Costa Rica has a reputation for producing some of the best coffee in the world. There are eight coffee growing regions in Costa Rica, the most famous of which being Tarrazú, also known as Los Santos (the Saints).
So, what makes Tarrazú coffee so special, especially when compared to the other excellent coffee found in Costa Rica?
Coffee Beans and Blends
Coffee plants grow better in certain areas, as you’d expect. There are different types of coffee beans out there, each grown for different qualities. For example, you’ve likely heard of Arabica and Robusta beans.
Arabica is the most popular type of coffee, because it has a complex and somewhat sweet flavor that is palatable when drank black. It’s considered a particularly high-quality product, with subtle changes in flavor depending on where it’s grown. Robusta coffee, on the other hand, is famous because it has a lot of caffeine. Robusta beans are cheaper than most others and stronger, but it has a bitter flavor. It’s typically used in instant coffee, as its cheap and can handle the freeze-drying process.
Simply put, Arabica is what you’d sip during a quiet afternoon, when you can appreciate a good brew. Robusta is the stuff you swig when you need caffeine to kick you in the face and get you going. So, what kind of coffee beans grow in Tarrazú?
Tarrazú, with its volcanic soils and mountainous topography, boasts an ideal climate for growing high-quality Arabica beans. Some of these plantations are located at around 5000 feet above sea level. Tarrazú is split between a seven-month long rainy season followed by a dry summer. This works well with growing coffee, as it can grow during the rainy season before being harvested during the dry season. This dry season is perfect for drying the coffee beans and producing a fantastic product.
The most common Arabica beans found in Tarrazú are the Caturra and Catuai varieties. These both have a fairly distinctive profile. Tarrazú coffee is known for having a round body, a pleasant and potent acidity, and a fruity flavor with a hint of chocolate. It even smells fantastic.
Traditional Coffee Processing
Of course, coffee doesn’t go straight from the plant into your cup. There are steps in between to prepare the coffee bean for consumption. Here’s a very basic overview of how your typical coffee bean is processed. First, the cherries (fruit containing the beans) are harvested, then the bean is extracted and washed free of the cherry flesh and mucilage. It’s dried and finally, roasted. The beans are either sold whole or ground.
It’s fairly straightforward and works well, which is why this process is used all around the world. But maybe that’s about to change. Tarrazú coffee is famous for another reason. It’s the birthplace of a whole new way to process coffee, which aims to make Tarrazú coffee even better.
It’s known as the Termico (Thermic) process, and it was invented by don Luis Campos of Cordillera de Fuego. Who is don Luis Campos, and what does his process achieve?
The Inventor: Don Luis Campos
In 1984, don Luis Campos graduated from university and bought a small coffee farm in Tarrazú. Since then, he founded Cordillera de Fuego and has spent the past ten years experimenting with different ways to process coffee. These include natural, honey, anaerobic, and thermic methods.
As well as showing a spirit of innovation when it comes to developing new and interesting ways to process coffee, don Luis Campos has also embraced the Costa Rican fight against climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the largest projects recently taken on by Cordillera de Fuego was the installation of enough solar panels to power the main offices and to cover more than half of the energy needed for the wet mill. Also, any leftover coffee pulp is treated and turned into fertilizer.
Currently, Cordillera de Fuego is run by don Luis Campos and Eduardo Campos Varela, another coffee expert. The company also has a fully equipped laboratory, which is set up for quality control, as well as research and development of different types of coffees and processes.
About the Termico Process: A New Way to Make Coffee
It starts when the coffee cherries are harvested, as they’re very deliberated picked when they’re as ripe as possible. The riper the cherries are, the higher their sugar content.
Once these super ripe coffee cherries are picked, they’re partially washed. Essentially, most of the pulp is removed, but the mucilage is left on the coffee bean. This provides that all-important sugar, which is vital for the next step of the process. The coffee beans are put into stainless steel tanks with limited oxygen. Each step so far has been carefully designed to encourage anaerobic fermentation.
Inside the fermentation tank, the levels of oxygen will fall, while carbon dioxide levels increase. This is because of micro-organisms that would have been present on the coffee beans, which feed on the sugar to produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This buildup of carbon dioxide increases pressure inside the tank and the change in environment encourages different micro-organisms to emerge. This allows the coffee to develop different types of acids, such as malic acids that have a fruity flavor. The combination of acids builds up to a more complex and rounded flavor.
While all this fermentation is going on, the coffee beans are slowly heated up inside the tanks. This starts partially caramelizing the sugars in the mucilage and integrating their flavors into the bean itself. So, unlike traditional coffee making techniques that remove the mucilage and all those sugars, the Termico method essentially bakes them into the coffee bean during the drying process.
This process gives the coffee an incredible sweet and fruity flavor, as well as a well-rounded and balanced cup. If you have the pleasure of drinking some, you may notice floral tones, an umami undercurrent, and a bright acidity. There are even notes of zesty grapefruit and butterscotch.
Coffee made using this method is not sold in many places but you can find in the United States from Calusa Coffee Roasters in Florida which is recognized as one of the top coffee roasters in Florida