Part 1 in our Best Coffee Nations Around the Globe Series
The Competition for Coffee Supremacy
Great coffee is produced all over the world, primarily in equatorial regions. There will always be arguments around which country has the best coffee culture, which country is the greatest producer of coffee beans, and which country has the best roasters.
We’ll explore the arguments for Costa Rica as the best coffee country in the world.
Costa Rica has Eight Unique Coffee Growing Regions
Compare this to the United States which has just one in the state of Hawaii. It’s unfair to make that comparison given the countries differing locations relative to the equator, but when you consider the shear size differences between the two countries, it is amazing that a country the size of Costa Rica can be home to 8 distinct regions.
These regions are Tarrazu, Orosi, Valle Central, Guanacaste, Brunca, Turrialba, Tres Rios, Valle Occidental. They vary from deeply humid rainforest environments, to cool mountain regions with volcanic soil.
Our single-origin Costa Rican coffee comes from the Valle Occidental region which gives it subtle hints of fruit - sweet apples, raisins and honey in this case. The diversity of microclimates in Costa Rica is what causes the large number of growing regions relative to its size. One of the things that I remember most about my visit to Costa Rica is the sheer diversity of ecology.
I witnessed the beautiful, rough waves of the Pacific Ocean contrasting the massive volcanoes, and rainforest painted mountains. All of these contribute to the subtleties of coffees produced in different parts of the country.
Quality in Costa Rica is Legally Regulated … For Real
In 1989, the production of Robusta Coffee was banned in Costa Rica because the quality was considered subpar.
Additionally, Costa Rica has also stopped producing Catimores coffee due to similar quality issues.
Costa Rica is the only country where the law stated that only Arabica beans can be grown. This is in an effort to guarantee quality in a critical export and cultural staple.
These efforts resulted in Costa Rica winning all kinds of international contests and certifications, and major roasters (i.e. Starbucks) looking to Costa Rica as a major producer for their specialty lines.
More recently, Costa Rica has reintroduced Robusta coffee trees to the country in 2018. This is following a global movement around Robusta coffee. It is hardier against disease, pests and warmth while there has also been a resurgence in global specialty Robusta coffee.
It Has Bolder Flavors Than Typical Central American Coffee
Many coffees from Central America tend to be smooth and mild. This makes them easy drinking and popular among the masses. It also tends to mean that they can lack (at times) substantial flavors to differentiate them from one another.
This is certainly not true with Costa Rican coffee.
This coffee buckets the trend for Central America - producing mostly bold, rich coffee that packs a punch. Full-bodied experiences flow from Costa Rica and this is a great thing!
The Vast Majority of Coffee Cherries are Handpicked
Staying in line with Costa Rica’s coffee quality laws is another quality-focused fact. Handpicking of cherries is the standard practice. While this is more time consuming than other methods, it has a number of benefits to the end result of the coffee as well as to the sustainability of the coffee plant.
For the coffee product, hand-picking ensures that only the best cherries are added to the processing step. For the plan, cherries are only removed when they are ready, leaving immature fruit on the tree for picking at a later date.
The berries are taken to processing plants for washing and sorting in a water bath, where the high quality berries sink to the bottom and move onto the next step.
These quality berries are then de-husked, de-pulped and the beans are extracted.
From here, the process can often differ at different processing plants or beneficios. Our beans are hand-screened so that only the larger, more desirable beans are kept. Then, they are sun-dried, sealed and exported to our roaster.
Coffee from Costa Rica has a Long History
While regions in Africa are universally recognized as the birthplace of coffee - Ethiopia specially - Costa Rica’s history with coffee dates back to the late 1700’s. It has more than a little bit of experience.
All the way back in 1779, coffee production first started in Costa Rica when the first Arabica beans were brought over from Ethiopia. There is conflicting evidence on that date, some pointing back a few years to 1808, but to me the important thing is that Costa Rica is a country with coffee ingrained in its culture.
Is Costa Rican Coffee the Best?
That is really for you to decide - as with most things coffee, it is a matter of preference. Costa Rican coffee has significant environmental diversity, wonderful volcanic soil, a long cultural history, bold flavors and stringent checks and balances to ensure quality. These factors combine to make it one of the top coffee producers globally. I certainly believe Costa Rica could be the best coffee country in the world.
Take a look at our wonderful, single-origin Costa Rican coffee from the Valle Occidental before you leave. It’s medium-bodied, medium-to-light roasted and extremely versatile. I think it will help convince you that Costa Rican coffee is in fact the best in the world.