Coffee production in Costa Rica
The coffee production in Costa Rica played a key role in the country's history and still is important for the Costa Rican economy
Economy of Costa Rica
The economy of Costa Rica heavily depends on tourism, agriculture, and electronics exports. Poverty has been reduced over the past 15 years, and a social safety net put into place....

. In 2006, coffee
Coffee is a brewed beverage with a dark,init brooo acidic flavor prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant, colloquially called coffee beans. The beans are found in coffee cherries, which grow on trees cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in equatorial Latin America, Southeast Asia,...

 was Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Costa Rica , officially the Republic of Costa Rica is a multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east....

's number three export, after being the number one cash crop
Cash crop
In agriculture, a cash crop is a crop which is grown for profit.The term is used to differentiate from subsistence crops, which are those fed to the producer's own livestock or grown as food for the producer's family...

 export for several decades. In 1997, the agriculture sector employed 28 percent of the labor force and comprised 20 percent of Costa Rica's total GNP
Gross National Product is the market value of all products and services produced in one year by labor and property supplied by the residents of a country...

. Production increased from 158,000 tons in 1988 to 168,000 tons in 1992. Costa Rican coffee is high in caffeine
Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid that acts as a stimulant drug. Caffeine is found in varying quantities in the seeds, leaves, and fruit of some plants, where it acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills certain insects feeding on the plants...

; it is often blended with inferior varieties. The largest growing areas are in the provinces of San José
San José Province
San José is a province of Costa Rica. It is located in the central part of the country, and borders the provinces of Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Limón and Puntarenas. The provincial capital is San José. The province covers an area of 4,965.9 km²...

, Alajuela
Alajuela Province
Alajuela is a province of Costa Rica. It is located in the north-central part of the country, bordering Nicaragua to the north, and clockwise the provinces Heredia, San José, Puntarenas and Guanacaste...

, Heredia
Heredia Province
Heredia is a province of Costa Rica. It is located in the north-central part of the country. As a result, the province covers areas as diverse as the agriculture rich Northern plains of San Carlos as well as the more metropolitan areas like the city of Heredia located in the Central Valley...

, Puntarenas
Puntarenas Province
Puntarenas is a province of Costa Rica. It is located in the western part of the country, covering most of Costa Rica's Pacific Ocean coast, and it is the largest province in Costa Rica. Clockwise from the northwest it borders on the provinces Guanacaste, Alajuela, San José and Limón, and the...

, and Cartago
Cartago Province
Cartago is a province of Costa Rica. It is located in the central part of the country. Bordering provinces are Limón to the east and San José to the west. The capital is Cartago and it was formerly the capital city of Costa Rica until 1823 when the capital was changed to San Jose...



Coffee production in the country began in 1779 in the Meseta Central which had ideal soil and climate conditions for coffee plantations. Coffea arabica
Coffea arabica
Coffea arabica is a species of Coffea originally indigenous to the mountains of Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, hence its name, and also from the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia and southeastern Sudan. It is also known as the "coffee shrub of Arabia", "mountain coffee" or "arabica coffee"...

first imported to Europe through Arabia
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

, whence it takes its name, was introduced to the country directly from Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

. In the nineteenth century, the Costa Rican government strongly encouraged coffee production, and the industry fundamentally transformed a colonial
Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a process whereby the metropole claims sovereignty over the colony and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by...

 regime and village economy built on direct extraction by a city-based elite towards organized production for export on a larger scale. The government offered farmers plots of land for anybody who wanted to harvest the plants. The coffee plantation system in the country therefore developed in the nineteenth century largely as result of the government's open policy, although the problem with coffee barons did play a role in internal differentiation, and inequality in growth. Soon coffee became a major source of revenue surpassing cacao, tobacco
Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as a pesticide and, in the form of nicotine tartrate, used in some medicines...

, and sugar
Sugar is a class of edible crystalline carbohydrates, mainly sucrose, lactose, and fructose, characterized by a sweet flavor.Sucrose in its refined form primarily comes from sugar cane and sugar beet...

 production as early as 1829.

Exports across the border to Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

 were not interrupted when Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. In 1832, Costa Rica, at the time a state in the Federal Republic of Central America
Federal Republic of Central America
The Federal Republic of Central America, known as the United Provinces of Central America in its first year of creation, was a sovereign state in Central America, which consisted of the territories of the former Captaincy General of Guatemala of New Spain...

