When it comes to the best coffee beans worldwide, Costa Rica boasts one of the highest-rated options. The Arabica beans grown in the Central American country are widely revered for their unique blend of flavors. What makes Costa Rican coffee beans so valuable?
Costa Rica coffee beans are typically 100% Arabica coffee. The country’s high altitudes, warm temperatures, steady rainfall, and volcanic soil ensure an environment that’s perfect for growing very high-quality coffee beans. The farmers handpick the beans to maintain their high quality.
Do you love the great taste of Costa Rican coffee? The rest of the article will cover all you need to know about the beans (Arabica). I’ll also look at how it is different from other beans types.
What Are Costa Rica Arabica Coffee Beans?
Costa Rica Arabica coffee beans come from the Coffea Arabica plant. The plant is popular worldwide, and the beans from the plant are used in around 60% of all coffee production around the world.
While some Costa Rican farmers have started to produce Robusta coffee beans recently, Arabica is by far the most popular coffee bean product in the country.
History of Costa Rican Coffee Beans
Costa Rican coffee beans first originated in Ethiopia. It’s known as Arabica coffee because although it originated in Ethiopia, the seeds from the plant only became “coffee” as we know it today after it traveled to lower Arabia. Before the move to lower Arabia, the beans were crushed by the Oromo tribe in Ethiopia for use as a stimulant.
Arab scholars brewed coffee because it helped them prolong their work hours, and so, as the beans spread to Europe and down to the Americas, it was always known as Arabica coffee.
The Spanish brought it to Costa Rica in 1779. Costa Rica was the first country in the Americas to convert their coffee beans to a cash crop. The coffee economy, in general, grew quickly in the region, overtaking tobacco and cacao as the leading exports.
With Central America extricating itself from the control of the Portuguese and the Spanish in the 1820s, the demand for a product that would stimulate the economy and boost trade in the region grew. Thanks to its excellent climate and general geography, Costa Rica filled that gaping hole by becoming an exporter of coffee beans to its neighbors and the rest of the world.
The Costa Rican government decided to expand coffee production significantly in the 1990s, and to date, the country remains one of the most popular coffee-producing countries in the world.
What’s the Taste of Costa Rica Coffee Beans Like?
Costa Rica coffee beans taste different depending on the region. Generally, beans should have a slightly sweet flavor with some hints of chocolate, caramel, and nuts. Hints of fruits and berries are also common.
The beans from some regions have a slight or pleasant acidity and a tinge of bitterness. The taste you’ll get comes down to the soil composition of the area where the beans are grown.
How Are Costa Rica Coffee Beans Grown?
Coffea Arabica, which produces the Costa Rica coffee beans, doesn’t thrive in harsh climates. It’s a subtropical plant that prefers humid and cold environments where temperatures vary between 59°F and 75°F (15°C and 24°C).
Costa Rica coffee beans are grown on hillsides at around 600+ m (1,900+ ft) above sea level. It reaches maturity at around seven years of age. In the wild, the plant can grow up to 12 m (39 ft) tall.
However, commercial farms limit the growth to 2 meters (6 ft) to simplify the harvesting process.
The fruits of the Arabica coffee plant, which holds the beans, don’t ripen simultaneously. Therefore, farmers have to handpick them to ensure the best possible quality. Mass-harvesting the berries will yield very inferior coffee when used.
Popular Growing Regions for the Costa Rica Coffee Beans
Costa Rica’s geography, at a glance, doesn’t look like the perfect coffee bean growing environment. However, even though it’s flanked on both sides by oceans and has a long stretch of coastlines, it still has large areas elevated enough to support the growth of the coffee beans.
Some of the popular regions known for growing coffee are covered below.
The Tarrazu region in Costa Rica consistently produces some of the best coffee beans in the country. The region is located in the country’s interior mountains, where the minimum altitude is 1,200 m (3937 ft) above sea levels, and higher altitudes can reach more than 1,700 m (5577 ft).
The best coffee beans from the area are typically known for their complex aroma and heavy-bodied nature. Almost all coffees grown in the Tarrazu region are Strictly High Grown (SHG).
Beans grown in this manner tend to have a higher concentration of nutrients overall.
West Central Valley
Costa Rica’s West Central Valley is home to the Costa Rica Monte Crisol coffee beans. The coffee from this region is known for its fruity brightness, silky body, and sweetness. When brewed, the coffee from the Central Valley beans exhibits blueberry notes and has a buttery finish.
Located in the North-Central region of Costa Rica, Alajuela is known for steep slopes and widely varied altitudes reaching 2,600 m (8530 ft) above sea level. The bulk of the coffee beans grown in the region is planted and harvested from 1,200 to 1,600 m (3937 to 5249 ft). When brewed, the beans deliver notes of apricot and apple flavors.
The Cartago Region
The Cartago region is located in the Valle del Guarco, which is an area that’s almost in the middle of the country. The coffee beans here are grown at altitudes between 1,200 and 1,650 m (3937 to 5413 ft).
Coffee beans from the region typically have a spicy and nutty flavor when brewed.
Tres Rios and Heredia Regions
Coffee beans from the Heredia region have robust acidity and full body, rich flavor.
