There are experiences that you want to have. Then there are experiences that you need to have. If you’re a coffee lover, if you have any interest whatsoever in specialty coffee, then you must make a trip to Costa Rica a bucket list item. One of our favorite experiences by far, though, was getting a first-hand tasting of the enchanting coffee from the Costa Rica Tarrazu region.
We chose right for our first and most memorable coffee tasting experience in Costa Rica by making a visit to the famed CafeOTeca in San Jose’s Escalante neighborhood.
Man was it an awesome experience. Not just an awesome cup of coffee. But a damn good overall experience from start to finish.
It’s exactly what we strive for here at Blue Penguin Coffee.
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into this exquisitely designed coffee brewing haven is how small it is. It’s probably under 20 seats from the looks of it and kind of reminds you of Zhanlu coffee in Taipei, Taiwan.
There’s a reason why the place is so small, though.
By having such a small coffee shop, it creates a uniquely intimate experience that you’re not going to get at Starbucks or even most neighborhood coffee shops.
We got lucky.
Maybe it was the time that we strolled into the coffee shop, or maybe it was our friendly faces.
Really, though, I think it was probably because of our Creative Director and her friend’s stunning looks! 😉
I mean seriously, who in Costa Rica wouldn’t want to serve coffee to two beautiful, young American women, right?
In all seriousness. We really did get lucky.
Front row seats at the bar with our own personal barista, lucky. A barista who not only took the time to explain each coffee we tasted but also made sure we understood why that particular brew method was used.
Then it happened.
Like a party in my mouth. Edwin, our barista from Cafeoteca brewed up the first batch of Costa Rica Tarrazu in a sleek Kalita setup and I was hooked.
I was hooked like a monkey that tasted human food for the first time. Hooked like a kid in a candy store or the first time you binge watch Netflix on a Friday night. Just hooked. (I had to throw in the monkey reference because they were everywhere!)
At that moment in time. Sipping on that cup of freshly ground, hand brewed Costa Rica Tarrazu, time stopped. It was perfect!
Coffee, me, the chocolatey, fruity distinct taste of a good cup of Costa Rica Tarrazu, friends, and a personal barista. Seriously, nothing could be better.
I know what you’re thinking now.
Is Costa Rica Tarrazu really that good?
There’s a bunch of different coffee growing regions, 8 to be exact, in Costa Rica. What makes Costa Rica Tarrazu so good and so popular?
My friend, that is a good question. It’s a question I first had when we first landed in Costa Rica.
To truly understand Costa Rica Tarrazu, you have to understand all the other coffee growing regions in Costa Rica first.
Sprinkle in a little history, and you’ll see what makes all Costa Rican coffee so unique and each region so distinct.
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with coffee from any of the regions. Like a good coffee grinder, or a good brewing set up, much of it comes down to personal preference.
By the end of this post, you might be more intrigued by the delicately flavored coffee from the Tres Rios region or the intricate citrus tang of a Brunca coffee.
Although I love my Costa Rica Tarrazu coffee, I’m not here to try to convince you of anything. My goal, simply, is to introduce you to the wonderful coffee country which Costa Rica is.
Can’t forget about the Monkeys in Costa Rica either 🙂 Anyways, let’s get this coffee tour of Costa Rica started!
8 Coffee Regions of Costa Rica
1. Brunca Region
Brunca oh sweet citrusy Brunca. What a coffee region to start with.
The coffee here is known to have a range in flavor profile from mild and simple to an intricate, complex and sweet tasting masterpiece depending on what elevation the coffee is grown.
As you might have guessed, the more the complex, intricate and sweet citrus flavors, are found at the higher elevations.
Not to get too much into the details here (it’s just how excited I am about Costa Rican coffee now), but the higher altitude counties Perez Zeledon and Coto Brus, which range from 800 – 1,700 meters above sea level is where you’ll find the more complex end of the beans in the region.
The region which is situated between two mountain ranges and on the border of Panama is one of the most biologically diverse, yet most isolated and poorest regions in the country according to mdgfund.org.
When you think about it about it, I mean really think about it, it’s kind of a bummer to know that a region which produced a Cup of Excellence lot in 2015 is also one of the poorest regions.
