Coffee plays a key role in Costa Rica's past and present. It has not only been vital for the country's development but also remains one of its biggest exports and is hugely important for the economy. Additionally, Costa Rica is considered to produce some the world's best coffee, a reputation that all Costa Rican coffee producers strive to be worthy of. The first production of Costa Rica coffee can be dated back to 1779, when it was introduced by Spanish colonists who brought it from Arabia. This is why coffee beans are often referred to as “coffea arabica.”
Costa Rica had the ideal soil and climate for coffee beans to grow, so production understandably flourished. In the early 1800s the Costa Rican government actively encouraged coffee production to meet the growing demand from Europeans by offering free land for farmers who wanted to harvest the plants.
As a result, many of the large areas that are cultivated now were first developed in the 1800s. Coffee quickly became Costa Rica's most important crop, and in 1829 the country's coffee production overtook that of tobacco, sugar, and cacao to become the country's biggest export. This remained the case for many years to come.
The money made from Costa Rican coffee plantations was significant for the country's development. The profits allowed the construction of Costa Rica's first railway in 1890, the “Ferrocarril al Atlántico,” which transported the coffee beans to the Atlantic coast so they could be exported to Europe. The National Theatre in the capital city of San Jose was completed in 1897. It is considered to be one of the country's finest examples of architecture and was constructed in order to show off the economic success of the Costa Rican coffee industry.
These days, coffee is the country's third biggest export even after the development of more modern industrial practices and the huge growth in tourism. Some companies, such as Britt Coffee in Costa Rica, have even combined coffee and tourism to great effect and attract thousands of visitors each year to the coffee plantations in the Tarrazu Valley to show the manufacturing process and promote their environmentally sustainable production methods. Situated in the Costa Rican highlands, the Tarrazu Valley is one of the most renowned coffee-producing areas in the world. Its rich volcanic soil, cool climate, and high altitude combine to create very highly regarded coffees favored for their light, clean flavors and unique aromas.
Tarrazu coffee is also preferred over other varieties for its high caffeine content. Costa Rica coffee has had a major effect on American coffee. In recent years, the introduction of high-quality Costa Rican coffee to the U.S. market by companies such as Britt Coffee and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has been hugely successful. With an emphasis on the quality of the coffee beans used, more people have been encouraged to produce better tasting coffees in their own homes by becoming amateur “baristas,” a trend that is growing in popularity.
It may seem hard to believe that a product like coffee can play such an important role in a country's history, but the fact is that much of Costa Rica's development over the past two centuries has revolved around the coffee sector. Costa Rica would be very different today without the huge coffee plantations in places like Tarrazu. As long as Costa Rica continues to produce some of the best coffee in the world, the world will keep benefiting from authentic Costa Rican coffee.