Trip report – Costa Rica

The Costa Rican coffee industry has very close ties to the USA’s coffee roasting community. This means there is a clear chain of communication between coffee producers and the people that end up serving it to consumers. This has led to experimentation with varietal selection and processing techniques. As Costa Rica’s cities grow, farming estates that are close to these areas are in danger of being demolished. Coffee plant diseases like ‘Roya’ and ‘Ojo de Gallo’ are forcing lower yields, increasing demand.

There is a certain level of confidence needed for a coffee producer to do experimental processing or varietal planting. With coffee consumers becoming more educated and interested, there are more producers willing to experiment with new farming and processing techniques. Coffea Diversa is a coffee estate like no other. Growing over 10 species of coffee, including 500 varietals, the farm is more like a research facility than a coffee plantation. The owner, Gonzalo Hernandez, is a passionate producer who has no interest in doing volume based farming but rather small lots of differing varietals and processing styles. His state of the art estate includes a network of drying tables inside a green house that are connected to a fan with controllable temperature and air flow parameters. None of this ‘weather dependent’ stuff.

Tres Rios is a traditional, old growing region of Costa Rica. This region used to be full of coffee plantations, but is slowly being urbanised. This is not unique to Costa Rica. All over the world, coffee plantations are giving way to cities that are ever growing in population and area.

Coffee plant diseases are not a new thing. There has been a recent outbreak of ‘Roya’ (AKA leaf rust) that has been causing damage to farmer’s crops and incomes. With yields dwindling and demand growing, Costa Rican coffee is rising in value. As coffee is a major revenue stream for Costa Rica, the government has conducted research into high yielding, disease resistant varieties of coffee. Timor coffee is a member of the Robusta species, known for high yield and disease resistance. These high yielding species can often have negative flavour attributes, so rigorous tasting has been undertaken to discern whether there is a bad influence on cup quality from using the Timor hybrids. There was no outstanding difference in cup quality, so the conclusion was to suggest to farmers that planting Timor hybrids like Catimor (Caturra X Timor) and Sarchimor (Villa Sarchi X Timor) was a safe way to continue growing coffee into the future. Unfortunately, the Timor hybrids are more comfortable in hotter, low altitude climates. When planted in high altitude, cooler climates, like some of Costa Rica’s specialty coffee farms, these hybrids are quite susceptible to a disease called Ojo de Gallo (Rooster’s Eye).

Costa Rican coffee is popular for a reason. Flavour profiles exhibit comforting, classic notes of citrus, cocoa and caramel. With new varieties being planted and experimental farming techniques being undertaken, there are endless possibilities for more complex and unique coffees. Coffee trees take 5-7 years to reveal themselves entirely, so we're excited to see what's to come from Costa Rica's upcoming harvests. Hopefully, with collaboration between farmers and government, the effects of the current disease outbreak can be kept to a minimum. Some specialty coffee farmers we spoke to were planting a range of varieties, trying to see what would grow well in their specific micro-climates. We hope to see higher yields in the coming seasons and can’t wait to taste some new and exciting coffees.