A coffee lover's guide to Costa Rica coffee
Costa Rica is known around the world for producing some of the best tasting coffees money can buy. With over 150 micro plantations, the growing region creates a vast spectrum of flavours - from mild and nutty to intense and fruity.
If you’re new to Costa Rican coffee or want to learn more about your favourite coffee-producing nation, check out our coffee drinker’s guide below. We’ll cover everything from the country’s incredible coffee history to the best Costa Rica coffee beans you should try.
The java jargon decoder
- Arabica coffee - Coffee made from the fruit of Coffea arabica plants
- Coffee Blends - A combination of two or more different single-origin coffee beans that are mixed to create a new flavour
- Grind size - The size of particles once you’ve ground your coffee. The scale ranges from extra-coarse to super-fine
A brief history of coffee in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s coffee story begins on the eve of the country's independence in 1821. Following Costa Rica’s emancipation from Spanish rule, the government handed out free coffee seeds to locals in an attempt to get the industry off the ground.
The plan worked, and after witnessing a noticeable rise in coffee production, the government took further measures in the 1820s and 1830s to encourage industry growth, such as exemption of taxes and easy access to plantation ownership.
By 1829, the country’s coffee revenue exceeded that of cacao, tobacco and sugar, and by 1843, when coffee was first exported to the United Kingdom, coffee became Costa Rica’s primary export.
This close trade connection with the UK led to significant British investment in the Costa Rican coffee industry. The economic alliance not only boosted and transformed the country’s coffee production and industry infrastructure, but it also freed up resources for investment in areas such as transport, culture and education.
As a response to fluctuating global prices and unpredictable international markets, in 1933, a highly influential governing body was established - the Institute for the Defence of Coffee. The organisation helped protect coffee growers from exploitation, setting caps on profit that could be made by large processors.
Through the years, the institute has gone through various iterations, and it exists today as the Instituto de Costa Rica (ICAFE). Funded by a 1.5% tax on all coffee exports, the institute continues to protect today’s Costa Rica’s growers, as well as carrying out vital research and monitoring bean quality. The organisation plays a crucial role in ensuring only the best coffee leaves the country.
Another pivotal moment in the country's coffee history is the “micro mill” revolution, which took place around the 2000s. Traditionally, after harvesting, Costa Rican beans went straight from small coffee farms to larger processors. Much to the frustration of specialist coffee buyers, this process would inevitably blend beans from different farms, concealing many unique taste profiles.
However, in the mid-2000s, smaller farms started to receive more investment and were able to buy small-scale equipment of their own and process their beans themselves. Suddenly a wide variety of unique and unusual flavours arrived on the Costa Rican coffee scene; a trend which continues to grow and grow with time.
Today, Costa Rica may only account for around 1% of the world’s coffee market, but the industry employs 52,000 coffee workers, 92% of which work on small plantations. Coffee is the country’s third-biggest export product and has become inextricably linked to the nation’s culture and economy.
Where does Costa Rican coffee come from?
Costa Rica has eight main coffee growing regions, including Central Valley, Brunca, Guanacaste and Turrialba. Thanks to volcanic landscapes and the country’s microclimates, each of these regions are exposed to different temperatures, light, shading and precipitation, resulting in unique taste profiles for each area and a wide range of exciting flavoured coffee.
For example, Central Valley, where the capital is located and where coffee has been growing the longest, has access to not one, but three volcanoes. This area, with its volcanic soil and defined rainy and dry seasons, tends to produce beans with chocolatey, honey and fruity notes. In contrast, Tarrazú, another of the coffee growing regions located south of Central Valley, is known for producing beans with higher acidity and more intense aromas. Head even further south to Brunca with its tropical climates, and you’ll find delicious, complex flavours ranging from citrus to peaches.
Why is Costa Rican coffee so good?
We know that the country's micro plantations and eight different growing regions produce a wide range of flavours, but what other factors play a role in the superior taste and high quality of Costa Rican coffee beans?
Costa Rica provides ideal coffee-growing conditions
Costa Rica’s volcanic and mountainous landscape offers optimum coffee-growing conditions. With more than 70% of coffee trees grown above 1,000 metres, the majority of the country’s coffee is produced at high altitudes, benefitting from nutrient-rich soils, heavy rainfall, warm temperatures and consistent sunlight. Costa Rica also has a well-defined dry and rainy season, again creating ideal growing conditions for the country’s coffee plants.
Berries are handpicked
Due to Costa Rica’s mountainous landscape, farmers are mostly unable to use machines to harvest their beans. Machine harvesting involves collecting coffee cherries by robotically stripping or shaking whole branches of coffee plants at the same time. Machine harvesting saves labour costs and speeds up the harvesting process; however, the downside to the approach is that yields contain both unripe and ripe beans. If these unripe beans are missed in the sorting process, the flavour of a roast is compromised.
By comparison, in Costa Rica, coffee pickers select each bean by hand, ensuring only the ripest berries make it to the processor. Ultimately, this careful hand-picking process results in higher quality coffees.