, began exporting coffee to Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

 where it was re-bagged and shipped to England under the brand of “Café Chileno de Valparaíso”. In 1843, a shipment was sent directly to the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 by William Le Lacheur Lyon, captain of the English ship, The Monarch, who had seen the potential of directly cooperating with the Costa Ricans. He sent several hundred-pound bags and following this the British developed an interest in the country. They invested heavily in the Costa Rican coffee industry, becoming the principal customer for exports until World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Growers and traders of the coffee industry transformed the Costa Rican economy, and contributed to modernization in the country, which provided funding for young aspiring academics to study in Europe. The revenue generated by the coffee industry in Costa Rica funded the first railroads linking the country to the Atlantic Coast in 1890, the “Ferrocarril al Atlántico”. The National Theater
Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica
The National Theatre of Costa Rica is the national theatre of Costa Rica. It is located in the central section of San José, Costa Rica. Construction began in 1891, and it opened to the public on 21 October 1897 with a performance of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust.The National Theatre stood as...

 itself in San José is a product of the first coffee farmers in the country.
Coffee was vital to the Costa Rican economy by the early to mid-20th Century. Leading coffee growers were prominent members of society. Due to the centrality of coffee in the economy, price fluctuations from changes to conditions in larger coffee producers, like Brazil, had major reverberations in Costa Rica. When the price of coffee on the global market dropped, it could greatly impact the Costa Rican economy.

In 1955 an export tax
A tariff may be either tax on imports or exports , or a list or schedule of prices for such things as rail service, bus routes, and electrical usage ....

 was placed on Costa Rican coffee. This however was abolished in 1994. In 1983, a major blight struck the coffee industry in the country, throwing the industry into a crisis that coincided with falling market prices; world coffee prices plummeted around 40% after the collapse of the world quota cartel system. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, coffee production had increased, from 158,000 tons in 1988 to 168,000 in 1992, but prices had fallen, from $316 million in 1988 to $266 million in 1992. In 1989, Costa Rica joined Honduras
Honduras is a republic in Central America. It was previously known as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became the modern-day state of Belize...

, Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

, Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean...

, and El Salvador
El Salvador
El Salvador or simply Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. The country's capital city and largest city is San Salvador; Santa Ana and San Miguel are also important cultural and commercial centers in the country and in all of Central America...

 to establish a Central American coffee retention plan which agreed that the product was to be sold in installments to ensure market stability. There was an attempt by the International Coffee Organization
International Coffee Organization
International Coffee Organization was initiated in collaboration with UN to enhance cooperation between nations that consume, distribute and produce coffee....

 in the 1990s to maintain export quotas that would support coffee prices worldwide.

At present, the production of coffee in the Great Metropolitan Area around the capital of San José
San José, Costa Rica
San José is the capital and largest city of Costa Rica. Located in the Central Valley, San José is the seat of national government, the focal point of political and economic activity, and the major transportation hub of this Central American nation.Founded in 1738 by order of Cabildo de León, San...

 has decreased in recent years due to the effects of urban sprawl
Urban sprawl
Urban sprawl, also known as suburban sprawl, is a multifaceted concept, which includes the spreading outwards of a city and its suburbs to its outskirts to low-density and auto-dependent development on rural land, high segregation of uses Urban sprawl, also known as suburban sprawl, is a...

. As the cities have expanded into the countryside, poor plantation owners have often been forced to sell up to building corporations.


Coffee production in the country relies on cheap, seasonal labor: Nicaraguan immigrants are often employed on plantations. Coffee cultivators in the country are paid very little, often as little as US$1.5 per basket picked, but the wages are not less than in many other industries of the Costa Rican primary sectors. The berries are picked by the workers and are transported to processing plants to be washed and to remove the pulp around the beans. In Costa Rica the processing plants where this process is done are called beneficios but the effects of pulp removal may result in non-beneficial environmental effects (see below). The beans are then laid out to dry in the sun, then sorted according to size and shape. Although mechanical drying is gradually replacing manual labor in places, time consuming sun drying, and equipment are required to dry the wet seeds after pulping. Then they are then sealed with a slight touch of acidity typical of Costa Rican coffee.

Costa Rica is famous for its gourmet
Gourmet is a cultural ideal associated with the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine, which is characterised by elaborate preparations and presentations of large meals of small, often quite rich courses...

 coffee beans, with Costa Rican Tarrazú
Tarrazú is the name of the 5th canton in the province of San José in Costa Rica. The canton covers an area of 297.50 km², and has a population of 15,142...

 among the finest Arabica coffee beans in the world used for making espresso
Espresso is a concentrated beverage brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee. Espresso is widely known throughout the world....

 coffee, together with Jamaican Blue Mountain
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee or Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is a classification of coffee grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. The best lots of Blue Mountain coffee are noted for their mild flavour and lack of bitterness...

, Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

n Antigua
Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its well-preserved Spanish Mudéjar-influenced Baroque architecture as well as a number of spectacular ruins of colonial churches...

 and Ethiopian Sidamo.

Costa Rica hosts an annual festival in honor of National Coffee Day. Welcoming farmers and the public, the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry and the Costa Rican Coffee Institute pay homage to the bean and the very important industry of coffee. Awarded is a Cup of Excellence for the highest quality of coffee produced in Costa Rica, with the winner being permitted to sell their winning coffee through an auction to the international community. This is not only prestigious but financially lucrative as various international countries out bid each other to purchase the finest caliber of coffee.

Major growing regions and seasons

The major growing regions and season are illustrated in the table below. The finest coffee is typically grown at altitudes of 1200 to 1700 metres, in a shorter winter growing season; the lower quality coffee is typically grown at altitudes below 1200 metres, in a longer growing season that lasts from late summer through to winter.
Region Altitude Harvest season Blend nature
West Valley
Costa Rican Central Valley
The Central Valley is a plateau and a geographic region of central Costa Rica. The land in the valley is a relative plain, despite being surrounded by several mountains and volcanos, the latter part of the Central Range. The region houses almost three quarters of Costa Ricans, and includes the...

1200-1650m Nov-March High fine acidity
Very good body
Very good aroma
Tarrazú is the name of the 5th canton in the province of San José in Costa Rica. The canton covers an area of 297.50 km², and has a population of 15,142...

1200-1700m Dec-March High fine acidity
Very good body
Very good aroma
Tres Rios
Três Rios
Três Rios is a municipality located in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. As of 2007 its population was 72,848 and its area is 325 km².As of 2009, the mayor of Três Rios is Vinicius Farah.-Sports:...

1200-1650m Dec-March High fine acidity
Very good body
Very good aroma
Orosi is a town in the Cartago Province in Costa Rica, about 35 kilometers south of the capital San José. Orosi is situated on the Reventazón River in the Orosi Valley. The cultivation of coffee is the leading industry in the area. Orosi has a population of approximately 4,600 and has the oldest...

900-1200m Sept-Feb Good acidity
Good body
Good aroma
Brunca  800-1200m Aug-Jan Normal acidity
Normal body
Normal aroma
Turrialba  600-900m July-Dec Normal acidity
Poor body
Good aroma

Environmental effects of coffee production

Although coffee production in Costa Rica is a major source of revenue, it is not without its environmental problems. The main effect on the environment is the pollution of rivers during the separation and de-pulping process at the beneficio processing plants or mills. After the beans are separated from the pulp, the beans are left to ferment in a water tank to remove the gummy gel that surrounds the bean. By the end of the drying process, there is leftover pulp and sugar water. In the past, many coffee producers dumped the pulp waste directly into the rivers. Approximately 57% of the coffee bean consists of contaminants which destroy wildlife in rivers and may harm people. The pulp as it decays in river water has the effect of depleting the water of oxygen and killing off aquatic life.
By the early 1990s, the problem had raised serious concerns, and in January 1995 the government passed new legislation which imposed regulations on the proper treatment of solid and liquid waste. Some farmers in the country have attempted to use the pulp waste in soils as a fertilizer
Fertilizer is any organic or inorganic material of natural or synthetic origin that is added to a soil to supply one or more plant nutrients essential to the growth of plants. A recent assessment found that about 40 to 60% of crop yields are attributable to commercial fertilizer use...

, but deforestation
Deforestation is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a nonforest use. Examples of deforestation include conversion of forestland to farms, ranches, or urban use....

 for coffee production may result in soil erosion and additional environmental costs. Deforestation is not new in Costa Rica. Major deforestation began in the 1830s with the introduction of coffee cultivation in the Meseta Central region, which was the cradle of the nation's coffee industry. By 1900 however, deforestation had accelerated rapidly in other parts of the country. Coffee was ideally suited to the soil and bio-climatic conditions of the volcanic mountain ranges of the central meseta, but by this time cultivation had begun extensively in the more vulnerable hill forests to provide coffee that was in increasing demand for export. By the 1970s and 1980s, this along with the removal of forest for pasture land and ranching had resulted in an annual forestry loss of 4% per annum, one of the highest rates in Latin America at the time. Such lands under pasture or coffee cropping can be subject to erosion by water.
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