After yesterday’s free day, we had to get back into the swing of things. Today included another crack-of-dawn alarm clock and, miraculously, only 85% humidity. After we convened at La Universidad Latina, we boarded a bus (one might call it rustic) and went to la Hacienda Alsacia, a farm dedicated to producing coffee beans for Starbucks. Next, we went to downtown Heredia and three of us found ourselves indulging in, wait for it, Tico Chinese Food. After lunch, we visited Café Rey’s roasting and packaging facility in southern San Jose. Café Rey, unlike the other coffee companies we’ve visited so far, who market towards foreigners/tourists, primarily sells to Ticos. This was definitely an interesting change of pace as it was interesting to notice the differences that go into the Tico’s coffee.
The largest difference we noticed between Café Rey and other, foreign aimed producers, such as Britt and Life Monteverde, was that Café Rey roasts their tradicional brand with sugar. Neither Britt nor Life Monteverde uses sugar in the roasting process, and our tour guide at the latter called the sugar something along the lines of a “caramelized cloak to disguise the lack of quality.” While coffee purists and traditionalists clearly expect the only ingredient listed on a bag of coffee to be “coffee”, I found no problem with the coffee we sampled today at Café Rey. While it’s quite possibly because I’m only a casual coffee drinker, I really couldn’t taste a difference. I think Café Rey’s use of sugar speaks to the fact that the Ticos don’t care about quality (to the almost snobby level that some foreigners do), and will be okay if sugar is used to stretch out the product supply a little more.
By this point in the trip it should be quite clear that coffee is extremely important to the Costa Rican economy. The country benefits greatly from the worldwide demand for high-quality coffee beans grown in acidic soil at high altitudes. Even though the “best” beans are exported, the Ticos are clearly still fine with what is left. While one of their largest suppliers (Rey) strays from “traditional” methods of roasting, the finished quality is still very high and clearly keeps the Ticos happy.