Costa Rica can’t afford to keep the good coffee

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    Henriette Jacobsen,

    Costa Rica grows some of the best coffee in the world, but exports most of the good stuff to other countries, leaving local supermarkets with the dregs.

    Victor Torres shows us the difference between unripe and ripe coffee beans. Photo: Henriette Jacobsen.

    As The Seattle Times reported this month, Costa Rica trades most of its best coffee and keeps the dregs, green beans and floaters, to themselves. Green beans are coffee cherries that are picked prematurely. Floaters are malformed beans that are overripe, too small or not heavy enough, so they end up floating on top of a tank of water during coffee processing.

    Victor Torres is a coffee farmer in Monteverde, Santa Elena. He confirms that Costa Rica usually sells its quality coffee because the country can’t compete on price or volume with coffee heavy weighters like Brazil. Therefore, Costa Rica has to compete on producing the best coffee. This means you won’t find much robusta coffee, which Torres says is bad coffee, in Costa Rica. However, you will find a lot of coffee brewed on greens and floaters in the stores, and the roasters sometimes add sweeteners such as corn, sugar and peanut shells in order to give it a better taste. Consumers in Costa Rica have to buy coffee labeled “no sugar added” to avoid the subpar quality.

    Torres says that the export of the quality coffee so far in 2011 has gone so well that there probably won’t be any of it left for Costa Ricans. If they want a taste of the good coffee this year they might have to import it from Nicaragua. Torres himself only drinks the quality coffee he produces on his own farm. “That’s only because I want to know how the coffee I drink has been made,” he explains.

    The Costa Rica News went to the local Mega Super grocery store to find out whether the coffee brands with added sweeteners were actually cheaper than the 100% pure coffee brands. Out of 18 coffee brands, that all come from Costa Rica, six brands had added sugar. Two of the brands clarified that the sugar made up 10% of the product. Our survey shows that the Café Rey coffee brand with added sugar, both the traditional and percolator version, were in fact more expensive or had the exact same price as three coffee brands without additives: Volio Classic, Café de la Hacienda and Mega Super’s own ground coffee.


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