Costa Rica Coffee Overview
Costa Rica was the first country in Central America to produce coffee for commercial purposes.
The production started back in 1808 when Costa Rica brought the first coffee plants from Cuba. By1860 it has been exported to Britain and the United States. The income made on coffee was used to modernize the country by building roads and cultural centers such as National Theather in San Jose. Costa Rican Coffee took a big hit during World War II when they stopped being England's number 1 supplier of coffee since England was practicing rationing and stopped buying during the war. Another misfortune found Costa Rica in 1980s when a blight hit the coffee farms, killing millions of plants and damaging the industry for years to come. Despite all this, Costa Rica prevailed, and their coffee is still prized around the world.
Today Costa Rica is the 15th largest coffee producer in the world, with producing only 1% of the world's coffee supply. Still, even if Costa Rica isn't a big country, it is diverse in both climate and geography, with great altitude for coffee growing. Coffee was first planted in the West Valley but the most famous and productive region in Costa Rica is Tarrazu.
Another thing Costa Rican farmers are known for is their tendency to experiment and plant rare species of coffee, such as SL-28, geisha, and Villa Sarchi. Costa Rican farmers tend to focus on Arabic and Robusta is seldom grown.
Costa Rica Tarrazu coffee region. Taken from La Pastora farm owned by the Monterro family:
Coffee Processing in Costa Rica
Washed - the most common method used all over the world. The fruit of the cherries is removed by water and machines, leaving only the seed (bean). In Costa Rica many variations of this method are used including low water washed process as well as some producing wet and dry fermentation washed coffees.
Naturally - The cherries are left to dry on patios or raised beds in the sun. It can take up to 6 weeks and is considered as a traditional method of processing coffee. Costa Rica produces some fantastic natural process coffees with some farmers choosing to produce only high quality natural microlots.
Honey processing- This is a method invented by Costa Rican farmers, and it represents a mid-way method, something between washed and naturally processed coffee. What they'll do is remove only a portion of the fruit and leave the inner layer. The coffee is then dried on patios or raised tables. Honey process coffees tend to showcase a range of flavours some tasting very similar to washed coffees and other much close to naturals.
Honey Processed coffee drying on the patio at La Isla mill:
Depending on the method of processing, Costa Rica coffee can have three different flavors:
- Washed coffees are typically well balanced with gentle acidity with nut, chocolate and fruit notes. Stone fruit like peach and apricot are common flavours. Some of the producers we work with (like Carlos Monterro and his family) produce was coffees with dry fermentation that have brighter flavours more similar to great afican or Colombian washed coffees.
- Natural process coffees typical showcase juicy fruit and berry notes. There is a wide range from bright, low ferment naturals to big bold, juicy and almost alcohol like fermentation.
- Honey processing tends to showcase something inbetween washed and natural. Honey processed coffees dried quickly with very little mucilage let on tend to taste more like the washed coffees with those dried slowly more mucilage can showcase more fruit character like some of the naturals
- Anaerobic fermentation is a method of processing that creates very unusual flavours often with spice notes like cinnamon, wine and alcohol. Sometimes these flavours are highly deseriable but it's challenging to get the balance right.