Coffee Regions of Costa Rica
The Central Valley is made up of the San José, Heredia and Alajuela provinces. Its productive structure is influenced by the agro-export model that greatly emphasizes the importance of the cultivation and industrialization of coffee.
This is the most populated region that includes the capital city of San José. The coffee plantations were first started in this region and later taken to the other 7 productive regions of the country. The Irazu, Barva, and Poas volcanoes, instrumental in the nurturing of the soil necessary for the cultivation of the coffee bean, are familiar landmarks in the Central Valley.
Coffee was first cultivated in this region, during the last decade of the 18th century. The first quintal of exported coffee was recorded in 1820, destined for Panama. Along with the exportation of coffee to Europe came the train, mail system, printing houses, the first university and the construction of the National Theater in Costa Rica, among other developments.
Located on the slopes of the Pacific basin, this key territory has well-defined wet and dry seasons, with rainfall of 3,000 millimeters (118 inches, 155 days of the year and a humidity level of 84%. The average temperature is 20°C (68°F) and the sun shines about 44 to 54% of the time or about 2,150 hours yearly.
Altitude and Soil:
The coffee-growing region extends from between 800 to 1,600 meters above sea level (2,625 feet-5,250 feet); however, more than 80% of the coffee farms are located between 1,000 and 1,400 meters (3,281 feet – 4,593 feet).
The sub-regions are distributed in the lower areas: below 1,000 meters (3,281 feet), where you will find a lighter coffee, and at higher altitudes, over 1,200 meters (3,937 feet), where the coffee is stronger, more acidic and more aromatic.
The altitude of the Central Valley affects the size and hardness of the coffee bean and can influence certain components, in particular the acidity; these elements are very important to the characteristics of Arabica coffee, which offers an aromatic, smooth and pleasant flavored beverage.
Tropical soils have been enriched by volcanic ash and are slightly acidic; they are also rich in organic material which favors moisture retention, a well distributed root system, and facilitates oxygenation.
In addition to these elements, the region is typified by its Andisol soil type, which features an average content of organic material and good texture. This combination of characteristics provides strength to the coffee plant and is one of the many factors that contribute to the excellent quality found in the Costa Rican coffee.
Harvesting is carried out from November to mid-March.
The Central Valley offers much diversity in as far as the quality of the coffee, but in general it is a well-balanced cup of coffee. The volcanic soil and the climate found in the Central Valley produce a cup of coffee with excellent characteristics and a chocolaty flavor.
During the 19th century, the flow of emigration from the Central to the West Valley established the towns of San Ramón, Palmares, Naranjo and Grecia.
The first founders brought with them the cultivation of coffee, which has helped give life and stimulate progress to this West region. Coffee is cultivated in the valleys and slopes of the central range, in volcanic soils exceptionally suitable for its production.
San Ramón, Palmares, Naranjo and Grecía enjoy pleasant weather year round. This region has well defined dry and rainy seasons. Precipitation is about 2.250 millimeters (.09 inches) for an average of 160 days a year.
This allows for the berry to be harvested efficiently during the beginning of the dry summer season, once it has ripened perfectly. The rest of the summer is used to uniformly dry the coffee.
The average production is estimated between 800,000 and 1,000,000 excellent quality fanegas (1 fanega = 400 L) of the SHB (Strictly Hard Bean), GHB (Good Hard Bean) and HB (Hard Bean) types. Around 85% of coffee growers produce between 1 and 100 fanegas. This region enjoys a good distribution of wealth, which has strengthened social and economical aspects of the valley.
Altitude and Soil:
In the West Valley, the ideal conditions for the cultivation of the best coffee bean are: very fertile volcanic soil, 81% percent humidity, a stable temperature of 21.5*C (70.7*F) and adequate sunlight year round (from 48 to 52%) with an average of 2,250 hours annually.
In the Arabica coffee specie, the Caturra and Catuaí variety predominate. It is cultivated at an altitude of between 800 meters (2,625 feet) and 1,400 meters (4,593 feet), in an area of 25,476 hectares (62,951 acres).