At the same time, though, when you get publicity like you do when you produce a Cup of Excellence lot, it can really get the word out about the possibilities within the land.
Now most people into specialty coffee industry ‘in the know’ will have heard of the Brunca region.
If you don’t think just try it out. Next time you’re at your local coffee shop ask your barista if they know about Brunca Region in Costa Rica.
If they do, cool, they’re ‘in the know’.
If they don’t, it’s time for a new barista, my friend.
2. Central Valley Region
Next up in our tour of coffees from this awesome country is the Central Valley region of Costa Rica. The region is actually a large fertile plateau which holds three-quarters of the population in the country.
For many of you who visit Costa Rica, you’ll start your journey in this region via San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. This is where we started our journey and if you get the chance, I’d recommend you start your journey here too.
Nice mild and drier weather all year round because of its location.
A topographic situation as a plateau at 900 – 1,500 meters above sea level.
Friendly people, cool shops, and cafes, culture, and do I have to remind you again of Cafe0teca.
Not to mention, although you’re experiencing more or less a mountain lifestyle versus a beach lifestyle in the Central Region, you’re only an hour drive away from the nearest beach.
It really is the perfect place to start and end your trip.
Now, you might have just glanced over my mention of Central Valley being a typically dry place.
This is important to keep in mind especially if you’re going in Costa Rica’s wet season which is from May to mid-November.
After we got out of Central Valley, it did rain every day we were there.
If you don’t like rain, don’t go during the rainy season or chill out in the Central Valley Region.
With that said, though, if you start your days early enough, rain will never be that big of an issue. For some funny reason, the rain usually doesn’t start until late afternoon.
Which means, if you wake up with the monkeys at around 6 am, you’ll have a whole day of adventure ahead of you before the rain comes in.
Alright, enough rambling from me. Let’s get back to the coffee of this region.
Remember when I said this region topographically speaking is a plateau? Yeah, it’s important. It’s one of the reasons for Central Valley regions unique balanced cup with hints of chocolate and fruit flavors plus a tinge of honey.
You see, even though Central Valley region as a whole is drier than other regions in Costa Rica, it doesn’t mean the entire region is always dry.
There are pockets of harsh micro climates. It’s in these bubbles of crazier weather changes that you’ll find the high-quality hard bean of the Central Valley region.
Add in Central Valley is surrounded by 4 volcanoes such as Poas volcano and you have a micro climate plus fertile volcanic soil mixture which is prime for growing legit coffee.
It’s no wonder why this region was where coffee was first cultivated in Costa Rica.
3. Guanacaste Region
Up next is the Guanacaste region in Costa Rica.
The region is located in the very northwest corner of the country and is known to have some of the most beautiful beaches in a country. The region is home to Santa Rosa National Park, the first national park in the country and its capital is an old cowboy town.
And get this. Santa Rosa National park has one of the largest dry tropical forests in all of the Americas.
The story of the forest itself is pretty inspiring.
According to the book Green Phoenix: Restoring the Tropical Forests of Guanacaste, Costa Rica by the 1980s, this same forest was almost destroyed because of cattle farming.
When farmers began changing the land to support cattle farming, they not only cut down the trees, but they also planted an invasive African plant called Jaragua.
Of course, over time, these actions almost completely destroyed the forest.
But there is a happy ending to this story obviously as the dry tropical forest in Santa Rosa National Park is now a thriving ecosystem with over 235,000 species of plants and animals.
Humans who were the cause of its devastation were also its savior.
It would have been such a sad story if the forest was destroyed.
Now, though, you can find Armadillo, Howler Monkeys, Jaguars, Three-Toed Sloth, Capuchin Monkeys, and the list goes on and on roaming through the park.
How cool is that?!
Cool park with a dry tropical forest, check.
Awesome beaches, check.
A distinct and culturally diverse capital, check.
But what about the coffee? Like the other regions in Costa Rica, the coffee in Guanacaste region is nothing to joke about.
With that said, the coffee in this region is a bit more distinct than the other regions.
By distinct I mean different from the rest.
The mixture of a high temperature, dry climate, and a distinct dry and rainy season leads to a smooth cup with a light body and light acidity, plus defined salty and bitter tones.