Beans are wet-processed
Wet processing was first used in Costa Rica in 1830, and by 1905 the country boasted over 200 wet mills. Wet or washed processing involves soaking coffee beans in water rather than drying the beans in the sun (dry processing).
While you can undoubtedly get delicious tasting dry processed beans, many coffee drinkers argue that washed beans produce cleaner and more complex flavours. Today, wet processing is the country’s main way of processing coffee, which some people believe adds to the quality of the nation’s beans.
Coffee production is sustainable
Costa Rica has been a pioneering country in terms of environmental policies, and this green mindset extends to its coffee industry. Sustainable practices are widely encouraged, such as composting organic waste, conservation of groundwater and purification of wastewater.
Costa Rica is also working towards making the world’s first carbon-neutral crop by 2021, so coffee lovers can look forward to a brew that’s as tasty as it is sustainable.
Did you know...
You can combine your Costa Rica holiday with your love of coffee? Costa Rica has a vibrant coffee tourism industry, with expert-led tours available in all eight of the country’s growing regions.
Travellers can taste their way around Costa Rica by visiting different micro plantations, including family-run businesses and 100% eco farms. For a truly unique experience of the country, you can take your coffee tour to the next level by adding on a nature expedition, wildlife refuge visit or traditional cooking course.
The best Costa Rican coffee
Available as pre-ground or whole bean, our selection of Costa Rican coffee caters for both single-origin drinkers and blend lovers. Roasted to order and in small batches, we guarantee you'll only ever receive the freshest pre-ground or whole bean coffees to your door.
You can find our full range here or check out our three roasts below, along with some of our favourite Costa Rican coffee reviews.
Costa Rica Coffee (from £12.99)
This smooth, mild coffee is a seriously special Costa Rican roast. Its beans are sourced from a select number of coffee farms and harvested at altitudes of over 2,000 meters above sea level. These high altitudes allow beans to mature slowly, meaning they’re bursting with rich flavours and have a higher acidity, making them perfect for cafetiere brewing.
“What extra words can you say about Costa Rican coffee? Just brilliant”
Trevor S. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Costa Rica Azalea Coffee (from £12.99)
An intense and strong coffee suitable for all brewing methods, our Costa Rica Azalea is a beautiful example of the unique tastes that can emerge from Costa Rica. This single-origin, 100% Arabica roast from Costa Rica’s legendary Central Valley is intensely aromatic with sharp and vibrant acidity.
“Lovely aroma and roast! Having visited Costa Rica and tried some of their coffees during the visit, I wanted to try some more on my return home. Found this variety on the Coffee Direct website and now I'm on my third bag. I like the subtle floral backdrop to the medium strength of the roast. Will be buying again!”
Philip S. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Smooth Mountain Coffee (from £12.99)
Our Smooth Mountain is a mellow blend that’s perfect for all-day drinking and all brewing methods. The blend combines Colombian Coffee, and Costa Rican beans grown at high mountainous altitudes. The result is a cup that’s full of flavour with gorgeous aromas and hints of nuttiness.
“Delicious coffee. Really good taste and an excellent coffee to serve to guests.”
Alice P. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
What is the difference between Costa Rica vs Ethiopian coffee?
An Ethiopian coffee bean will taste completely different from a coffee bean produced in Costa Rica. Within Costa Rica itself, you'll find a wide variety of flavours created by each of its eight growing regions. What the two countries have in common is that they both produce a vast range of flavour profiles, which makes drinking coffee from these areas incredibly exciting.
What are typical Costa Rica coffee tasting notes?
Generally, coffees from this growing region are clean and light-bodied with higher acidity and sweeter notes. However, the great thing about this Latin American country is that each micro plantation and production region produces unique beans. This diversity means the coffee-producing region offers a wide range of coffee flavours, acidity and aromas.
Where can I buy Costa Rica coffee?
Available as whole bean or pre-ground (you can select the optimum grind size required for your preferred brewing methods), you'll find a selection of the best Costa Rican coffee beans on our website. Like all our coffees, our beans from this region are roasted to order and in small batches, guaranteeing only fresh, high-quality coffee arrives at your door.
How do Costa Ricans drink their coffee?
Costa Ricans drink their coffee in the same varied ways we do in the UK; however, traditionally, a “chorreador” was often used in the brewing process. The chorreador is a sort of simplified drip coffee filter machine featuring a sock-like filter hung over a wire frame. The brewer fills the device up with hot water. The water then passes down through the grounds and into the cup.
How many people work in coffee plantations in Costa Rica?
Although Costa Rica only accounts for 1% of the global coffee market, its coffee industry plays a massive role in the country's economy, employing a large number of Costa Ricans. The number of people working on coffee farms and coffee plantations in Costa Rica is currently estimated to be around 52,000.
Is Costa Rica known for coffee?
Yes. Along with stunning beaches, beautiful parks and diverse wildlife, the region is also known for its high-quality coffee beans. You’ll find some of the best coffee tours in Costa Rica, and many people travel far and wide to experience the country's coffee farms and drink a cup of the best Costa Rican coffee in person.