Coffee is Costa Rica’s third largest industry, which brought fame to this small country. Many benefits came out of the growth of the coffee industry in Costa Rica, the first being it was finally put on the map. Prior to the rise of the coffee industry Costa Rica was seldom know around the world. The coffee market also began the start of a middle class in Costa Rica. Ticos were offered to take land in the mountains to start a coffee plantation and the government would help them to claim the land as theirs. This meant citizens who could never vote before due to a lack of property could now do so, impacting the political system as well as the economy.
Another essential piece of the coffee industry is the Fair-Trade agreement, which works to better the rights and revenue of these small plantations. Under it, producers receive 80% of the free on board price, which guarantees they are paid fairly. Farmers do most of the hard work in the process to get a cup of coffee so it is only fair they are compensated for their work. Fair trade promotes sustainability economically, socially, and environmentally. Many small coffee farms are also part of a cooperative, which is when they come together to agree on set bargaining prices for their coffee. This has helped to maintain a stable economy within the coffee industry. The international spread of “Costa Rican coffee” is what brought the light to this small nation.
Costa Rica exports many of its most precious goods, so what does that leave left for the Ticos? Many Costa Rican coffees are advertised to citizens in the United States and Europe, but they are not what is drank by actual Ticos. One example of this was Café Britt which we visited last week. They had an extensive advertising and exporting department but did not do much business among the people here in Costa Rica. Today we visited the opposite, Café Rey. Café Rey’s slogan is “la bebida de los ticos,” which means “the drink of the Costa Ricans.”
Café Rey does some international exports but their main market is right here within Costa Rica. They buy the beans from a variety of farmers, perform quality control, roast them, grind them, and package them all within their factory which we visited today. Café Rey has a gourmet Tarrazu blend but it is not known for being a gourmet coffee by any means. This coffee is more of a local, find in any kind of super market type of coffee. It is made from less fragrant and less pretty looking beans but that doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of it is that much less than the first level beans. There are many levels of quality control that go into making a good bag of coffee. Beans are sorted based on size and density before even being sent to a roaster. Then their aroma and look is carefully checked before being roasted. Any beans that are not up to the standards the roasters bought are sent back. One of the main things I have learned from our many visits to the different pieces of the coffee supply chain is that no matter how “organic”, “gourmet”, or “high quality” a coffee is, much if it comes down to preference. So, while there is much thought that goes into picking the best beans for exporting, the Ticos coffee from Café Rey is good as well.
However, Café Rey did roast many of their blends with sugar. They said that this was a very traditional method used by roasters because the coffee was too acidic. When we visited Café Britt and Monteverde, who also roast their own coffee, they said that if a company roasted their beans with sugar it is because it is bad coffee to begin with. Another sign of this is when the coffee is served too hot because if you burn your taste buds you wouldn’t be able to tell the coffee was bad. When we were tasting the coffee at Café Rey it was served extremely hot. This may have been a coincidence, but I find it interesting that the hottest coffee was sugar roasted.
I personally did not think the coffee we tried today was bad, only very hot. I would not consider myself to be at any disadvantage to drink Café Rey every day over Café Britt like many Ticos do.