It’s been two centuries since Costa Rica, with its fertile volcanic soil, tropical climate, and high-altitude hills, has been producing coffee, which has given the country the expertise, vision, and knowledge to earn recognition as one of the best places in the world for growing coffee.
That’s why it came as no surprise to coffee lovers when, in 2012, coffee giant Starbucks announced that its Reserve line would be featuring a specialty coffee bean that had come from a small family-owned coffee farm in Costa Rica.
As if that wasn’t enough to draw interest, in 2018 at an auction co-sponsored by the Specialty Coffee Association of Costa Rica and the Cup of Excellence, a portion of a Geisha beans crop grown in the town of Copey de Dota in Costa Rica, won a record premium sold for $300 a pound at the auction.
The limited number of people who were fortunate enough to sample those rare beans back in 2012 got a taste of the unique environment and coffee culture that has brought so many coffee lovers to Costa Rica. Some have traveled to Costa Rica to tour the origins of their favorite beans at the many coffee plantations that span the mountainous Central Valley. Others have come to simply experience the delicious taste and freshly roasted aroma of the traditional pour-over coffee preparation method.
This article will share a little about what makes Costa Rican coffee exceptional and then give tips for the best coffee farm tours the country has to offer.
Climate & Plantation Soil Make Costa Rican Coffee Exceptional
As stated before, part of what makes Costa Rican coffee exceptional is the natural environment of humid highlands with rich volcanic soils interspersed with lush trees and biodiversity. As Café Britt puts it, “Costa Rica and coffee were made for each other.”
But perhaps of equal importance to the natural environment is the strong coffee culture that has been passed down from generation to generation. A large portion of Costa Rican coffee is grown on small and medium-sized coffee farms, managed by families who have been working in the same fields for generations. In fact, the Geisha beans that Starbucks used in its Reserve line came from just such a farm – where a mere three hectares were cultivated with this bean.
The loyal support of government institutions such as the Agricultural Ministry (Ministerio de Agricultura) and the Café Institute of Costa Rica (Icafe) has also helped to ensure that farmers have access to the most up-to-date research, best practices, and production techniques.
This research coupled with local wisdom can be seen in the presence of so many Costa Rican shade-grown coffee farms. In fact, “shade grown” coffee has become a synonym for Costa Rica coffee. Therefore, while other coffee regions may have cleared landscapes in order to plant as many coffee trees as possible, the primarily small-scale Costa Rican coffee farms have maintained much of the natural vegetation in the coffee fields in order to create the ideal environment for exceptional coffee. Shade-grown techniques help coffee to grow with the right amount of light and humidity, create a natural barrier to diseases, and promote the sustainable biodiversity of the region. On Costa Rican coffee farms, you may spot any number of fruit trees such as banana and mango as well as various species of the inga and the eucalyptus among the coffee plants.
In fact, there are few sights in Costa Rica as beautiful and serene as the vision of a shade-grown coffee farm when the morning mist slowly rises over the hills to reveal the leafy vegetation below.
Breaking Down the Best Costa Rican Coffee Farm Tours
Given the beauty and cultural heritage of Costa Rican coffee farms, Costa Rica Escapes incorporates coffee tours into many of its selective itineraries. Coffee farm tours generally begin with a guided tour by an expert, who demonstrates the entire process of handpicking the coffee, sorting the beans, drying them, and then roasting them on site. Afterward, visitors are invited to sample the freshly roasted beans through the traditional pour-over method.
While there are many unique coffee farm tours in the country, the following is a list of the five best for providing English-speaking tours. For more information, the Icafe website includes an excellent breakdown of the coffee sectors in the country, with more details about coffee tours in each sector.
Espiritu Santo Coffee Tour in Naranjo
What makes it great: The Espiritu Santo Coffee Tour is so comprehensive, the owners of this 640-acre plantation even built a traditional Costa Rican house just to demonstrate how Costa Rican forebears used to (and still!) brew their coffee.
There are five tours per day and they last 90 minutes, finishing in a specialty tasting room where the guide will teach curious visitors how to identify certain tastes and aromas in their coffee cup.
Doka Estate Tour in Alajuela
What makes it great: The Doka Estate coffee tour really transmits the sensation of being on a working family-owned Costa Rica coffee plantation, because that is exactly where you will be! You can choose from a short tour that explains all there is to know about coffee, or one of their single-day tours that include a visit to the family’s privately-managed bonsai garden, as well as a visit to the adjoining butterfly and orchid house.
The final cup of coffee won’t disappoint either as Doka Estate has over 50 years of experience making top-of-the-line coffee. *The Doka Estate Coffee Tour is on several of Costa Rica Escapes’ selective itineraries.
Café Britt Tour
What makes it great: This tour is the most established in Costa Rica, receiving many visitors every day of the year for one of its five tour options: the Classic Coffee tour, the Coffee Lovers tour, or the Coffee & Adventures tour, Coffee & Wildlife tour, and Coffee & Waterfalls tour. The classic tour is a half-day tour, and the other tours are full-day tours.
Café Britt is Costa Rica’s largest independent coffee label and has stores in national and international airports and so if you plan on taking some of Café Britt’s delicious chocolate covered coffee beans or fresh-roasted coffee back home as a gift, you’ll know like you had the inside scoop on its origins.
Café Monteverde Coffee Tour in Monteverde
What makes it great: This tour gives unique insights into the organization and philosophy behind one of Costa Rica’s most significant institutions – the coffee farm collective. Collectives–as opposed to family or privately-run Costa Rica coffee plantations–are made up of many farmers who all provide beans and receive profit from the shares. Monteverde Coffee is managed by the Santa Elena Cooperative and on this 2.5 tour, you’ll learn all about the history of the area, the development of the cooperative, and the whole journey of the coffee bean “from crop to cup” all while shrouded in the misty cloud forest of Monteverde.
El Toledo Coffee Tour in Atenas
What makes it great: This is a small, family-run coffee farm that specializes in organic coffee farming. The tour itself is incredibly personal and is run by very knowledgeable staff.
As El Toledo Coffee’s blog states: “this coffee tour is simple, humble, but shows what we do with our heart!” The tour only runs by reservations, so make sure to do so before showing at their doorstep!
It’s a Roast: Costa Rica Coffee Tours in Short
Climate, soil, and generations of coffee farm wisdom make Costa Rica home to some of the best coffee in the world. Starbucks knows this. Costa Ricans know this. And the lucky visitors to Costa Rica’s five best coffee plantation tours know it, too! Come enjoy a cup!
Note: This article was originally published on 4/5/2014 and updated on 1/22/2019.
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John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.