The Ultimate Buying Guide for Costa Rican Coffee (Everything You Need to Know)

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Alex DeCapri

Alex DeCapri is a specialty coffee roaster and curious coffee writer. He started sourcing his own green beans to roast and ship worldwide and later became the head roaster at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte. Now on a road trip from the U.S. to Brazil, Alex visits coffee farms and shares his firsthand experience from field visits.


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Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and Costa Rican coffee is among the most highly regarded. Pair that with the country’s stunning landscapes, and I know where I want to travel for my next coffee-related trip!

Costa Rica has a reputation for producing some of the world’s best coffee, thanks to its ideal growing conditions and meticulous processing methods. 

In this guide, we provide you with all the information you need to appreciate the unique qualities of Costa Rican coffee, including its history and facts, coffee growing regions, flavor profiles, and more. We’ll also introduce you to some of the best Costa Rican coffee brands on the market.

Key Takeaways

  • Costa Rican coffee is known for its balanced flavor, bright acidity, and fruity sweetness.
  • There are several growing regions in Costa Rica, with the most famous being Tarrazú.
  • Costa Rica produces less than 1% of the world’s coffee production, but the Arabica beans they produce are generally considered high quality.
  • In 2020, Costa Rica ranked as the 14th largest coffee-producing country in the world.
  • Coffee accounts for 8% of Costa Rica’s GDP. (1)
  • The most popular coffee varietals grown are Caturra, Catuai, and Bourbon.

Facts About Costa Rican Coffee

Costa Rican coffee has a relatively small market share in the global coffee industry. 

According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), Costa Rica produced approximately 1.5 million 60-kg bags of coffee in 2020, which accounts for less than 1% of the world’s total production of coffee. (2) This also accounts for less than 1% of exported coffee leaving all coffee-producing countries. (3)

costa-rican-coffee

Despite its relatively small production volume, Costa Rican coffee is highly sought after by specialty coffee roasters and consumers who appreciate its unique flavor profile and high quality. In fact, coffee from this country is one of the most highly rated coffees in the world, consistently earning high scores in cupping competitions and premium prices in the market.

In Costa Rica, coffee is primarily grown by smallholder farmers, who often belong to cooperatives that work to ensure fair prices and sustainable production practices. These cooperatives are supported by organizations such as the Costa Rican Coffee Insitute (ICAFE), which provides training and resources to help farmers improve the quality and sustainability of their coffee production. (4)

History of Costa Rican Coffees

Like most countries that produce coffee today, the coffee plant was not a native species to Costa Rica. In 1779, Spanish colonizers brought the first coffee plants to the country from Cuba. 

It wasn’t until the 1800s that production really took off commercially. At that time, the country’s government actively encouraged the cultivation of coffee beans as a means of boosting the economy and establishing Costa Rica as a major player in the global coffee trade.

Coffee quickly became a major export crop for Costa Rica. By the 1980s, it was the country’s second largest export, after bananas.

atlas-coffee-club-costa-rica-coffee

Production of Costa Rican Coffees

The most common production method in the country is the wet process, also known as the washed process. This method involves removing the outer layers of the coffee cherry to reveal the coffee bean, and then washing and fermenting the beans to remove any remaining pulp. The beans are then dried to the desired moisture level before being shipped and roasted.

The wet process is favored in Costa Rica due to the country’s high altitude and ample rainfall, which provide ideal growing conditions for coffee plants. This method allows for greater control over the quality of the coffee beans and helps to produce a clean, bright, and complex cup with a wide range of flavors and aromas.

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Coffee plantation in San Vito, Costa Rica

Natural and honey methods are also used because they are less resource-intensive. They also tend to produce sweeter coffees with less acidity, more pronounced fruit flavor, and heavier bodies. In the specialty coffee market, you will find lots of growers experimenting with these two methods and fermentations to generate unique flavors.

Most coffee cherries are picked by hand in Costa Rica, with laborers coming from other Central American countries like Nicaragua to help during the harvest season.

Why Should You Try Costa Rican Coffee?

Costa Rican coffee is known for its bright acidity, medium body, and complex flavor profile. The unique growing conditions in Costa Rica, including its rich volcanic soil, high altitude, and microclimates, contribute to the coffee’s distinct flavors. 

In addition to its unique flavor notes, coffee grown here is known for its sustainability. It is one of the few countries in the world that has committed to becoming carbon neutral, and its coffee industry is no exception.

Many coffee farmers use sustainable growing practices, including organic farming and shade-grown coffee, which help to protect the environment and promote biodiversity.

While the Caturra, Catuai, and Bourbon varieties are the most popular, you will also find some of the best Geisha coffee beans in Costa Rica.

coffee-bros-costa-rican-coffee-beans
We tried the Costa Rica single-origin beans from Coffee Bros

Costa Rican Coffee Flavor Profiles

Costa Rican coffee generally has notes of chocolate, fruit, and citrus, with a clean and bright finish. Notes of honey and vanilla are common as well.