The Tres Rios beans make bright coffees with a sweet and mild flavor. Coffee farms in these regions are cited at 1,200 to 1,650 m (3937 to 5413 ft) above sea level. Combined, the regions contribute significantly to the Costa Rican coffee economy.
Other regions that are known for growing coffee beans in Costa Rica, albeit in smaller quantities, include:
Main Differences Between Costa Rican Coffee Beans and Robusta Beans
The main differences between Costa Rica’s Arabica coffee and the Brazilian Robusta can be found in the caffeine and sugar content. Both coffee bean types also have different tastes.
Let’s examine these differences in more detail below:
- Costa Rican coffee beans have less caffeine. The Arabica in Costa Rica has 1.5% caffeine content, while the Robusta has 80% higher caffeine content (2.7%). If you are worried about the impact of caffeine consumption on your health, the Costa Rica coffee beans are invariably healthier for you. The caffeine content in both coffee variants also means that the Robusta is bitter compared to the Costa Rican beans.
- Costa Rican coffee beans contain more sugar. Compared to the Robusta, the Costa Rican Arabica has double the sugar content. It explains the latter’s popularity because many coffee lovers will naturally gravitate towards sweet flavors instead of bitter ones.
- Costa Rican coffee beans contain more lipids and have a higher acidity. You’ll get 60% more fats and oils in Costa Rican beans compared to Robusta. It also has higher acidity, giving it the fruity, nutty, and chocolate flavors that coffee connoisseurs love. Robusta has a woody or burnt rubber flavor than the Costa Rican flavor.
- Costa Rican coffee beans are more expensive overall. It’s generally more difficult to cultivate Costa Rican coffee beans because it’s more sensitive to the environment. It also produces less yield per hectare compared to Robusta and tastes a lot better. A combination of these factors makes Costa Rican coffee beans more expensive than others like the Robusta.
- Robusta coffee beans are more tolerant of weather changes. Robusta coffee beans can cope in temperatures around 64-97°F (18-36°C) while whole Costa Rican coffee beans can only do well in temperatures around 59-75 °F (15-24 °C). Robusta can also handle more sunlight and sharp changes in rainfall, while Costa Rican coffee beans prefer a humid climate while growing at higher elevations.
- Costa Rican coffee beans take longer to mature. The longer maturity period contributes to the unique flavor profile of the coffee beans.
- Costa Rican coffee beans are more prone to pest damage. Costa Rican coffee bean farmers typically have to be more proactive with pest management compared to Robusta farmers elsewhere.
- Robusta coffee beans have a peanut smell pre-roasting. This sets it apart from the Costa Rican coffee beans, which smell like blueberries.
Important Facts About the Costa Rican Coffee Bean Economy
As mentioned above, coffee beans are an integral part of Costa Rica’s economy. Over the years, the government in the region has passed laws aimed at improving bean yields. In 1989, they enacted a law prohibiting the growth of the Robusta beans in the country.
The goal was to make sure the country remains a leader in the market for premium Arabica, which is widely regarded as the highest quality coffee beans.
However, since Arabica plants are more sensitive to weather patterns and more prone to pest attacks, some farmers lobbied for the law to be repealed. In 2018, the government heeded public demands and reversed the law.
However, most coffee farmers in the country still focus on growing Arabica plants.
More than 10% of the country’s populace is currently involved in the coffee production process in some capacity. Coffee makes up 90% of the country’s agricultural produce, with 90% of the country’s coffee beans being exported each year, which equates to controlling 1% of the world's coffee economy.
Still, that’s enough to make Costa Rica the 15th largest exporter of coffee worldwide.
Costa Rica’s national coffee association has made the industry one of the most advanced globally compared to other coffee bean-growing regions. The association conducts an abundance of scientific research into coffee bean production, which is funded by an export tax on the product.
The coffee harvest season in Costa Rica starts and ends in different seasons, depending on the region. While most of the growing regions in the country begin harvesting from spring and end in February or March, places like Turrialba and Guanacaste begin harvesting in July.
Can You Take Costa Rican Coffee Beans Home?
You can buy packs of Costa Rican coffee beans while on business or leisurely visits to the country and take them home with you. You’re sure to get the products a lot cheaper compared to buying them outside Costa Rica.
Packs of coffee beans also make a beautiful gift for friends and family at home.
How Do Costa Ricans Make Coffee From the Beans?
Costa Ricans make coffee from the beans using a coffee sock locally known as the chorreador. The beans go into this cloth filter to produce the nutrient-filled drip coffee. The locals don’t drink their coffee with sugar.
They only add milk as most beans grown throughout the country have a naturally sweet flavor profile. However, adding some sugar won’t ruin the experience.
Should You Buy Costa Rican Coffee Abroad?
You should buy Costa Rican coffee abroad only if you’re certain that the company only buys coffee greens from Costa Rica before roasting locally. Already roasted Costa Rican coffee may have spent a lot of time on shelves from production to distribution.
Buying from a company that roasts beans locally increases your chances of enjoying fresh Costa Rican coffee.
Costa Rican coffee beans are one of the most highly rated worldwide. The country produces a small number of coffee beans compared to countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, or Brazil. However, their coffee products remain some of the most highly sought after.
If you want a floral, fruity, acidic coffee, the Costa Rican coffee beans should be high on your list. It’s hard to find coffee beans that provide the vibrant flavors associated with the beans.