Alisa Kettunen

Everyday Life with Coffee in Costa Rica

Paulig's Sourcing Manager for coffee Anna Vänskä is taking a year to travel around countries of origin. In Costa Rica, she sips on chorreador-brewed coffee while tropical rain is falling on the coffee trees.

Weather has an important role in Costa Rica's coffee farming

Anna Vänskä's first weeks in Costa Rica were literally stormy. In early October 2017, the tropical storm Nate swept across Central America towards the USA, causing enormous damage along its route.

"Coffee farms were isolated for a long time because of the storm. Of course it was also urgent for the farmers to check out and fix any damage. This meant major rescheduling of the visits to coffee farms," says Anna Vänskä in late October, a week after the worst of the storm had passed.

Weather plays an important role in Costa Rica's coffee farming. The rainy season that lasts from late spring until November provides a cool and humid enough environment for coffee to grow, but sunshine is needed at the turn of the coffee year in September-October.

"Everyone's now waiting for sunny days for the coffee cherries to finish ripening and for harvesting to begin. That's also when I'll get more chances to visit farms and processing facilities." 

Coffee: Part of the Costa Rican history

Anna Vänskä's office that she shares with Paulig's partner company is located in the capital city, San José. But, she doesn't need to travel far to find a coffee tree.

"Costa Rica's exceptional in that here coffee farms can be found close to the city. You see coffee trees all the time alongside big roads, with the occasional office here and there and then more coffee trees," Vänskä says, describing the local landscape.

Coffee can be seen everywhere and that is no wonder as it is a huge part of the country's history. In practice, the nation's growth in the 1800s and 1900s was built on coffee exports and, for example, old Costa Rican banknotes feature pictures of coffee trees and plantations. Today, coffee plays a smaller role in the national economy, but it still remains one of the most important agricultural export products. 

Is coffee farming a profitable business?

Costa Rica is very small in terms of its area, only about the same size as Denmark. This means there are hardly any opportunities for coffee to gain any more ground in terms of area and, as land prices are going up, farmers are tempted to sell their land for construction.

"The biggest challenge here, as in many other countries of origin of coffee, is to make coffee farming profitable. Therefore an important part of my trip here is also to promote partnership programmes, which means setting up farmer communities through which we and, for example, export companies help coffee farmers develop their operations for increased productivity."

Typical challenges faced in coffee farming include resource use and farming practices. Coffee farms are often passed from one generation to the next, and farmers are very knowledgeable about coffee, but the region may yet to have adopted more modern and functional farming practices. Therefore the partnership programmes aim to work with individual farms to go through their practices, such as how to prune their coffee trees or how much fertiliser to use.

"It's also very important to do long-term planning. Plans help allocate resources more sensibly and improve the farm's productivity. This helps make farming a profitable business." It also helps ensure access to high-quality coffee in the future, too. 

Many of Paulig's partnership projects also focus on developing the wellbeing of the entire local community, such as access to clean water or children's literacy.

Efficient coffee chain uses less water

In many countries of origin, farmers process coffee berries themselves, removing the pulp from the berries and only after that selling them on. Each farmer has their own way of depulping, resulting in a higher rate of quality and flavour differences. 

In Costa Rica, farmers sell their coffee as whole berries to processing facilities, which are often owned by export companies. These facilities are more efficient in aspects such as water use as their volumes are larger than those of individual farmers.

"Costa Ricans have managed to decrease processing facility water consumption by around 90% since the 1990s. This has made the coffee chain more efficient, more even in quality and also more environmentally friendly," says Anna Vänskä. 

El chorreador: The traditional way to make coffee

Anna Vänskä visited Costa Rica two years ago and has now had the chance to meet old acquaintances again.

"We visited the Vargas coffee farm in Tarrazú canton where I met Juan Vargas for the first time a couple of years ago. It was great to get together again and see how he's managed to develop his farming with our partner company."

In Costa Rica like in other countries of origin, coffee is a matter of the heart. Coffee farming is a livelihood often inherited from parents and people put a lot of love into it. Costa Ricans, ticos, also drink a lot of coffee, which is not very typical of coffee-producing countries. They also have their own traditional brewing method where coffee drips through a sock-like cloth filter suspended in a wooden frame into a cup or pot. We will see if el chorreador will soon be popping up on baristas' shelves next to the Chemex!

El Chorreador Costa Rica