Specialty coffee roasters around the world look to import Costa Rican green beans due to their complex yet clean fruity and floral flavors. In a lighter roast, the coffee may taste citrusy and remind you of grapes and honey. A darker roast will bring out more chocolatey flavors with a deeper red fruit sweetness.

From 1989 to 2018, growing the Robusta species of coffee was banned by the Costa Rican government. (5) Because of this, there has been and still is an overwhelming focus on growing high-quality Arabica plants. If you want to experience what some of the best Arabica beans can taste like, Costa Rican coffee should scratch that itch with its plethora of unique and delicious flavors.

atlas-coffee-club-costa-rica-coffee-beans
Costa Rican coffee beans from ATLAS Coffee Club

Coffee Growing Regions in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has eight distinct coffee growing regions, each with its own unique flavor profile. Most higher-quality coffee beans grow from 3,900-5,500 feet (1,200 to 1,700 meters) above sea level in a shorter growing season during the winter months of November to February. Lower-quality coffee beans tend to grow below 3,900 feet (1,200 meters) in a slightly longer season (October to March). Here is an overview of the main regions and their characteristics.

costa-rican-coffee-growing-regions

Tarrazú 

Tarrazú is one of the most famous coffee growing regions in the country and rumored to have the best Costa Rican coffee. It is known for its high-altitude coffee farms, which produce beans with a bright acidity and a complex flavor profile. Tarrazú coffee is often described as having a citrusy, fruity flavor with hints of chocolate and caramel. Coffees from this area often have heavy bodies and complex aromas of orange, vanilla, and dried fruit. This region produces up to 35% of the country’s coffee.

Tres Rios

Tres Rios is another popular coffee growing region that sits right outside of the capital. It’s close to the Irazu Volcano, which helps produce some of the best coffee in the country. This coffee is known for its medium body and bright acidity, with a flavor profile that is floral and sweet. Notes of berries and citrus are common.

West Valley (Valle Occidental)

The West Valley region is located in the province of San Jose and is known for its pleasant climate year-round, which produces beans with a bright acidity and complex flavor notes. Coffee from this region tends to have a full body and a rich, chocolatey flavor with notes of citrus and caramel.

Brunca

The Brunca region is located in the southern part of Costa Rica and is known for its dense forests and diverse wildlife. The humid and tropical climate gives the coffee beans grown here a medium body and a flavor profile that is usually nutty with a caramel-like sweetness. You might be reminded of citrus and chocolate when drinking Brunca coffee.

Central Valley (Valle Central)

Many smallholder farms produce high-quality Arabica beans in this region. The coffee is known for its balanced flavor profile, with a medium body, bright acidity, and notes of chocolate and nuts.

Turrialba

Located in the province of Cartago, Turrialba produces beans with a bright acidity and a light-to-medium body. The flavor profile of Turrialba coffee is often described as having floral and fruity notes, with hints of chocolate and citrus. The rich volcanic soil helps produce this delicious coffee.

Guanacaste

The coffee produced here is also known for its light-to-medium body and bright acidity, with a flavor profile of nutty sweetness with hints of caramel and citrus.

Orosi

With similar flavor profiles to the above regions, Orosi is known for producing smooth cups of coffee due to its perfect weather and humid climate.

coffee-plantations-in-Orosi-costa-rica
Coffee plantations in Orosi, Costa Rica

Overall, each of these regions produces coffee with a unique flavor profile, influenced by factors such as altitude, soil type, and climate. While Tarrazú and Tres Rios are perhaps the most famous coffee growing regions in Costa Rica, coffee from all of these regions is highly valued for its quality and flavor.

It’s important to remember that while terroir is important, post-processing methods after the harvest and roast styles play a huge part in the final flavor of your cup of Costa Rican coffee.

The Best Way to Brew Costa Rican Coffee

The most popular way to brew Costa Rican coffee is subjective and depends on personal preferences. However, some popular brewing methods include the French press, any kind of pour-over like a Chemex or V60, and espresso.

Costa Rican coffee is typically roasted to a medium or light level. This roast level helps to preserve the coffee’s unique flavor profile, which includes bright acidity, medium body, and notes of fruit, chocolate, and nuts.

Personally, I love using a V60 to highlight the bright acidity and the unique fruity flavors. Using a pour-over with a paper filter will help produce cleaner-tasting flavors. If your coffee has grape or honeydew notes in it, you will be better able to distinguish and enjoy them when brewing with this method.

brewing-coffee-with-v60

If you prefer to focus on a heavier body and sweetness over acidity, try brewing using a French press, AeroPress, or Moka pot.

Either way, I recommend that you buy whole bean bags of coffee and grind right before making a cup. Ground coffee goes stale quicker, ruining the taste of each coffee bean.

