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Costa Rica crowns coffee champ

After six rounds of espressos, cappuccinos and specialty coffee drinks, caffeine-addled judges named María Auxiliadora Bonilla as Costa Rica’s 2014 National Barista Champion on Sunday.

This is Bonilla’s second win as the nation’s best barista.

Each of the six baristas who competed Sunday had to pull four espressos, make four cappuccinos and four original coffee drinks in 15 minutes. While espresso and cappuccino are staples of coffee culture, the barista’s original drink can include anything as long as there is at least an ounce of espresso in it.

Backstage at the event in Lincoln Plaza Sunday, Bonilla gave The Tico Times a sneak peak at part of her winning presentation, which included a towering cold-drip coffee maker. Its bulbous glass flasks and curling glass tubes made it look more like something out of “Breaking Bad” than a barista competition. As the infusion of herbs slowly dripped once every three seconds, she explained that her presentation aimed to highlight the aromas and flavors of the coffee cycle, from planting to processing and roasting.  


Costa Rica’s two-time National Barista Champion, María Auxiliadora Bonilla, used a cold drip coffee maker in the 2014 championship Sunday.

Lindsay Fendt

Bonilla, who works at her family’s coffee farm and exporter, Don Mayo, said that serving her family’s beans from Tarrazú and León Cortés drove her to compete.

“When I serve it I feel extra motivation because of the identification I have with it. It’s like closing the whole circle of production [from producer to barista]. It’s something that gives me a lot of satisfaction,” she said, remembering the three months she spent preparing for the event.

José Solís, barista with the Costa Rican Association of Fine Coffees and the event’s organizer, added that this year competitors were more focused on exploring the origins of coffee, how terroir and altitude affect its flavors.

“It’s been done before, but never this in-depth,” he observed.

Several of the baristas competing said that Costa Ricans should expect more from the coffee they drink.

“In Costa Rica, we’re just getting started with coffee culture,” Bonilla said, “we produce some of the best coffees in the world and we should be more demanding.”

Solís said that there was a misconception that coffee is always bitter, but “that’s not how it is. [Coffee flavors] come from the region where it’s from. Tarrazú, for example, has a relatively high acidity level. There are other areas of middle height, like Tres Ríos, that’s sweeter, or [with] greater aromas, like Turrialba.”

Pablo Bonilla, also of Don Mayo, continued the thread, adding that they hoped Costa Rica’s emphasis on high quality specialty coffee would help the domestic market develop into something akin to wine, where traceability, soil and growing conditions are prized.

Historically, though, Costa Rica’s best coffee has been exported to higher-paying markets in the United States, Europe and Japan. Pablo Bonilla estimated that even today, less than 1 percent of their farm’s coffee stays here.

While most of Don Mayo’s coffee is exported, curious coffee drinkers can check out the reopening of their café and coffee bar near the Wal-Mart in Alajuela, north of the capital, tentatively set for Nov. 22.

“What we still haven’t done is educate ourselves,” opined Solís. “We think that all coffee should taste the same, and that’s not how it is. That’s what these baristas are demonstrating today.”

Auxiliadora Bonilla will go on to represent Costa Rica in the World Barista Championship in Rimini, Italy, in June 2014.

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