A Brief History of Costa Rican Coffee
In awe of the explosion of the international coffee market, the Costa Rican government made a push for the importation of their first seed crop from Ethiopia in the late 18th Century. With this seed crop, the government quickly moved to develop the infrastructure and incentive to increase the scale of their country’s coffee production. To this end, the government would freely offer plots of land to farmers who would grow coffee and have it bought by exporters in major Costa Rican cities. This practice led to the rapid expansion of the country’s coffee industry and domestication of large plots of land within Costa Rica. Within 50 years of its inception, coffee had surpassed cacao, tobacco, and sugar to become Costa Rica’s number one agricultural export and became the first Central American country have a fully developed coffee industry.
Growing and trading coffee was one of the primary drivers of Costa Rica’s shift to an industrial economy.The business generated by coffee exports led to the construction of their major roads in the early 19th century, and the development of their first cross-country railroad system in the early 20th century.
The Instituto del Café de Costa Rica (Icafe) was established in 1933 to protect and further the interests of Costa Rican coffee farmers and exporters. This NGO is funded by a small tax on coffee exports to pursue research in disease prevention, growing conditions, and strain genetics, as well as to provide legal oversight and market stability to the industry.
Costa Rican Coffee Economy
The majority of the Costa Rican coffee economy is run and supported by small family farms and co-ops. To this day, 70% of coffee produced in the country is sourced from thousands of farms who produce less than 200 bags a year. These small family farms have remained competitive and maintained their market-share by working together to build micro mills. These mills are small coffee processing plants that small farmers will pool their resources to create and use. Access to these mills keeps their costs down by cutting out a middle-man and it gives the farmers quality control over another step in the production process.
The Costa Rican economy employs over 250,000 people to bring the world an average of 175,000 tons of coffee per year, making coffee its 3rd largest export and largest agricultural export.
Costa Rican Coffee
Like many Central and South American nations, Costa Rica’s climate and topography is ideally suited to coffee production. Set in the tropics, the plant life in Costa Rica receives an abundance of sunlight, humidity, and rain, providing ideal growing conditions throughout most months out of the year. Working in conjunction with the climate, Costa Rica is home to a variety of different altitudes, which provides opportunity for a wide and diverse variety of coffee profiles to flourish.
As is characteristic with most Central/South American exports, you can expect to find nutty coffees with mild bodies and chocolatey finishes ubiquitously throughout Costa Rica. The differences that you will find between them will result from differences in growing altitudes and soil composition, with coffees from lower regions such as Turrialba, Brunca, and Orosi showcasing heavier bodies and milder acidities, while crops from high regions like West Valley and (most notably) Tarrazu offer a more aggressive acidity, milder body, and tropical fruit finish.