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How to Brew Traditional Costa Rican Coffee

Coffee medias used in Costa Rica.
Traditional Costa Rican Coffee is Made Using Cloth Filters.

Costa Rica is known world wide for it’s superb coffee. Interestingly enough, Costa Ricans are only just starting to learn how to drink coffee. Throughout Costa Rica’s history, the coffee available to locals was very low quality as all the premium beans were destined for export where they could be sold at higher prices. The coffee available locally was so bad that roasters mixed it with sugar, and some even say blood from cattle was added, to make it palatable enough to sell. Today, it is likely that blood is not used anymore but some of the cheapest brands still add sugar, so stay away from them if you can.

When buying coffee for daily use, don’t buy the most expensive stuff right off. Some say you should buy the best and most expensive coffee you can afford but, at first, you may not be able to really appreciate the extra money spent. If you’re a beginner, pick a popular mid-level coffee. As you learn more about coffee you can explore other brands, pay a bit more and find your favorite. Be sure to store your coffee in an airtight container. If you can find one that also blocks light that would be ideal as air and light both oxidize your coffee and will shorten its lifespan and affect the flavor. You don’t need to buy anything fancy, most grocery stores will have cheap plastic containers that will serve well. Full beans and ground coffee last just as long, and it is recommended that both be stored in the freezer.

How to Brew Coffee – Traditional Method

As recently as 10 years ago, most people in Costa Rica brewed their coffee using a ‘chorreador’ which is a rustic form of drip brewing. To ‘chorrear’ (drip brew) your coffee, you’ll need a cloth filter which kind of looks like the toe end of a sock with a metallic wire rim added to hold it in shape. You can find these filters in most grocery stores. The cloth is usually white when you buy it and it will darken with age. Don’t worry, this is normal and will only enhance the flavor. Before you begin, be sure to rinse out your ‘media’ (sock) with fresh tap water. The filter should also be rinsed out after each use, just turn it inside out and rinse under running tap water. Don’t use soap or detergents, just water, or you will add a nasty taste to your coffee. You can also add the old grounds to your compost pile – earthworms love the stuff. There is a wooden stand available that is used to hold your filter although this is optional. I just hold the filter with my bare hand using the part of the wire structure that is shaped like a small handle, for this purpose.

Next, start heating some fresh water on your stovetop or in a kettle. If you’re making coffee for just one person, I use one large heaping spoonful. I like my coffee strong so this is a matter of taste and you’ll just have to experiment to get the proportions just the way you like it. Place your coffee inside the cloth filter. Now get a large coffee mug or other heat resistant container (glass is usually better as other flavors won’t stick to it). The glass container or mug is where your prepared coffee will drip into so it should be big enough to hold what you brew.

Once the water has almost reached the boiling point, hold the filter in one hand and pour the hot water into the cloth filter with the other. Be careful, the water is hot! Slowly pour the water into the filter while you hold it over your coffee mug. Don’t pour the water too quickly or it may overflow. Just pour slowly and keep the water level about half way. When you’ve brewed enough coffee for one, you’re done. Now you can just sit back and enjoy your freshly brewed Tico-style coffee.

It may take a bit of trial and error at the start, but with a bit of practice you’ll get it right. This method really brings out the flavor of your beans and it’s a relaxing morning ritual to get your day going. It may take a bit more effort than just turning on your electric coffee maker, but the extra effort is well worth it.

If you’d rather watch an expert make the coffee for you, visit the Nuestra Tierra restaurant on Ave. 2 in front of Plaza de la Democracia (2258-6500), and order a normal coffee.

A Bit About Costa Rican Coffee

Coffee is grown in many regions of Costa Rica. In the past, coffee was sold with a generic ‘Costa Rican Coffee’ label. Today, coffee drinkers have become more refined and location-specific beans are highly valued. Some top producing regions are Tarrazú, Poás, Tres Ríos and Orosi. Organic-grown varieties are now also available.

There are several growers and tourist agencies that offer coffee tours – Café Britt has a good one where you can walk through plantations, see how the beans are processed, roasted and you’ll get a bit of history and entertainment along the way. Café Britt is one Costa Rica’s most well known brands as it was the first coffee roaster to offer export-quality beans in the local market. Today, other coffee roasters sell high quality coffee in the local market so Britt is not your only choice for top quality beans.

All Costa Rican beans fall under the category of Arabic Coffee, considered the best coffee in the world. This is regulated by iCafé to insure the brand quality of all Costa Rica coffee exports.

Although most of the coffee produced in Costa Rica is exported to the United States and Europe, emerging markets like China offer great growth potential. As the Chinese become more affluent, travel more and start to acquire a taste for western luxuries, coffee is bound to be among the products they will require.

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Written by JohnK

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