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8 Facts About Costa Rican Coffee

When it comes to choosing the right coffee beans, knowing which origins satisfy your taste buds can really ease your search.

By origins, I mean not just your coffee roaster (though the roasting process is a key element in flavor profile), but where and how it's grown!

Costa Rican coffee is one of the most popular coffee origins for a reason. The country really knows how to produce the ideal coffee bean, as its temperate, lush growing conditions are nothing short of perfect for growing coffee. 

Interested in learning more about Costa Rican coffee? Grab a cup of joe, kick back, and check out the eight fun facts below: 

1. Coffee Beans Arrived in Costa Rica in the Late 1700's

Historians aren't sure exactly who brought the first coffee bean plants to Costa Rica, but the country started growing coffee sometime in the late 1700s. These coffee plants are believed to have come from Cuba, a country that had itself just begun growing the plant in the prior few decades. 

Whoever brought coffee to Costa Rica probably guessed the plants would perform well in the country's humid climate. Within 10 years, coffee became the country's best-selling export, even outperforming popular crops like sugar, tobacco, dyes, and cacao. 

2. Traditional Costa Rican Coffee Is Known as "Sock Water" 

Costa Rica's traditional coffee is "aguas de medias," which translates to "sock water." It gets its name from a sock-like filter traditionally used in the coffee brewing process!

Workers hang the filter from a wire frame, add ground coffee, then pour hot water over the coffee beans – similar to the smaller-scale drip filter process many coffee shops and home coffee-makers use today!

You can even buy mini sock filters online to make your own authentic "sock water" at home. 

A modern pour-over coffee filter

3. Costa Rican Coffee is Often Described As Having an Earthy or Herbaceous Flavor Profile

Coffee beans from varied regions and plants (or "origins") tend to have slightly different flavor profiles, which affect their acidity, sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, and sourness.

Costa Rican coffees tend to have an earthy, herbaceous flavor profile according to many, with notes of citrus, tropical fruit, and apricot – though this varies by region.

Acidity in Costa Rican coffee tends to be lively and bright, slightly less acidic than the average coffee bean. Its flavor profile tends to include hints of brown sugar, lending a subtle sweetness to the brew. 

A few popular Costa Rican coffee brands based in the country include:

  • Volcanica Coffee
  • Café Britt
  • Café Rey

And while we're not IN Costa Rica, Philly Fair Trade Roasters roasts a single-origin Costa Rican coffee for sale online or for wholesale in the mid-Atlantic.

Costa Rican coffee is known to be some of the best in Latin America because of the high altitudes for growing, unique and supportive volcanic soil, good drainage, and a wide variety of flavor profiles. Tarrazu, where ours comes from, is located about 70 kilometers south of the capital San Jose and is thought to produce the best Costa Rican coffee in the country

4. Growing Robusta Coffee Was Once Illegal in Costa Rica 

Coffee beans have been a thriving crop throughout Costa Rica since the late 18th century, but in 1989, the Costa Rican government limited growing activities slightly. The government prohibited farmers from planting Coffea canephora coffee plants and growing Robusta coffee beans, instead favoring the higher-quality Arabica coffee beans and plants. 

Robusta beans are generally easier and faster to grow than Arabica, but the beans have a more bitter flavor when roasted that many coffee connoisseurs find off-putting. By banning Robusta beans, Costa Rica sought to position itself as an elevated coffee grower, only focusing on the more complex (and more expensive) Arabica beans!

In 2018, the Costa Rican government revoked this law, but the country had already made a name for itself as a premier Arabica grower, and this remains the primary coffee in the area.

5. Costa Rica Has the Perfect Growing Conditions for Coffee

One of the reasons the coffee industry has flourished in Costa Rica is its ideal climate and growing conditions. The country has a temperate climate in the high-altitude mountainous regions. Altitude is a primary factor in coffee growth and flavor that allows coffee berries to ripen slowly, creating a smooth, intense flavor. 

Because the growing conditions in Costa Rica are so ideal for coffee, the government highly encourages new farmers to continue the crop. It offers tax breaks and even free coffee seeds for citizens who open new coffee plantations!

Coffee cherries on a Costa Rican plant

6. Farmers Mostly Pick Coffee Berries By Hand 

During Costa Rica's harvest season, coffee producers pick the coffee cherries by hand instead of using machinery. In many cases, that's because equipment simply won't work well on the mountainous, steep terrain of Costa Rica's farms.

Workers spend harvest days filling baskets with the ripe coffee cherries, then emptying those baskets into large bags. The average worker can pick anywhere from 90 to 180 pounds of coffee cherries in one day. 

