Costa Rican coffee is full-bodied and rich. People describe it as comforting, sweet, inviting, and chocolaty. Costa Rican coffee consistently wins awards as the best coffee.
The country has been encouraging innovation towards even higher quality coffee. The government gave out free land for those who would farm coffee in 1891. They also once gave seed coffee for free to farmers. Even today, the government sponsors research into how to make their coffee even better.
Costa Rica is a small country with a big name in the coffee world. They export 90% of the coffee they grow, which makes up less than 1% of the world’s coffee. This 1% includes many award winners and other top coffees. Costa Rican coffees reflect this elite status with their prices, but bargains are always to be found.
In Costa Rica, bad coffee is illegal. You read that right. It is illegal to grow any coffee other than 100% Arabica beans. The Costa Ricans did not want their high-quality Arabica plants to cross breed with Robusta plants. So, Robusta plants are illegal. Costa Rica wants to win hearts through quality not quantity.
In This Guide:
- Growing conditions
- Different roasts
- Specific regions and their associated flavor profiles
- Try these Costa Rican coffees
The country has everything it needs to grow the best of coffees: tropical climate, volcanoes, warm temperatures, steady rain during the growing season, high altitudes, and fertile soil.
Most Costa Rican farmers are poor, or at least started out that way. This means that they couldn’t afford new equipment for their farms, instead doing things the old-fashioned way. Today, coffee growers celebrate this old-fashioned way as organic, shade grown, and bird friendly. These principles bring in added money and drive others to adapt to the old ways. Several small farms became hilly plantations that still pick their beans by hand.
I strongly recommend trying a light roast with this coffee. It allows all the natural flavors to emerge from the bean, giving you a cup with notes of apricot, caramel, honey, citrus, and malt. If you roast it one step more to medium, you will find apple, red fruit, milk chocolate, and laurel. Costa Rican coffee works fine in darker roasts as well, but as the roast darkens, the flavors become more standard dark chocolate and nougat.
Inspectors can give Costa Rican coffee another honor, the SHB designation. That stands for Strictly Hard Bean. It means the beans are physically dense, creating more complex flavors. It also means that within a bag of coffee, the beans are all high quality.
Most of the coffee is wet processed and fermented, removing the outsides. Then it is sun dried (but some plantations are adding electronic driers). After that, workers sort the beans by hand for the best sizes and shapes. A small but growing amount is honey processed, fermenting the mucilage on the beans. Others trust the natural or dry process, which is the oldest way, but can be difficult in a rainforest.
Specific regions and their associated flavor profiles
The mountains of Costa Rica are full of coffee, with small farms and larger plantations laid across the landscape. Each region takes pride in its coffee that is a little bit different from the other regions.
Tarrazú is the most famous coffee-growing region in the country. Its coffees regularly win prizes, and many people consider them the best in the world.
It has a clean, crisp, and brightly acidic taste and hazy smell that makes it immensely popular. Up close, it delivers dark chocolate, grapefruit, florals, and a woodsy scent. This region is known for its consistency—the beans are always good
Brunca is the third largest and southernmost coffee region in Costa Rica. We know its coffees for their balanced composition. The beans are particularly mild but offer an array of sweet citrus flavors.
West Valley grows 25% off all the country’s coffee beans. These beans push fruit flavors forward, especially flavors of peaches, plums, and apricots. Beans from this area are more likely to be honey or natural processed.
Guanacaste has a vastly different taste than the other Costa Rican Coffees. The region is the warmest. Its beans are small-farmed, and shade grown on the mountainsides, moving further up the mountain as climate change happens. It is bitter to bittersweet and has a very mild acidity.
Orosi’s coffee is balanced and smooth. The coffees in this region are more similar to each other than coffee found within other regions. These beans are ideal for dark roasting into espressos.
Turrialba coffees are the lightest around. They come from the rainiest region, when means more harvests per year. They have a subtle smell and a light body with low acidity.
The Central Valley’s coffees have a balanced taste. Main flavors are fruit and chocolate. This coffee has low acidity and a heavy body that coats your mouth as you drink it. Most of the coffee here grows over 3,500 feet above sea level
This small region has uniform soil and climate. Coffee grows about 5,400 feet above sea level on the sides of the Irazu Volcano. The beans from Tres Rios have a balanced acidity which helps create flavors of citrus, plum, allspice, honey, and nuts.
Try these Costa Rican coffees
Close your eyes and pick a bag of any single-origin Costa Rican coffee and you will have a winner. The country does not make bad coffee. The list of best quality coffees is way too long for this article. So, here is a small list of stand-outs.
Volcanica coffees often make the top of my lists. The company focuses on single-origin coffees from high altitudes, so they are already within the category of best coffees.
Additionally, Volcanica’s beans are affordable, at least compared to other beans from similar origins. But top Costa Rican coffee (like this one) is still expensive. You can get almost as good from Volcanica’s Costa Rican Original.
Peaberries are when a coffee cherry produces one bean instead of two. Experts say peaberry is the highest quality. Costa Rican Peabody is medium roasted, pulling out a range of interesting flavors. You can taste berries in this sweet, flavorful, and dense coffee.
Cooper’s coffees age in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels to enhance the winy taste of this coffee. The beans are honey-processed to bring out the sweeter end of flavors. The result is a sweetly complex wine flavor with notes of honey, fruit, and dark chocolate.
Peet’s offers a light roast for you to try. It offers many bright flavors such as lemon bar, molasses, and black cherry. The light roast is sugary and rich – which is normally claimed about darker beans. Test this one without milk first, you may not need it.
Costa Rican coffees are always among the best. The country planned it and has been building better beans for the last century. Play around with the different roasts to see the range of flavors that good roasting can bring out. Explore different regions and taste some of the best the world has to offer.