History of coffee in Costa Rica

Investing in the coffee industry

Growers and traders in the coffee industry have transformed the Costa Rican economy and contributed to modernisation in the country, providing funding for young aspirants to study in Europe. In addition, a road built between 1844 and 1846 leading from the Central Valley to the port of Puntarenas revitalized the valley and mountain area of the present-day towns of Grecia, Palmares, San Ramon and Sarchi, providing a new impetus for the expansion of coffee cultivation on Costa Rican soil.

It was at this point that thelegend of theGolden Coffee Beanbegan to circulate . The coffee boom, which gave rise to an oligarchy that clearly prospered more than others, reflects an undeniable reality: coffee freed Costa Rica from poverty and allowed it to pursue a more comfortable lifestyle.

Coffee contributed to progress

Theincome generated by the coffee industry in Costa Rica financed the first railway linking the country to the Atlantic coast in 1890, called the 'Ferrocarril al Atlántico'. The building of the National Theatre of San José itself, which opened in 1897, became a reality thanks to coffee.

The Golden Coffee Bean was also part of the economic base that influenced the emergence of specific examples of "progress" in Costa Rica during this period. San Jose was one of the first cities in the world with an electric lighting system, after Paris, London and New York. Street lighting began in San Jose on August 9, 1884, with the existence by means of a power plant installed by Amon Fasileau Duplantier in the grounds of the Tournon coffee factory.

The sudden decline

20th century brought Costa Rican farmers to grapple with the question of how to integrate into new areas on the coffee growing map and to increase production. In response to the impending impoverishment of thousands of farmers unprotected against the global financial crisis of the 1930s, the Costa Rican government adopted a series of measures that laid the foundations for the modern structure of Costa Rican coffee production.

These measures included the establishment of the Institute for the Defense of Coffee (IDECAFE) in 1933, which later became the Coffee Authority, which is today the Institute of Costa Rican Coffee (ICAFE). Its main purpose was to regulate relations and mediate between the different sectors of the coffee business.

The need to increase productivity

After World War II, demand for Costa Rican coffee grew, but the country's productivity declined. It was time for the country to make fundamental changes. Following a very careful research process, it began to replace the high-transport, low-productivity 'Typica' and 'Bourbon' varieties with the small 'Caturra' and 'Catuai' varieties. This change increased crop density, which rose from an average of more than 1 000 to 3 000 plants per hectare. Other important changes have also been made in pruning techniques and the use of shade.

The success of the exports was based on the quality of

Changes at international level also played an important role. An international coffee agreement was introduced and with it an export quota system guaranteeing a minimum price. Costa Rica focused its efforts on improving its production techniques. Around 1973, Costa Rica doubled its yield to 1955. The placing of Costa Rica at the top of the list of world coffee productivity is a ranking that was due to the quality policy promoted by ICAFE.

Proportional distribution of coffee profits

Coffee growers were given access to improved coffee beans, so they agreed to plant only Arabica coffee varieties - the government laid down a law that is still in effect - as long as coffee trees can skillfully adapt to soil, climate and shade conditions, they are available. Even more, the fair trade basis on which the Costa Rican government and the coffee industry stand is that export earnings are shared proportionately between producers, millers and exporters, this has helped to further consolidate Costa Rica's position in the international market. This national business model, known as the liquidation system, is unique in the world.

In Costa Rica, it has kept pace

The global change in consumer habits, has helped to create new trends in both coffee growing and buying preferences, as well as the evolving tastes of consumers in Costa Rica, present new challenges that the coffee industry is taking very seriously. This is reflected in the proliferation of certified organic coffees, with international Fair Trade certifications or endorsements by organizations such as UTZ and Rainforest Alliance, which certify their good agricultural practices, reducing water use and other environmental factors.

As a result, a third coffee wave has begun to develop: a generation interested in producing, processing, preparing for roasting and, of course, drinking very high quality coffee, what we know as choice or fine coffee. This specialty coffee culture, where cupping experts and consumers consider coffee a masterpiece, like wine, rather than a commodity, seeks the highest form of culinary appreciation of coffee so that one can appreciate the subtlety of flavors, varieties and growing region - similar to other consumable plant products such as wine, tea, chocolate and hemp. Characteristics of third wave coffee include Direct Trade, high quality beans and single origin (as opposed to blends).