A roaster’s guide to Costa Rican coffee beans

Alexander Hoyes
November 1, 2022
Roasting Costa Rican coffee beans

Lauded as one of the world’s best coffee origins, Costa Rica has a rich history steeped in coffee. 

For centuries, coffee has been a staple in Costa Rica and comprises roughly 90% of the country’s total exports. Notably, until 1980, coffee was Costa Rica’s only export.

Today, Costa Rica is among the leaders of exceptional coffee, having answered the calls of export buyers for greater traceability.

The country is also a leader in the micro-lot movement, allowing specific lots to be traced back to a unique farm or plot.

While the country contributes just 1% of coffee production globally, Costa Rica’s terroir, coupled with its creative farming practices, makes it one of the most sought-after beans in the world.

When working with Costa Rican coffee beans, roasters must ensure they have the ideal roast profile to highlight the coffee’s unique flavour notes, with no costly mistakes.

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An image of a coffee farmer collecting coffee cherries in Costa Rica in an article on roasting Costa Rican coffee beans

A brief history of coffee in Costa Rica

Costa Rican’s current coffee success can be credited, in part, to its aggressive advancement between the 18th and 19th centuries. 

During this time, the Costa Rican government provided land to all those interested in coffee production. By 1830, coffee had become the leading crop in the country, outselling cacao, tobacco, and sugar.

The major draw to Costa Rican coffee is its consistency, as well as the high-quality growing regions across the country.

Unlike other coffee-growing countries, which typically possess only a few suitable areas for excellent coffee development, Costa Rica boasts eight excellently diverse regions.

Among these, Costa Rica’s top four regions are known as some of the best areas to grow coffee globally.

The four most popular coffee-growing regions in Costa Rica include Poas, Tres Rios, Terrazu, and Naranjo. 

Both Tres Rios and Poas possess volcano-enriched soil that provides minerals from growing quality coffee. Tres Rios is known to capture a full body profile and enjoyable aftertaste.

Terrazu is considered one of the best growing regions in Costa Rica, constituting over a third of the country’s coffee production. 

Last, Naranjo is located in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, where the rich soil and consistent microclimates result in excellent coffee. 

Numerous coffee beans grown in Naranjo have won the Cup of Excellence award, and this region is continually developing. 

An image of a kraft paper coffee bag of Costa Rican coffee  in an article on roasting Costa Rican coffee beans

What are the characteristics of Costa Rican coffee?

The numerous growing regions, in conjunction with other influences, make Costa Rican coffee some of the best in the world. 

More specifically, the exceptional terroir in Costa Rica influences the coffee beans in a positive manner. 

Its mild temperatures year-round, mixed with high altitude and distinct dry versus rainy seasons, allow for optimum growth. 

Likewise, since many of the major regions possess lush, volcanic soil, coffee grown in Costa Rica provides a rich and flavourful cup. 

Typically, Costa Rican coffee provides a cup with bright characteristics and a body ranging from light to medium. When brewed, the aroma elicits notes of cocoa, fruit, and an inherent sweetness. 

Typical flavour notes often include chocolate, stone fruits, berries, and a syrupy sweetness. 

That said, these characteristics can vary depending on the different processing methods used to manipulate the bean. 

With washed coffees, the pulp is washed away from the cherry, leaving the mucilage intact with the bean. 

They are then sent to large vats for fermentation, where enzymes break down and cause a change in the molecular composition of the bean. This allows for a flavour profile that typically comprises milk chocolate, and is fruity, clean, and mild.

In natural coffees, the cherries are picked and immediately placed on raised drying beds out in the sun. 

Once fully dried, the pulp, mucilage, and parchment are hulled, leaving the bean behind. This tends to yield fruit-forward flavours, with a syrupy body and low acidity.

The honey process is a combination of both washed and natural processes.

There are many honey processes, ranging from “yellow” to “black” depending on the amount of manipulation to the bean during the drying process while the mucilage is still present on the beans. 

More specifically, yellow honeyed coffees are turned hourly on raised beds, while red honeyed coffees are turned only a few times per day, and black honeyed coffees are turned simply once per day. 

This slight variation creates a different flavour profile in each of the three processes. Honey coffees often possess sweet characteristics with fruit and molasses notes.

It is important to note that there is not one best way to process coffee – each process creates a unique flavour profile. Additionally, certain producers have a trademark, so to speak, on their processing methods. 

For example, Oscar and Francisca Chacon of Las Lajas micro mill in Costa Rica have three distinct natural processing methods, which have yielded exceptional results.

An image of specialty Costa Rican coffee in multilayer LDPE coffee bags with branded sticker labels in an article on roasting Costa Rican coffee beans

What to consider when roasting Costa Rican coffee beans

As Costa Rican coffee beans often possess complexity, many roast profiles can be applied to the bean. 

Typically, light to medium roast profiles are most suitable for Costa Rican coffee beans.

That said, it is important to note that the profile is specific to the roaster’s preference. 

When roasting Costa Rican coffee strictly for espresso, it may be more beneficial to roast slightly longer and increase the drop temperature to a higher temperature. 

On the other hand, it is beneficial to roast light for filter coffees and decrease the development time. This will expose its bright, fruity, and sweet aspects.

Roasting longer will create a fuller base, providing a heavier body and darker flavours, such as dark cocoa. 

With Costa Rican coffees, this technique can be useful for espresso. However, it is also especially important to maintain its fruity and sweet characteristics. 

This is particularly advantageous for honey and natural processed Costa Rican coffee beans, as the correct roasting manipulations will create an extraordinarily sweet and fruity cup.

An image of a barista brewing Costa Rican coffee in a white v60 in an article on roasting Costa Rican coffee beans

Maintaining fresh Costa Rican coffee is imperative for the home barista to extract the most out of the coffee’s rich flavour profile. 

For that, MTPak’s sustainable packaging is the perfect means to preserve quality. 

By storing coffee in our eco-friendly, 100% recyclable bags made from sustainable materials such as kraft or rice paper, with a sustainable degassing valve, your customers will be able to enjoy excellent Costa Rican coffee for weeks without worrying about a diminished cup profile and quality.

Moreover, with the ability to utilise our digital printing to customise coffee bags, you can help inform customers about specific coffee-growing origins.

We give our roasters complete control over the design process by allowing them to build their own coffee bags

Our design team is available to help you create the ideal coffee packaging.

MTPak Coffee also offers low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile while showcasing brand identity and a commitment to the environment.

For more information on custom-print sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team

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