History of the Coffee in Costa Rica
The history of the coffee in Costa Rica began in the late 1700’s. Coffee production began in the Central Valley, which had ideal soil and climate conditions for coffee plantations. Coffee Arabica was introduced to the country directly from Ethiopia.
In the nineteenth century, the Costa Rican government strongly encouraged coffee production. By 1821 at the time of independence, Costa Ricans had already realized the value of coffee as an export product and as an opportunity that permitted farmers to release themselves from the poverty conditions in which they had previously subsisted. Thereafter, coffee became a major source of revenue surpassing cacao, tobacco, and sugar production as early as 1829.
In 1832, Costa Rica began exporting coffee to Chile where it was re-bagged and shipped to England. In 1843, a shipment was sent directly to the United Kingdom and following this the British developed an interest in the country. They invested heavily in the Costa Rican coffee industry, becoming the principal customer for exports until World War II.
Growers and traders of the coffee industry transformed the Costa Rican economy and contributed to modernization in the country. This improvement provided funding for young aspiring academics to study in Europe. The road built between 1844 and 1846 running from the Central Valley to the port of Puntarenas, revitalized commerce within the region. The valleys and mountains of what are now the cities of Grecia, Palmares, San Ramon and Sarchi, where communicated. This created a new incentive to the expansion of coffee-growing on Costa Rican soil.
GOLDEN COFFEE BEAN
It was at this moment that the legend of the Golden Coffee Bean began to circulate. The coffee boom that gave rise to the oligarchy, which clearly benefitted more than others, reflects an undeniable reality. Coffee production freed Costa Rica from poverty and allowed it to aspire to a more comfortable lifestyle.
Furthermore, the revenue generated by the coffee industry in Costa Rica funded the first railroads linking the country to the Atlantic Coast in 1890, the “Ferrocarril al Atlántico”. The building of the National Theater itself in San José, which opened in 1897, began to be a reality thanks to a coffee tax.
The Golden Coffee Bean was also part of the economic base that influenced the emergence in Costa Rica of curious examples of “progress” for that period. San Jose was one of the first cities in the world to have an electric lighting system, after Paris, London and New York. Street lighting was launched in San Jose on August 9, 1884, with the existence by means of a generating plant installed by Amon Fasileau Duplantier on the grounds of the Tournon coffee mill.
CREATION OF ICAFE
The 20th century found Costa Rican farmers struggling both to incorporate new regions into the coffee-growing map and to increase production. In response to the imminent impoverishment of thousands of farmers unprotected when the global financial crisis hit the market in 1930, the Costa Rican government adopted a series of measures which laid the foundations of the modern production structure of Costa Rican coffee.
These measures included the establishment of the Coffee Defense Institute (IDECAFE) in 1933, which later became the Coffee Office. Today, it is the Institute of Costa Rican Coffee (ICAFE), which main purpose is to regulate relations and mediate between the different sectors of the coffee business.
After World War II, the demand for Costa Rican coffee was on the rise and the country’s productivity fell short. It was time for the country to make major changes. Following a very cautious research process, it began to replace the “Typica” and “Bourbon” varieties, of high freightage and low productivity with the small “Caturra” and “Catuai”. This change increased crop density, which rose from just over 1,000 to an average of over 3,000 plants per hectare. Other important changes in pruning techniques and the use of shade were also implemented.
ONLY ARABICA COFFEE BY LAW
Changes at an international level also played an important role. The International Coffee Agreement was established and with it the export quota system, guaranteeing a minimum price. Costa Rica focused its efforts on improving its production techniques. By 1973 the country had doubled its yield with respect to 1955, placing Costa Rica at the top of the list of worldwide productivity. This high ranking was further strengthened by the quality policies promoted by the ICAFE.
Additionally, coffee farmers were given access to improved coffee beans and so they agreed on planting only Arabica coffee varieties. This regulation was later converted to a law, adapting to the conditions of the country soil, climate and shade to produce only high quality coffee.
Even more, the fair trade basis on which the Costa Rican government and the coffee sector ensures that the revenue generated by exports is distributed proportionally among producers, millers and exporters, helped consolidate Costa Rican coffee’s position in the international market still further. This national trading model, known as liquidation system, is unique in the world.
THE THIRD WAVE OF COFFEE
The global change in consumer habits, the emergence of new trends, both in coffee growing and in purchasing preferences, as well as evolving Costa Rican consumer tastes, have posed new challenges that the coffee sector takes very seriously. This is reflected in the proliferation of certified organic coffees, with internationally fair trade certification or endorsement by organizations such as UTZ and the Rainforest Alliance attesting to their good agricultural practices, the reduction in the use of water and other environmental factors.
As a consequence, the third wave of coffee began to develop. A generation interested in producing, processing, roasting preparing and of course drinking a very high quality coffee. That is what we know as specialty or fine coffees.
This coffee culture of specialty coffees is what specialists, cuppers and consumers consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity. This culture aspires to the highest form of culinary appreciation of coffee so that one may appreciate subtleties of flavor, varietal, and growing region – similar to other complex consumable plant-derived products such as wine, tea, chocolate, and cannabis. Distinctive features of third wave coffee include direct trade coffee, high-quality beans and single-origin coffee (as opposed to blends).
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