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Costa Rica Coffee 101

April 26, 2011


You Wake  up to the soothing murmur of the surf as it spreads along the shore, to the sweet serenade of birds perched outside your door, as dappled shadows flit and flirt, bringing golden light to fading gloom, the sharp aroma of freshly brewed java gently wafts into your room. Buenos Dias Costa Rica!

So you’ve come in search of the perfect brew,
Yes, tis an elusive bean that gently beckons you,
so delicate, yet so wonderfully robust…
I dare say I’m not much the poet so I’ll leave the prose to Mr. Frost.
From an overly ”caffinated” Infocostarica staff member

As the ninth largest coffee producer in the world, Costa Rica is widely known for it’s high-grade mountain grown coffee. From the full-bodied Tarrazú, to the clean bold taste of the Orosi Valley blends, Costa Rican coffee has a smoky trace and distinctive acidity evident to many of its drinkers. Coffee is harvested from November to January and as in North America, the school holidays correspond with the harvest season. The cultivators are mainly small farmers organized into co-operatives which form a federation which is responsible for exports. Due to the use of high-end technology the yield obtained is extremely high.

Coffee’s aroma, body, and flavor vary greatly depending on how and where it is grown. In Costa Rica, the most famous coffees by region are Tarrazú, Tres Rios, Herediá, and Alajuela. Coffee from these areas is characterized by its distinctively clean, bold flavor. Most Costa Rican coffee comes from a hybrid called caturra and is characterized as bright and full bodied. Other popular varieties are Mondo Novo and Catuai. After being harvested, the cherries are immediately taken to state-of-the-art facilities, known as beneficios, where they are fully processed. The best coffees, which are grown above 3,900 feet, are designated as “strictly hard bean”. The “good hard bean” classification is given to coffees grown from 3,300 to 3,900 feet. Costa Rican coffees are usually identified by the estate, cooperative, or facility where they are processed.
There are two main varieties of coffee grown in the world… Arabica and Robusta.

82-costa rican coffeeArabica Coffee beans grow in mountainous regions, usually at relatively high altitudes and are widely known for their full-bodied flavor and rich aromas. These trying conditions make them difficult to harvest. Thus the arabica’s are much more expensive to produce. Robusta Coffees, on the other hand, are grown in flat lowland regions where they flourish and produce abundant harvests. Robusta coffees are plentiful and inexpensive. Connoisseurs rate robusta beans less rich and aromatic than arabica beans and as a result, they usually cost less.
Costa Rica is the only country in the world which has issued an executive order banning the production of any variety of coffee other than Arabica.

When purchasing coffee from Costa Rica, make sure it is labeled “puro” (pure), as some non-gourmet makers do add sugar to the mix. Among Costa Rica’s most famous labels are Café Britt, Bardú Coffee, Café Rey, Café Volio, Doka Estate Coffee and R.F. Meseta. Many makers also offer organic coffee, which is cultivated without pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers.

Once you’ve settled on the beans, the next step is to delicately savor the rich aroma and enticing flavor of your pick. When brewing the perfect cup of joe, always start with freshly ground coffee beans, cold tap or bottled water (boiled water gives coffee an unpleasant “flat” taste) and the correct proportion of water to coffee ground. The industry standard is two rounded tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water.

Coffee Tasting Terminology

For those interested in the finer points of gourmet coffee cupping (tasting different varieties of coffee), the following terms are commonly used for tasting and describing coffees.

Coffees with low acidity are soft and smooth. High acidity coffees, such as those grown in Costa Rica, have a bright, crisp, palette-cleansing quality.

Aroma refers to the fragrance or odor of brewed coffee combined with its flavor.

Body refers to the sense of the coffee’s weight and texture (e.g., its oiliness and intensity) in the mouth. How it coats the palate, how it balances, and how it interacts on the four flavor zones of your tongue The brewing method also influences the body as a plunger pot or espresso machine will produce a heavier bodied coffee, while a conventional drip machine will result in lighter bodied coffees because the paper filters remove flavor oils. A coffee’s body can be: Light, medium or heavy.

Flavor refers to a coffee’s intensity, the combined impression of a coffee’s aroma, acidity, and body. Specific taste flavors may suggest spices, chocolate, nuts, or even uncomplimentary flavors like straw, grass, or rubber.

This is a specific evaluation of how the coffee’s finish is in your mouth. Finish refers to the aftertaste, the feelings and flavors that are perceived after the coffee has been swallowed.
Once you’ve got these finer points down, you’ll be well on your way to finding that special brew. Remember, the sip is only half the fun! So….

let us continue our quest for the perfect brew,
and not give up, as some will surely do,
we shall give no quarter for we must not tarry,
not until we’ve found those fragrant berries.