Below are some of the best Costa Rican coffee brands for roasted coffee. While there are a lot of options to choose from online, we think these four Costa Rican coffee brands stand out.

Café Britt

If you enjoy a medium-dark roast, Café Britt has you covered with this 100% Arabica coffee from the Tarrazú region. Chocolate notes dominate this carbon-neutral coffee with hints of grapefruit. If you don’t have a grinder at home and usually buy ground coffee, Café Britt is a great option.

Café 1820

Café 1820 offers this 17 oz (500 gram) bag of coffee as a blend of the top 3 growing regions in the country. You can choose from a classic (darker) or light roast, depending on how much acidity or bitterness you want in your brew. This is an intense coffee for those who like a more full-bodied cup to start the day. Only ground coffee is available here: no whole bean option.

Coffee Bros

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Coffee Bros roast some of our favorite coffee, and their single-origin Costa Rica is no exception. With tasting notes of cocoa, toffee, and lemon, you are in for a sweet and citrusy brew with a clean body. Make sure you have a grinder at home because this bag only comes with a whole bean option.

coffee-bros-costa-rica
Coffee Bros’ Costa Rican coffee – natural processed

Volcanica Coffee

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Vocanica Coffee offers a Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee grown in volcanic soil. With flavor notes of apricot, juicy citrus, and tropical fruit, this medium roast coffee highlights the coffee’s complexity and sweetness. Try this Tarrazú region coffee to experiment some of the best coffee grown in Costa Rica! Choose from buying a whole bean bag or a bag of beans ground for whatever brewing method you use at home.

volcanica-costa-rican-tarrazu
We sampled Volcanica’s Costa Rica Tarrazu

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Costa Rican coffee suitable for light or dark roasts?

Light and medium roasts are best for coffees from Costa Rica. They help preserve the bright acidity and unique fruit-forward flavors inherent to the bean. These types of roasts produce clean, complex coffees. In darker roasts, you may lose these nuanced flavors as flavors from the roast are introduced and bitterness overpowers pleasant acidity.

Is Costa Rica coffee expensive?

Coffee from Costa Rica is some of the most expensive coffee that you can buy. This is due to the exceptional quality of the Arabica coffee grown in the country, in addition to there only being a small supply available. The country produces less than 1% of the world’s coffee each year.

What’s the grading system for Costa Rican coffee?

The green coffee grading system of Costa Rica is based on altitude and hardness. The three classifications are Strictly Hard Bean (SHB), Good Hard Beans (GHB), and Medium Hard Beans (MHB). Strictly Hard Beans are grown at elevations above 3,900 feet (1,200 meters), Good Hard Beans are grown between 3,300 to 3,900 feet (1,000 to 1,200 meters), and Medium Hard Beans are grown between 1,600 to 3,000 feet (500 to 900 meters).

Is Starbucks’ Costa Rica coffee good?

Starbucks has a Costa Rica blend available as a medium roast, but the blend includes coffees from other Central American countries as well. It’s not a pure Costa Rica blend, but it is complex with a soft lemony sweetness and smooth cocoa texture. This is a great everyday coffee for someone who loves smooth coffees with chocolate and fruit notes.

Is Costa Rican coffee Arabica or Robusta?

Almost all of coffee in Costa Rica is Arabica. While the 1989 law banning the planting and production of Robusta coffee plants was reversed in 2018, almost all coffee farmers still focus on growing Arabica coffee. Costa Rica’s climate, terroir, and altitude provide the perfect growing conditions for Arabica coffee.

Final Thoughts

There you have it! Everything you need to know about buying Costa Rican beans.

In this coffee guide, you learned the history of coffee in Costa Rica, where it grows, and how farmers process their beans. You even received a few suggestions for our favorite fresh-roasted coffee to try.

Now go get yourself some coffee beans from this country and treasure that perfect combination of bright acidity and complex, fruit-forward sweetness.

Happy brewing!

You might be also interested in exploring great coffees from differnce countries:

References:

  1. https://nama-facility.org/projects/costa-rica-low-carbon-coffee/#:~:text=Background%3A%20Coffee%20production%20in%20Costa,national%20domestic%20production%20(GDP)
  2. http://www.ico.org/prices/po-production.pdf 
  3. http://www.ico.org/prices/m1-exports.pdf 
  4. https://www.icafe.cr/icafe/acerca-del-icafe/
  5. https://news.co.cr/costa-rica-will-lift-ban-planting-growing-robusta-coffee-lower-quality-arabiga/70585/
Photo of author

Alex DeCapri

Alex DeCapri is a specialty coffee roaster and curious coffee writer. During his time living in Brazil, he spent months learning directly from producers how to pick and process coffee the right way. One thing led to the next, and he started sourcing his own green beans to roast and ship worldwide and later became the head roaster at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte. Currently, Alex is traveling slowly from the United States to Brazil in his self-converted camper van, trying to visit as many coffee farms as possible along the way. If you see him on the road, be sure to say hi!