Coffee has been grown in Costa Rica since the early 19th century. When the country’s independence from Spain was proclaimed in 1821, the municipality handed over free coffee seeds to encourage production, and records show that there were about seventeen thousand trees in Costa Rica at the time.
In 1825, the government continued to promote coffee by exempting it from certain taxes, and in 1831 the government decided that if someone had been growing coffee for five years, he could claim it. While small quantities of coffee were exported to Panama in 1820, the first real exports began in 1832. Although this coffee was ultimately destined for England, it first passed through Chile, where it was repackaged and renamed “Café Chileno de Valparaíso”.
Direct exports to England followed in 1843, shortly after the British increasingly invested in Costa Rica. This eventually established the Bank of Anglo-Costa Rican in 1863, which provided funding to enable the industry to grow. For nearly fifty years, between 1846 and 1890, coffee was the only exporting country. Coffee was driven by infrastructure, such as the creation of the first railways connecting the country to the Atlantic Ocean, and funding for San Juan de Dios Hospital, the first post office, and the first government printing press. It would also have an impact on culture, as the National Theater is a product of the early coffee economy, along with the first libraries and the University of Santo Tomas.
Costa Rica’s coffee infrastructure has long given him an advantage when he had to get a better price on the international market. The wet process was introduced in 1830, and by 1905 there were two hundred wet mills in operation in the country. Washed coffee reached higher prices, and it was then that processing coffee in this way increased its perceived quality.
The coffee industry continued to grow until it began to reach its geographical limits. The population was still spreading from San José to the rest of the country, and farmers were looking for new land to grow crops. However, the whole area of the country was not suitable for coffee growing, which still controls the growth of the industry.
It is undeniable that Costa Rican coffee has gained a good reputation and good prices for its coffees for a very long time, despite the fact that the coffee it produces was typically clean and pleasant rather than interesting or unusual. In the later part of the 20th century, they sought to move from hereditary varieties to high-yielding varieties. While higher yields make economic sense, many in the specialty coffee industry felt that the quality of the cup had deteriorated and was even less interesting. Recently, however, there have been changes that have sparked great interest in better quality coffees produced in the country.
Coffee and tourism
Costa Rica is one of the most developed and safest countries in Central America. This makes it an incredibly popular tourist destination, especially among North Americans. Tourism not only displaced coffee as a primary location for foreign income but also collided with and combined with it. Ecotourism is especially popular in Costa Rica, and there are many coffee farms in the country to visit and go on tours. Typically, larger farms offer tours with less focus on absolute quality, but it’s still interesting to have the opportunity to see up close how coffee farming works.
Currently, land ownership is extremely common in Costa Rica, with ninety percent of coffee growers there having small and medium-sized farms. As such, you can find a coffee that can be fed to an individual farm or a particular cooperative.
Costa Rican coffee is typically very clean and sweet, although it is often very light-bodied. Recently, however, micro-farms have offered a wider range of flavors and styles.