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A history of coffee in Costa Rica

One of the most interesting aspects of the coffee trading industry is its history and the stories behind the people who make it what it is today. Costa Rica in Central America, which produces arguably some of the best beans in the world, has a history almost as rich as the coffee that comes out of it.

It is believed that coffee first arrived in Costa Rica towards the beginning of the 18th century, following the arrival of arabica beans to Martinique in the Antilles around 1720.

When the first two heads of state – Juan Mora Fernandez and Braulio Carrillo – got behind the industry as a viable driver for economic growth, Costa Rican coffee really took off, with around 17,000 coffee trees producing crops and the first exports to Panama all well underway by the early 19th century.

In 1821, the municipality of San Jose – recognising coffee's potential for economic growth and thereby the benefits it posed for the welfare and livelihood of citizens – distributed free plants to people. In 1825, coffee was exempt from tithe payments and in 1831, it was declared that anybody who grew coffee on redundant land for five years could thereafter claim ownership of the patch.

By the middle of the 19th century, the industry was becoming far more commercialised, with links opening up to Chile in 1832 and then England around a decade later when a shipment was sent directly to the UK courtesy of William Le Lacheur Lyon, captain of the English ship The Monarch. This opened a transatlantic coffee link between the two countries, which saw the British invest heavily in the industry as a primary importer.

Less than half a century later after the first exports to Panama and Costa Rica began to send the crop to the US.

Since its inception – and to this day – coffee remains a fundamental pillar or lifeblood in the lives of many residents. The country was able to grow and develop thanks to the economic boost which coffee provided – universities were opened, libraries were erected, hospitals were founded, infrastructure grew (meaning mules could be replaced by carts, transforming the transit of coffee), a banking system was put in place and the arts were given a milieu in which they could thrive.

Essentially, as the Instituto del Cafe de Costa Rica says, coffee made way for a "historical, cultural and economic foundation" on which a nation could be developed.

Our Costa Rican coffees

At DR Wakefield, we supply six different types of Costa Rican beans – Costa Rica SWD SHB (Swiss water decaffeinated strictly hard bean – a conventional grade of Arabica, such as those that continue to comprise the bulk of the mainstream market and thereby act as a vital support for the industry), Costa Rica SHB (another conventional Arabica), Costa Rica SHB EP (a Fairtrade Arabica), Costa Rica SHB EP Tarrazu (a Fairtrade Arabica), Costa Rica SHB Hermosa Semi Washed (brand new to our offering this season, a beautiful gourmet Arabica) and Costa Rica SHB Hermosa Fully Washed (again, a recent addition).