Typically when you drink a Costa Rican coffee you’ll know right away.
It’ll pop in your mouth with its sharp, lively acidity and brightness.
But with coffee from the Guanacaste region, you’ll notice that it’s less acidic and bright than the typical Costa Rican coffee.
Like I was saying, distinct from the rest.
4. Orosi Region
Three regions down and five more to go. We’re almost to Costa Rica Tarrazu, I promise.
Next up on our tour of Costa Rican Coffee is the Orosi Valley region.
Orosi Valley is considered one of the hidden gems and one of the best off the beaten path destinations in the country.
The region holds some of the country’s oldest architectural sites, natural wonders such as Irazu and Turrialba volcanoes, and Cachi Lake.
Plus, it’s also in this region where you’ll find the Ruins of Ujarras.
If you’re any bit of an Indiana Jones nerd like me or just a history buff, this is a must see site.
The ruins are the site of Costa Rica’s oldest church and are one of the main reasons why people visit this area.
For all you Instagrammers out there, this is a perfect Instalocation.
The church was built between 1575 and 1580. Local legend has it that an indigenous fisherman found a box with an image of the Virgin Mary on it.
It’s believed by the people in the community that the spirit of the Virgin Mary protects the villagers from harm.
If there was only a story of a hidden treasure in this place, right?
The Orosi region is known for its smooth cup which is balanced throughout with floral undertones.
If Brunca’s sweetness or Guanacaste region’s salty and bitter undertones don’t sound too appealing to you, maybe the smooth balanced coffee from Orosi region does.
Like Guanacaste region, the smoothness of Orosi coffee is because of the weather situation in this part of Costa Rica.
According to ICafe, which is a public institution all about promoting and defending Costa Rican Coffee, the rainy season in much longer in the Orosi region.
There actually is not a defined dry season and it rains on average 210 days in a year. This leads to a slow ripening of the cherry, which produces a very consistent bean.
Here’s an interesting fact.
Researchers have found the unique floral flavor of Orosi beans is more pronounced if it was grown on an east facing slope. Their guess is that it’s probably because of the additional sunlight the beans get.
If you ever find one cup of Orosi more floral than the other, it might have been grown on an east facing slope!
5. Costa Rica Tarrazu Region
Ah back to Costa Rica Tarrazu coffee. As you can tell, other than seeing all the monkeys in Costa Rica, taking my first sip of Costa Rica Terrazu was my favorite memory of the trip.
So what makes Costa Rica Tarrazu so famous and so good? Is the coffee in this region really better than all the other regions?
Let’s answer the latter question first.
Definitely no. Like I was saying earlier, Costa Rican coffee as a whole is already unique. It’s known worldwide for its bright, lively tones.
What makes coffee from Costa Rica more special, though, is that each region has its own unique interplay with the ‘Costa Rican’ flavor profile.
So it’s definitely possible that you’ll like another region’s coffee better. Or maybe you’ll agree with me and fall to the enchantments of Costa Rica Tarrazu.
What makes Costa Rica Tarrazu coffee special and why is it more famous than the other regions?
To understand this region a little better you have to first understand the coffee grading process in Costa Rica.
Coffee in Costa Rica is determined by the hardness of the bean.
Yes, you heard that right. The hardness of the bean.
There are three levels of hardness in Costa Rica with the highest grade given to beans which grow above 1,200 meters above sea level.
The 3 grade of beans are:
Bean Grades of Costa Rica
- Strictly Hard Beans (SHB) – the highest grade designation given to beans in Costa Rica. Grown above 1,200 meters above sea level.
- Good Hard Beans (GHB) – The second highest grade designation. Grown between 1,000 meters – 2,000 meters above sea level.
- Medium Hard Beans (MHB) – the lowest grade of beans in the country. Grown from 500 – 900 meters above sea level.
You might be wondering what bean hardness has to do with overall quality.
Don’t worry. I had the same questions too, which is why I looked into this for you.
It’s kind of like a short little coffee poem, but this is why.
The higher the altitude, the slower the maturation process of the bean. The slower the beans mature, the harder and denser they become. The harder and denser they become, the more consistent the bean is which allows for a more even roast. And you guessed it! The more even the roast, the better the cup of coffee.
