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The Costa Rican coffee landscape: Tarrazu

Tarrazu – a small area in the centre-west of Costa Rica – is one of the Central American country's primary coffee-producing regions and is said to produce some of the very best Arabica beans.

According to Santiago Barahona, head coffee trader at DR Wakefield: "Tarrazu region has the perfect conditions to produce top quality coffees." 

Illustrating this point is the fact that in November last year, Tarrazu Geisha coffee became the most expensive variety sold by coffee giant Starbucks, beating Jamaica's Blue Mountain off the top spot. The product sold out online within 24 hours.

Tarrazu is divided down into three municipalities, which are known as the three saints (or 'Los Santos') because of their names – Santa Maria de Dota, San Marcos de Tarrazu and San Pablo de Leon Cortes (Santa and San meaning saint in Spanish).

The rich, volcanic soils and hilly topography provide the perfect conditions for farming and harvesting crops of the utmost quality. An average temperature of just under 20 degrees C also affords ideal conditions, with the Pacific mountains providing the shelter that Arabica crops need to thrive.

Caturra and Catuai are two of the most popular varieties heralding from the region where the crops are typically planted at altitudes of between 1,200 and 1,900 metres above sea level.

The harvest period for the crop falls between around December and March, outside of the rainy season, which typically experiences average precipitation of around 2400 mm and temperatures of 19 C. Not only does this provide the ideal conditions for the coffee to ripen and mature, but it also facilitates the drying of the beans once they have been harvested.

Almost all of the coffee coming from the region is strictly hard bean – or SHB. Our coffee expert goes on to say: "Tarrazu coffees are well recognised by their distinct cup profile: round body, high and pleasant acidity with excellent aroma and an intense fruit and a subtle chocolate flavor."

Regional breakdown

We visited the country ourselves in order to experience what makes this geographically small country such a significant player in coffee trading markets – in particular, to get more of an insight into the ecological credentials of Costa Rica in order to consolidate how it produces the great coffee that it does.

One of the stand-out features of the Santa Maria de Dota region is the remarkable way in which the community has come together with the Coope Dota to build such a sustainable town – and this goes beyond just coffee production, which is the driving force behind 95 per cent of the local economy.

Those involved in the coffee industry recognise sustainability as one of the most important aspects of the trade as a whole. The Specialty Coffee Association of America – also known as the SCAA – has counted it as "one of its core values for some time".

The organisation recognises five primary benefits to businesses of operating a sustainable practice – financial savings, brand benefits, employee loyalty, becoming a 'rule changer' and benefits for the planet – all of which it appears coffee producers in Coope Dota in Costa Rica and those involved in trade there are taking very seriously indeed.

Coope Dota is in fact believed to be the very first coffee producer in the world to be stamped with a carbon neutral certification – yet another example of its ongoing commitment to the planet and its future, the very definition of a sustainable enterprise.

With the cooperative playing such an integral role to the livelihood of the local community, it is heavily involved in the general welfare of the region and its inhabitants. Everywhere you look, rubbish and waste is being recycled wherever possible, overseen by the local authorities and the cooperative itself.

Meanwhile, Coope Tarrazu – situated across San Marcos de Tarrazu and San Pablo de Leon Cortes – affords its members credit and technical help, including essential assets such as training, in order to safeguard the future of coffee production in the region – another example of sustainable practice, albeit done in a different way.

DR Wakefield in fact set up a community coffee project there on our most recent visit to help boost both the value and recognition of the quality of coffee being produced by communities of La Trinidad, Ojo de Agua and Paritilla – and have since seen the results that the premium has afforded to members. Farmers from La Trinidad chose to reinvest the premium in finishing the construction of a main road, providing a better infrastructure that would not only benefit them, but also the wider community.