A large and significant part of Costa Rica’s history and culture surrounds its ties with coffee. Coffee is also a large part of the country’s economy, with about 28% of Costa Ricans being employed in the agricultural sector and hundreds of thousands of tons of coffee being exported from the country each year.
Arabica coffee was first introduced to Costa Rica in 1779 by a group of Europeans and it quickly took root in Meseta Central – an area in Costa Rica that had ideal conditions (soil and climate) to support the growth of coffee. At the end of the 19th century, the Costa Rican government was offering farmers plots of land for free so they could harvest coffee trees and was supporting coffee growth in every way they could. By the end of the 20th century, coffee had established itself as a crop that was vital to sustaining Costa Rica’s economy.
A good portion of coffee production relies on cheap and seasonal labor – including Nicaraguan immigrants. Once coffee is ready to harvest, the workers pick the cherries and transport them to local processing plants (benedicios) to have the pulp removed and start the washing process. Once this process is done, the beans are laid out to dry in the sun and are sorted by size and shape. While this process has been the process of choice for quite some time, mechanical drying has been gaining in popularity.
While Costa Rica has great coffee from all over, the best and most notable coffees are grown at altitudes between 1200 and 1700 meters. The coffee that is considered lower quality is grown below 1200 meters. Coffee here is mainly grown in 6 different regions: West Valley grows between 1200 and 1650 meters altitude, Tarrazu between 1200 and 1700, Tres Rios between 1200 and 1650, Orosi between 900 and 1200, Brunca between 800 and 1200, and Turrialba between 600 and 900. Terrazu is hailed to have some of the best coffees available.
Another interesting additive to Costa Ricas rich coffee history is its main brewing method using a simple mechanism called a “chorreador”. It makes use of a very simple process of first grinding the coffee and placing it in a sock-like sack that is then held up by pieces of wood. The coffee cup is placed below the sock, and boiling water is poured slowly into the sock. This results in good bean extraction, a stronger taste, and a very fresh cup of coffee. It’s also known to have quite a kick, more so than other brewing methods such as a drip brew or French Press.