Well, get this.
95% of the beans in the Costa Rica Tarrazu region is in the SHB category. This is not a surprise as most of the coffee in this region is grown in the small valleys of Costa Rica’s highest mountains. Dang!
Now, it’s not just because the beans are dense which makes them good quality. It’s a combination and like all things in coffee, it’s an art form with many different variables.
But what helps and what makes Tarrazu Coffee famous is the slower maturation process.
Because the beans mature more slowly, the complex sugar and flavor of the beans get more time to develop, meaning….a more flavorful cup of coffee!
This is largely the main reason why Tarrazu coffee has such a distinct flavor profile of chocolate, orange, vanilla, and dried fruit.
I hope by now you see why coffee lovers all over the world have a soft spot in their heart for Costa Rica Tarrazu!
6. Tres Rios Region
Alright, cool, so we’ve made it through 5 regions of Costa Rica so far.
We’ve introduced you to the smooth flavors of Guanacaste region, the sweet coffee from Brunca region, and have even gone over the different grades of beans in the country.
Next up is the Tres Rios region. Although this is the smallest region in Costa Rica, the coffees produced in this region boasts HUGE flavors.
Before we get to the coffee itself let’s see what this region has to offer to us travel lovers.
I mean, if you’re going to be in Costa Rica for the coffee, you’re also going to want to spend time checking out the country too.
Know what I mean?!
This region is known for its two natural protected zones: Zona Protectora Rio Tiribi and Zona Protectora Cerros de la Carpintera.
Check this out:
Cerro La Carpintera was set up to protect the pre-montane forest (which means middle elevation forest between 500 – 1,500 meters) and the upper cloud forest in the area.
Cloud forest, sounds cool, huh?
At least I think it does.
Cloud forests are also known as water forests, which makes sense since there is generally some cloud cover at the canopy level. In this cloud forest, like everywhere in Costa Rica, you’ll find a vast, diverse population of plants and wildlife.
What makes this cloud forest a little more unique, though, is its canopy tour of the forest.
Kind of like the Rainmaker Conservation Project in Parrita, Costa Rica. Just on a larger scale.
At the canopy tour in la Carpintera, there are 19 platforms high in the canopy and two areas to rappel down.
Speaking of cloud forests, one of the things that we’re most proud of here at Blue Penguin Coffee is working with a roaster who offsets their roasting carbon emission by planting trees. They don’t plant in Costa Rica, but do so in the Mindo Cloud Forest in Ecuador.
This region is known for its coffee. Above all other things. Want to know how special the coffee is here?
The coffee is so good that many people in the industry call it the “Bordeaux” of Costa Rica.
The coffee has vibrant bright flavors that are balanced, sweet, and smooth. You will hear the cup described as intense, very aromatic, and complex with satisfying after taste.
By now, I hope you can guess why the beans in this region have a uniquely distinct and intense flavor.
It’s because of the high altitude climate and the well defined wet and dry seasons, which is different than some of the other regions in the country.
High altitude climate and a well defined wet and dry season is not enough, though and is not the only reasons why the coffee in this region is so prized.
The magic ingredient?
You can say it’s the region’s soil, which is enhanced by the Irazu Volcano.
It’s as if the coffee gods themselves wanted to create a coffee which punched you in the mouth. In the right way, of course.
A pinch of the right elevation + a dash of the perfect climate + and drop of distinct, fertile Irazu volcanic soil. Mix it up and you get yummy Tres Rios coffee.
7. Turrialba Region
Next up is another small city and small coffee region in the country.
Similar to the Tres Rios region, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up with its big time adventure and wonderful coffee.
So what is this region famous for?
Well, for your inner thrill seeker, this region is famous for its white water rafting! The Rios Pacuare and Rios Reventazon near town are world famous for having some of the best white water in the world.
If that’s not enough for you, you can also spend the day checking out Turrialba Volcano and the Guayabo National Monument.
It’s a bummer, but the Turrialba Volcano Park is currently closed to visitors because of the volcanos recent activity, but it’s still worth a look.
It’s too bad because, before the closure, you were able to hike down into the crater the check out the volcano from the inside. Kind of like Haleakala National Park in Maui.
