It wouldn’t be a Tico Christmas without arboles navideños (Christmas trees) and pastoras (poinsettias), both grown in the hills above Heredia where cypresses, standing in for firs, and poinsettias, of every color, flourish. But this yuletide season, there are two more reasons to head to the hills.
The first is Brumas del Zurquí, the now world-famous cafetal that won the 2012 Taza de Excelencia coffee competition, and garnered the highest coffee price in the world at auction – $4,500 per quintal (46 kilos).
Most of those coffee beans were bought up by Japanese companies and shipped to Tokyo. But now you can sample and buy the same coffee – in grano or ground – at the new Café Las Brumas del Zurquí, in San Francisco, a suburb of San Isidro de Heredia.
It’s an ultra-stylish café, something you would expect to find in Escazú or on the Lindora Road. This chic coffee boutique, however, is tucked behind the new Servicentro Ecológico El Labrador. The location makes sense when you find out that the gas station-cum-plaza, on a curve in the road between San Isidro and Heredia, is actually a corner cut out of the Brumas del Zurquí cafetal, directly behind.
Antique coffee grinders share space with oversize pieces of modern art and extravagant vases of heliconia, ginger and orchids. But the star of this show is the huge, shiny-red Aurelia II, the Cadillac of espresso machines, manufactured in Italy by Nuova Simonelli, sponsor of the worldwide barista championships.
If you time your visit for a Friday or Sunday afternoon, you will find José Martín Paez, positioned in front of the Aurelia, practicing his barista skills. Paez placed second in last year’s Costa Rican championship and he is in training for the 2013 rematch at the end of January.
Along with producing a perfect cup of coffee, Paez is a coffee connoisseur and coffee-culture historian, full of interesting coffee lore. His English is impeccable and he enjoys sharing his expertise.
Paez recommends trying a rich, balanced espresso or cappuccino ($1.80/$2.20) made with the cafetal’s medium roast beans. Nordic countries prefer light roast, he says, because it packs the most caffeine. The rest of Europe prefers the dark roast for its flavor. But the medium roast, says Paez, is the perfect balance.
The coffee sells for $6.30 for a 340-gram bag, in grano or molido. You can also order online (see website below). What better holiday gift for coffee-lovers than a bag of the best – at least for this year – coffee in the world?
For a completely different experience, you can sample coffee made with the cafetal’s top-rated bean, called Geisha. It’s a floral varietal of the Arabica bean, with amazing flavor hints of orange, ginger, ripe mango and cinnamon, to name a few. Originating in the highlands of Panama, the Brumas del Zurquí owners have coaxed it to grow high up in the Central Valley, at 1600 meters.
You can have it made in a French press ($11, pot for two) or in a cup of cappuccino ($5). Paez advises drinking it straight to capture the full flavor, and taking time to inhale the aroma. This is the coffee most appreciated by Japanese connoisseurs, who spend up to $50 for a cup of Geisha coffee in Tokyo. Owing to limited supply and international demand, you can buy Geisha only by the cup or carafe here.
To accompany the coffee, there are Argentine empanadas, smoked salmon sandwiches, sweet tarts and cookies. And there are tamales, another Christmas tradition in most Tico households and the second reason to wend your way up the twisting, scenic roads above Heredia.
The tamales served at the café are made at the nearby Fabrica de Tamales La Abuela, in Concepción de San Rafael de Heredia. Starting Dec. 1, the lines have been forming outside the hacienda-like factory, painted traditional Heredia blue and white. People in the know have been placing their orders ahead by phone and staggering away with huge bags of tamales destined for Christmas parties and family feasts.
Pork, chicken, bean and, this year, vegetarian fillings are available ($2.10 a piña, a pair). The fábrica also sells festive carne rellena ($6), rolled, minced meat, artistically stuffed with rice, cheese and hardboiled egg.
Unfortunately, if you haven’t already placed an order, you are out of luck this year. You will have to wait till January to buy tamales. But the fábrica will sell you Brumas del Zurquí coffee, specially packed for Tamales La Abuela, in 2-kilo bags of beans ($28.40) or 340-gram bags ($6.20).
If you haven’t already bought your tree and poinsettias, don’t forget to add the best coffee in the world to your Heredia shopping list. And come back for tamales in January.
Café Brumas del Zurquí – Servicentro Ecológico El Labrador, south of San Isidro de Heredia on the road to San Francisco and Heredia, 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. daily; closed Wed. 4031-2375, cafebrumasdelzurqui.com.
Fábrica de Tamales La Abuela – Concepción de San Rafael de Heredia, 150 meters west of the Licorera Camacho. Open Mon.-Sat. 7:30 a.m.-noon, 1-5 pm. Sun. 8 a.m.-noon. Closed Feb. 1-March 4 for a much needed rest. 2268-3032.