Costa Rica News – If a crop can symbolize a country, then coffee is Costa Rica’s emblem. While recent marketing efforts paint this Central American destination as a bastion of sustainability, dense jungle, adventure sports and pristine beaches — all true — coffee is fundamental to its citizens’ core identity. Just ask any middle-aged or elder Costa Rican if they picked red cherries as a child, and they’ll likely nod their head yes. At one point in the 1800s, it was the country’s sole export. It drove infrastructure and even led to the nation’s first traffic law — no noisy, coffee-laden ox carts after 6 p.m. in the villages.
Like traveling the wine lands of France, coffee plants blanket the hills and mountains of Costa Rica’s rugged landscape. But unlike old-world wine tourism, coffee tourism is nascent. Be prepared for stays in eco-lodges, though upmarket, combined with muddy hikes over streams and through fields. The Starbucks visitor center is the most sophisticated facility yet. Those who demand the glossy veneer of big brand luxury, may flinch at the bumpy roads leading to farms.
Don’t let rustic conditions fool you into thinking the coffee industry itself is immature. To connoisseurs of the cup, Costa Rica represents one of the most exciting regions of production in the world. Due to restrictions on water usage, part of the overarching protocol by the government to conserve natural resources, Costa Ricans found an ingenious way to extract more flavor while reducing water. It’s called the honey process and refers to the method of drying and fermenting a bean with different percentages of sugar-rich mucilage around it. The result: a fruitier, sweeter, but more acidic and thus complex cup. Plus, the rise in micro mills (the acquisition of small scale post-harvest equipment by farmers) has given growers control over their coffee. This has led to a diversity of styles, traceability, and the chance to taste different regions (or terroir) side by side for comparison, comparable to wine.
The following itinerary takes six days at an unhurried pace. In tandem with a focus on coffee, is an exploration of Costa Rica’s traditional dishes. A land abundant with fertile, volcanic soil naturally yields incredible fruits and vegetables. Plenty of coastline gives fresh seafood, while large swaths of the north provide pasture for cattle. From ceviches to plantains alongside rice and beans, it’s easy to eat fresh, local food wherever you go.
For all but those with the greatest passion for coffee, visits to farms only demand two days and two or three nights. Once in Costa Rica, you should visit other regions such as the volcano in Arenal or the Pacific Coast. High-end resorts line Guanacaste in the northwest, while intimate independent hotels tend to populate the south. Due to the timing of flights, most travelers will spend a night in San Jose. Fortunately, the neighborhood of Barrio Escalante offers sophisticated restaurants, coffee shops, cocktail bars and brewpubs to keep travelers engaged.
Due to six months of rain, the dry season of mid-November through April is the best time to visit. Fortunately, the best weather coincides with harvest. In the Central Valley, coffee picking starts around October and runs through February. Ripening of coffee cherries in higher elevation fincas starts around November. Harvest is by far the most interesting period to visit.
By Lauren Mowery, USA TODAY