Coffee, a Costa Rica Requirement

Food & Cuisine

Cup of Costa Rica coffeeLink to properties in Costa RicaIf you are not a coffee drinker (because you have been living on the moon), you will likely become one when you move to Costa Rica because, frankly, you cannot live here without drinking Costa Rica coffee. It is the national beverage (alongside Imperial beer), and no one—and I mean NO ONE—lets a day pass without a cup. I have a nice hot cup of coffee right next to my computer as I write this.

Coffee time is a social event each afternoon between 3 and 4 o’clock. And coffee is never taken “pelado” or by itself. It is always accompanied by a tortilla, bread, pastry or a cracker of some sort.

Costa Rica coffee fieldsCoffee is made by roasting the seeds of the coffee tree, a large evergreen shrub that has glossy deep-green leaves. When in bloom, the limbs of the tree are covered with small white blossoms that emit a delightful jasmine fragrance. After only a few days, the flowers are replaced by clusters of green “cherries” that progressively grow and change from green to red or yellow when they are fully ripe.

Although there are about 70 different species of coffee trees only two species, Arabica and Robusta, account for about 98 percent of the world’s production. The finest coffees come from the Arabica varieties, especially those grown at higher altitudes, and that is the only coffee grown in Costa Rica. Robusta, which is used mostly for instant coffee, has a higher caffeine content and is more neutral in taste.

Coffee beans ripening and turning redWhat is involved in producing quality coffee? Seedlings are started in a nursery designed to provide just the right amount of sun and shade. After about six months, the seedlings are transplanted to the field, the soil of which has been prepared with fertilizer and minerals. The coffee seedlings are planted in rows that follow the contour of the slope.

Coffee roaster in actionThe trees require constant attention throughout the year. This includes weeding and the regular application of fungicides and insecticides to protect against pests and disease, such as the bean borer and coffee rust. It takes at least two years for the young plants to begin to produce. Harvest time starts in September and ends around the beginning of February, depending on the year. The cherries are handpicked. Only the red berries are chosen the first few times around, and then every berry is picked regardless of color during the final gleaning.

Typical Costa Rica coffee makerCoffee cherries are usually processed using what is called the wet process. In this process the cherries are placed in a pulping machine, which removes the soft rind or shell from the beans. The seeds are next placed in tanks for a duration of one to three days which causes the remaining shell and the slimy membrane covering the bean to ferment and fall off. Then the beans are washed and spread out in the sun to dry. The drying process is done in hot-air dryers by the larger, more mechanized coffee processors. The layers of dry skin around the bean called the parchment are then removed mechanically in a tumbler. The fermentation, which occurs during the wet process, together with the use of only fully ripe cherries produces a mild coffee of excellent quality.

1820 brand of Costa Rica coffeeThe next step, roasting, is crucial to the quality of the coffee. During this step complex chemical transformations take place within the bean, liberating the characteristic coffee aroma. The roast can be light, medium, or dark, depending on the flavor desired and the brewing method used. However, overroasting can cause the bean to have a shiny appearance and results in a bitter coffee with little aroma.

Proper grinding is also essential for producing good-quality coffee. The grind is determined by the brewing method to be used. Unless you buy whole beans and grind them yourself, most of Costa Rica’s coffee is finely ground.

While coffee makers are widely used in Costa Rica these days, most Ticos swear the best tasting cup of coffee is made via “chorreado”, or poured though a basic cloth filter. In this technique, the coffee grounds are placed in a fabric “sock” which is suspended over the cup, and boiling water is poured slowly through the grounds. This method gives the coffee a much richer flavor.

Cafe Volio a very popular local brand of coffee

You can tour a coffee plantation and witness the whole process firsthand. The most popular tours are Café Britt near Heredia and Café Doka near San Pedro de Poas. Both farms produce delicious coffee, and you will more than likely buy some of their products after taste testing at the end of the tour. There are many delicious coffees can be purchased at any grocery store just like the I do. Some good brands are 1820, My first choice all the time, Café Rey, Tarrazu, Montaña, and Volio which is my second choice. My two choices are based on flavor and price.

Mmmmm. Gotta run. My second cup of exquisite Costa Rica coffee is brewed and its aroma is beckoning.

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