If you’re ever in the area and the park is open, though, make sure you take advantage and make the hike.
Guayabo National Monument, on the other hand, is definitely open and is worth a stop to explore and get your inner Indian Jones on.
The monument is Costa Rica’s only pre-Columbian site which is open to the public and will give you a glimpse into what life was like from 1,000 BC to 1,400 AD.
Here’s what you need to know about Turrialba Region’s coffee.
The coffee found here have a milder acidity, light body and a soft aroma, which is influenced by its climate and the volcanic soil from Turrialba.
Coffee grows at a lower elevation in this area and the region has a longer rainy season. Remember the ‘coffee poem’ from the Costa Rica Tarrazu section?
Well, the poem for Turrialba region goes something like this.
Coffee grown at a lower elevation, mature more quickly than coffee at a higher elevation. Add in the humid climate and you have a softer bean than other regions.
Not a plus or a minus, but it’s why Turrialba coffee is a little milder in acidity and has a softer aroma than say Tarrazu.
8. West Valley Region
We made it! 7 regions down and 1 more to go on our tour through Costa Rica.
By now, you should have an idea of what coffee regions in the country appeal to you the most.
My advice, though, you should try them all! Or at least try as many coffees from different regions as you can.
On the other hand, if you have a sense that you won’t like the bright, lively acidity found in Costa Rican coffees, you have nothing to worry about. There are plenty of coffees from other countries to try out.
So what’s special about the West Valley coffee region?
Well, if you’re looking to get a more authentic feel for the ‘Pura Vida’ life, then this is the perfect region for you.
If you don’t know what ‘Pura Vida’ means, then Google it!
Haha, just joking.
I didn’t know what it meant either before visiting Costa Rica. The direct translation to English is ‘pure life’, but Costa Ricans use the term to say hi, bye, and even to say everything is all good.
It’s really a way of life, though, and means to appreciate the life you have and to be in the present moment.
And you wonder how Costa Rica produces some of the best coffee in the world (sarcasm here). Like I always say, when you want to make your best cup of coffee, you have to be present in the moment.
Naranjo, one of the main coffee towns in the region is a perfect example of what to expect. Peaceful, chill, laid back. It’s an agriculture town which was and still is built on coffee and it feels like an agricultural town.
Although the town is chill, you can still find some adventurous thrills if you want. One of the best places to bungee jump is the Colorado River Bridge, which is pretty close to town. 265 feet of heart pounding excitement if you dare!
Coffee in this region is a reflection of the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle of the people and is a classic Costa Rican coffee.
It ranges from the typical chocolate notes to an orange and peach, honey and vanilla flavor profile.
According to icafe.cr the region has near perfect conditions for growing coffee.
The combination of the fertile soil, average humidity in the low 80% during the year, plenty of sunshine and a consistent temperature throughout the year really allows the coffee to thrive.
I guess this isn’t much different from all the other regions, though.
The region is also the only place on Earth where you can find the Villalobos coffee varietal. Stick with me here, this is pretty interesting.
The Villalobos coffee varietal which is also called Villa Sarchi or La Luisa is a natural dwarf mutation of the Bourbon varietal of beans. This mutation causes the plant to grow smaller, which is where the term ‘dwarf’ comes into play. It’s well known for being highly adapted to the high altitude environment and its sweet floral flavor profile.
The grades of coffee in this region range from Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) to Good Hard Bean (GHB). It is typically grown in a small scale production with the same care and intensity the locals have for their traditional arts and crafts.
Of course, this means awesome coffee!
There you have it! A basic introduction to all 8 regions of coffee in Costa Rica and why it’s so dang good!
I hope after reading through our first-hand experience of tasting Costa Rican Coffee for the first time and about the different regions you have a better appreciation for how awesome of a place Costa Rica is.
By now you should know how many factors play into a great cup of coffee. It’s not just the art of brewing coffee, but the entire cultivation process.
Even the climate, the geographic location, the drying process, and the wet versus dry seasons come into play when talking about the final flavor profile of the cup.
All I can say after returning from Costa Rica is how jealous I am. 8 different regions with distinct and flavorful coffee. The magical, enchanting Costa Rica Tarrazu bean and chill vibes.
What else could you ask for?