15 Fun Facts About Costa Rican Coffee. Did You Know It Already?

We are very patriotic in Costa Rica during the month of September. My apologies to my dear readers from other latitudes. But I invite you to read this post, I’m sure it will help you understand better our coffee and culture.  

On Saturday September 9th we celebrate the National Day of Coffee in San José downtown, talking, drinking and learning about coffee, Costa Rican coffee. It is a celebration that has been growing little by little among the lovers of this aromatic drink.

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Today coffee is the aromatic package we grab at the supermarket and that we prepare every morning or in the afternoon to keep us going through the day. But in the genes of all costa ricans the coffee lives intertwined with their cultural memory. From a past where the coffee had a much more important economic place.   

I was talking to my social media followers, and a lot of them still remember drinking coffee as part of their family reunions, since they were kids, with tortillas, plantains, “chorreado”, others even harvested coffee and remember the insect bites, their hands full of coffee’s “honey”, having lunch on a plantain leaf and how hard it was to fill a “cajuela” (read all the stories on my Facebook page, it’s so worth it!) Why is it still so present? Why if we see less and less coffee fields in the cities and it is workers from other countries who harvest it, yet it is still part of our folklor?

Would you like to know more? Here you have it, 15 facts about costa rican coffee that maybe you didn’t know!

  • The very first one. Coffee first came to Costa Rica in seed form, from Martinique Island. Which variety? A Typica, from Arabica genre. The year: 1791.
  • Where was coffee planted for the first time? The records show that the first plants were cultivated by the priest Felix Valverde in 1809. The parcel of land was located at what we know today as Central Avenue and 0 Street. There is a commemorative plaque on the site! I encourage you to go and take pictures of it!  
  • The first in Central America. Before coffee, Costa Rica was a  very poor central american province. In 1819, the government decides to boost the coffee industry as an opportunity for development. We were the first ones in Central America.  
  • We started exporting! To where? In 1820 we made our first exportation. It was just two quintals (2 sacks of 100 lbs each). They went to Panama.
  • Why do we always see oxen carts full of coffee in the costa rican souvenir stores? The oxherd were the people in charge of bringing coffee to the exportation ports. In 1840 you had to take the coffee to Puntarenas. From San José that was a 5 days trip. It is believed that between 5000 and 10 000 carts were that “golden grain” transportation force.
  • The first direct exportation was done by a coffee farmer named Santiago Fernandez Hidalgo in 1841. With the collaboration of William Lacheur. This english merchant took our coffee to Europe for the first time directly.
  • Monoculture for exportation. Between 1846-1890 we only exported coffee. Nothing else.
  • Is your last name Castro, Montealegre, Ortuño, Bonilla, González, Flores or Lindo? These are the names of prominent coffee farmers back in the day. Maybe the coffee culture runs through your veins. The government gave away seeds, promoted the cultivation of coffee through land titling, to everyone who wanted to grow coffee.
  • How was the coffee processed at the beginning? At first the coffee farmers followed this process: they would dry the coffee in their own backyards, remove the outer layers with a pilón (big wooden mortar used to extract the seed) and they’d keep it for their own families to consume.
  • Techniques pioneers! With the exportation, the milling process and its techniques improved. In 1830 Buenaventura Espinach built a paved floor and established the first wet mill. It was located in south Cartago in the El Molino Farm.
  • Coffee that builds. Did you know that a lot of the progress of Costa Rica happened thanks to coffee? Here are some examples: the first press, the postal service, the road to Puntarenas, the first university, the railroad to the Atlantic and Pacific, the National Theater… Do you have some more on your list?
  • No to Robusta. As we learned, the first coffee seed that came to Costa Rica was a Coffea Arabica. Because of its cup quality it was decided that the use of Coffea Robusta or Canephora was forbidden, even though they have more productivity their cup quality is inferior. 
  • Only Costa Rica has a law that regulates the pay for coffee producers,  it’s what we know as annual liquidation.
  • Expansion and Specialization. The Central Valley was one of the first regions to grow coffee. But then it expanded to other areas of the country. The experience left us with 8 different regions, with very distinct flavors. Which are they?
  • Today, coffee is not the only crop in Costa Rica and it keeps facing a lot of challenges of marketing and agriculture. But our producers today continue to innovate. The number of micro mills keeps growing (small producers that grow, process, roast and sell their coffee).  Did you know that we are pioneers in milling processes? Our coffee farmers have developed the famous honey, natural and anaerobic processes… 

Sources: ICAFE (Costa Rica Coffee Institute), MAG (Agriculture Board of Costa Rica). 

 

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