Coffee cherries, also known as coffee fruit, are small, round stones that grow from the coffee plant. Workers sort them in a floatation tank, remove the pulp, and place them in fermenting tanks for up to 46 hours. Then, they rinse the cherries and dry them in the sun for a few weeks, at which point they are considered green coffee beans.

Costa Rica also pioneered what's become known as the "honey" processing method, where some mucilage (but not the entire cherry) is left on the beans while they dry, giving these beans a bump in sweetness sweetness. Honey processing is now commonplace across Latin America.

When is coffee harvested in Costa Rica?

The typical harvest season is between October and March. 

The final step in the process is to roast the beans, preparing them to be turned into the coffee grounds you put through your filter or drip machine at home. That step, of course, happens with your favorite coffee roaster.

7. Costa Rica Has Eight Growing Regions

Costa Rica is a relatively small country, with a total land area of just under 20,000 square miles. Even so, the country has eight distinct growing regions, each of which produces a slightly different flavor profile. 

These eight regions include: 

  • Tarrazu
  • Turrialba
  • Valle Occidental
  • Brunca
  • Orosi
  • Tres Rios
  • Valle Central
  • Guanacaste

If you've heard of any of these, it's likely the Tarrazu Region. This region has earned a reputation for producing consistent, high-quality beans. Its location in Costa Rica's mountainous area lends a temperate climate that does wonders for producing smooth beans. 

Costa Rica has some of the widest ranges of microclimates, and thus growing regions, due to the drastic changes in altitude and climate across such a small space, and these changes affect coffee flavor for each region. Additionally, volcanic activity over many years has enriched the soil in varied ways, leading to unique mineral profiles that affect coffee flavors differently throughout Costa Rica.

Costa Rican Tarrazu coffee beans often have flavor notes of dark chocolate and grapefruit and give off a pleasant woody scent. In 2012, Starbucks sold a Tarrazu roast for $7 a cup and $40 a bag, indicating just how premium this region's coffee can be. Despite these steep prices, Starbucks' Tarrazu roast sold out in less than a day. 

You can get great Tarrazu coffee from Philly Fair Trade for a more reasonable price – and we think the quality is top-notch.

8. Costa Rica Produces More Than 1.5 Million Bags of Coffee Annually

Costa Rica's numerous, widespread coffee-growing regions allow for immense production each year. The country produces around 1.5 million bags of coffee beans annually and exports about 90% of those to other countries. 

But despite its impressive production, Costa Rica doesn't conform to the stereotypically commercialized farming structures. Most of its coffee production comes from small plantations that are 12 acres or smaller. That's a great thing for single-origin coffee importers and roasters like us, who prefer to have real connections with our farmers rather than buy from industrial-sized growing operations or amalgamators.

While Brazil is still first in terms of coffee production globally, Costa Rica is a close contender. Approximately 11% of Costa Rica's overall exports are coffee beans, and it was the first Central American country to produce this much coffee. 

What's The Best Way To Prepare Costa Rican Coffee?

Well, we think there's no single "best" way to make Costa Rican coffee. That's because every approach creates a different flavor, and the specifics will vary by roast, origin, and grind! Here are some options:

Drip Coffee

Drip brewing complements Costa Rican coffee excellently. Medium-coarse grounds can be placed in a filter within a drip coffee maker. As hot water flows through, it gradually extracts the coffee's nuanced flavors. This method accentuates Costa Rican coffee's bright acidity and medium body.

Pour-Over Coffee

Pour-over brewing offers a hands-on approach that enhances the subtleties of Costa Rican coffee. By manually pouring hot water over medium-coarse grounds, the coffee's delicate notes are highlighted. This method brings out the bean's brightness, floral aromas, and fruity undertones, delivering a refined and personalized Costa Rican coffee experience.

French Press Coffee

The French press method is a wonderful choice for Costa Rican coffee. Coarse coffee grounds steep in hot water, allowing the flavors to meld deeply. This technique also preserves the beans' natural oils, yielding a full-bodied cup that highlights Costa Rican coffee's acidity, gentle sweetness, and nuanced character.

Buy High-Quality Costa Rican Coffee From Philly Fair Trade

Are you craving Costa Rican coffee yet? Our authentic Costa Rican coffee beans originate in the Tarrazu region, and we use a Vienna roast (similar to French roasted coffee) to highlight the beans' earthy, bright, and crisp flavor profile. It's available in a variety of grinds, or as a whole bean, so you can make your own decisions at home.

Our Fair Trade label guarantees that we source our beans from coffee producers who have met strict sustainability and labor standards, too, so you can feel good about adding them to your daily brew. And, this sourcing method tends to prioritize smaller growers who may adhere to more traditional growing practices in the region – for a more unique, enjoyable final brew.

Try our Costa Rican coffee beans today to learn why this country has become one of the most popular coffee growers in the world. 

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