Its innovations, amount of coffee varieties, technical knowledge and attention to coffee production and the environment make Costa Rica one of the most advanced coffee producing countries in Central America.
There are eight coffee regions, defined as: Guanacaste, West Valley, Turrialba, Central Vally, Tres Rios, Brunca, Orosi, and Tarrazú, a part of Valle Central, or Central Valley.
Price and Labor
In general, the production costs for coffee are very high compared to neighboring countries. Over the years, the tourist industry has worked as a catalyst for inflation along with the presence of many foreign businesses bringing dollars into the country. Rural areas have struggled to keep up with rising prices and higher labor costs. The result is that Costa Rican coffee is on the expensive side.
To compete with other coffee producing countries, producers have to stand out in quality. In coffee dense areas like Tarrazú, the result is a competitive atmosphere with producers investing in private micro mills, growing exotic varieties, and alternative processing.
Certifications, Traceability and Sustainability
Given the dry weather conditions, there is little to no organic production. The government runs a very strict environmental program, checking producers continuously on violations.
Costa Rica has become a world leader in traceability and sustainability in coffee production. Ninety percent of the 50,000 coffee farmers are smallholders and deliver their cherry to boutique micro-mills that often process cherries individually according to producer to retain single-lot or single-farm qualities.
The 2006 win of Juan Ramon Alvarado in the Cosecha de Oro (Golden Harvest) for his two honey-process coffees transformed the thinking and processing methods in Costa Rica. Today, many processors and micro-mills have switched from producing mainly wet processed coffees to producing many more honey-processed coffees. This change has led to a global reimagining and understanding of Costa Rican coffees from dependable, largely uniform coffees to a wide range of flavors and tastes unique to location and processing method.
All of the above make producing coffee in Costa Rica challenging for those without a secure market. Because of its ties with the US and foreign influence, many roasters do travel to Costa Rica and build relationships with producers. This is a plus, but still keeps producers dependent on the buying patterns of ‘small’ roasters.
Threats to Coffee Production
The coffee industry is increasingly threatened by real estate expansion. Many people are attracted by Costa Rica’s perfect climate, so nature and coffee fields have to make way for expanding cities, especially in the San José area. Poor farmers can’t fight large building corporations, leaving them no choice but to sell their plantations.
The very same mechanisms that make coffee in Costa Rica more expensive also contribute to protecting small farmers from large corporate buy out. Since most farms are in mountainous regions and thus cannot be mechanized easily, as in Brazil, there is little incentive for large companies to purchase swaths of land to convert to plantation farming.
Trouble is also brewing due to the low price of coffee. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of coffee growers in Costa Rica decreased by 19%, according to ICAFE research.