The gathering of the beans lasts four months. Special care is given to the crops which produces coffee with a pleasant apricot or peach flavor. Harvesting begins in November and ends in February, coinciding with the dry season. This allows for the picking to occur under a festive, Christmas atmosphere.
Around 75% of the plantations are coffee forests, allowing for the annual removal of 5,000,000.00 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), per hectare (2.471 acres). Good agricultural practices in the coffee plantations and the coffee processing plant maintaining harmony with nature are a constant. The producers, processors and exporters are committed to these principles.
Coffee producing cantons and their altitude in meters:
Palmares: 900 – 1,400
Naranjo: 800 – 1,700
San Ramón: 900 – 1,450
Grecía: 750 – 1,500
Valverde Vega: 850 – 1,550
Atenas: 700 – 1,350
Coffee from the west valley is well known for its organoleptic qualities: very good acidity, body, aroma and an identifiable origin. Within a cup, the acidity and body are well balanced, a characteristic distinctive of this coffee.
In the mid 19th Century, inhabitants of the Central Valley migrated to the southwestern region, known today as Los Santos. This region owes its name to the fact that its cantons were named after saints: San Pablo de León Cortés (Saint Paul), San Marcos de Tarrazú (Saint Mark), and Santa Maria de Dota.
Protected by the Pacific basin range, this region is a sanctuary of mystical birds and forests, and producer of the best coffee grown in small valleys and mountain slopes. The cultivation of coffee is fundamental to the socio-economic growth of Los Santos.
Its lands produce around 700, 000 fanegas (1 fanega = 400 L) of coffee berries of uniform ripeness. Arabica coffee containing the following characteristics is produced: light, small bean, flat and bluish in color, good appearance, and strictly hard (SHB/SUR).
Caturra and Catuaí are the principal varieties grown, which produce a coffee with a low grade of caffeine, a characteristic much appreciated by the most demanding world markets.
As far as climate, Tarrazu is characterized by two well-defined seasons; a rainy season lasting seven months (May through November) and a dry season (December through April). This situation favors the blossoming of coffee. On average, precipitation is between 2,400 millimeters (94.5 inches) per year, with an average annual temperature of 19°C (66.2°F).
In Los Santos, approximately 22,000 hectares (54,362 acres) are cultivated, each composed of small farms, with an average size of 2.5 hectares (6.1775 acres). The average coffee production is 780 thousand fanegas yearly. It is estimated that around 95% of the beans are of the SHB (Strictly Hard Bean) type.
Altitude and Soil:
Cultivation is located between 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) and 1,900 meters (6,234 feet) at altitudes and in conditions ideal for coffee. The soil is primarily of sedimentary origin, thus making its components acidic. The majority of the plantations are shaded, with some trees being native to the zone and some foreign.
Harvesting is a five month period, from November through March. It coincides with the dry season, which offers uniform ripeness and a high quality fruit. The dry season also allows the use of the sun for adequate patio drying.
Acosta and Aserrí are characterized as zones located between 800 meters (2,625 feet) and 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) in altitude, with very marked summers, stony soil and steep inclines.
The Desamparados and Cartago sub-region, with altitudes between 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) and 1,700 meters (5,577 feet), is characterized by well-defined summers, with an average temperature of 20°C (68°F). It is comprised of steep slopes combined with small undulating valleys, and better quality soil.
Dota, Tarrazú and León Cortés have altitudes that reach 1,900 meters (6,234 feet). They are also characterized by well-defined seasons (seven months of rain and five months of summer), and by temperatures lower than the previously mentioned regions. The majority of the soil is of regular quality, characterized by its high acidity and low base content, with steep slopes.
The combination of altitude, climate and the variety cultivated give this coffee organoleptic qualities which are highly appreciated by the most demanding markets in the world. Good body, a highly acidic cup of fine, non-sharp taste, excellent aroma and an intense, subtle chocolate flavor.