-19th century, the United States and European nations were the main importers of Costa Rican java. Coffee earnings – and the taxes derived from those profits – helped finance a national postal service, printing press, and the spectacular National Theater in downtown San Jose. Costa Rica's first railroad was established thanks to, and because of coffee: profits from the crop financed construction, which in turn enabled coffee farmers to quickly export their goods abroad.
Coffee was not just the basis of Costa Rica's economy; it also played an important role in local culture. As the historians Peter and Sampers noted, "Drinking coffee became a ritual of Costa Rican society, a society that was free of economic and social distinctions; everyone drank it, from the simplest farmer or laborer to the most prominent politician." Today, coffee remains the country's second most profitable commodity – tourism is number one – and Costa Ricans still treat coffee, or "cafecito," as a treasured daily tradition.
The country only produces Arabica beans, which generally yield a smoother cup of coffee. Costa Rican coffee purchased locally is a bargain, as even high quality roasts are sold for less than $4 per pound. The best brands are offered as both whole bean or ground. Always look for coffee that is grown in Costa Rica (labeled "Hecho en Costa Rica"), and is 100% pure, export quality. A few top brands include Cafe Britt, Doka, Cafe Naranjo, Volio and Montana. The country's most famous coffee growing regions are Tarrazu and Dota, nestled high in the Talamanca Mountains, and the volcanic slopes surrounding Poas and Barva volcanoes.
For a traditional taste of this local delicacy try using a chorreador, Costa Rica's simple method for brewing coffee. This old-fashioned system yields a strong flavor without the hassle of electric coffee makers or paper filters. A chorreador consists of a stand that can accommodate a cloth coffee sock. Simply place the coffee grounds in the sock, add near-boiling water (boiling water can burn coffee grounds and create a bitter flavor), and let the brew filter into a cup or pitcher below. Enjoy!