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Saturday, September 18, 2021
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Postcards from Naranjo: Where Costa Rica’s best coffee grows

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NARANJO, Alajuela – Between the arts-and-crafts capital of Sarchí and the reveling festivities in Palmares lies the oft-overlooked town of Naranjo. Bundled into the high hills of the Central Valley northwest of the capital, Naranjo hardly gets more than a paragraph in most guide books. But the small town has its claim to fame: Naranjo is home to the best coffee in Costa Rica.
 
A massive cup of Joe sits in Naranjo’s central park as a quirky reminder that coffee is big business here. Manuel Antonio Barrantes of Cafetalera Herbazú, just up the hill from downtown Naranjo in Lourdes de Cirrí, took the top prize in Costa Rica’s 2015 Cup of Excellence competition. Two other previous winners of Costa Rica’s top coffee prize also hail from Naranjo.
 
A group of women clean green coffee beans at the Herbazú coffee processing plant in Naranjo, Alajuela.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times

When we visited this week locals were going about their day, working, heading back home for lunch after school or sharing the latest gossip in the park. Naranjo’s picturesque sherbet-colored church was repainted several years ago and gives the place a colonial feel that’s uncommon in many Costa Rican towns. 

 
Selecting the best green coffee beans at the Herbazú coffee processing plant in Naranjo, Alajuela.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times

The decidedly un-colonial pyramid gazebo in the center of the park feels a bit like a model from “Blade Runner” landed in town, but on hot day it’s a welcome respite from the sun

 
A pyramid at the Naranjo Park.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times

The weather can be hot in town but driving up the snaking road to the coffee farms the breeze turns chilly. The brisk air is a small price to pay for the view. Don’t forget to put the parking brake in gear when stopping on the steep road to take in the valley’s madras pattern of dark verdant coffee plants, yellow pasture lands and the light green canopy of forests. 

 
A coffee farm in Lourdes de Cirrí in Naranjo, Alajuela.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times
A view of Naranjo, a well-known producer of the best coffee in Costa Rica.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times

There’s no coffee to be harvested right now, but the fields are in bloom. A perfume-like gardenia wafts through the fields from the bunches of white flowers that bloom and fall from the plants after three days. 

 
Drying coffee at the Vista al Valle coffee processing plant in Naranjo.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times

Just because there’s no coffee to pick doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. At the Vista al Valle mill, perched on a steep slope overlooking the valley, coffee is still drying and being sorted for imperfections by hand. This level of attention coupled with volcanic soil and altitude (1,500 meters) makes for excellent coffee. 

Dario Morales selects coffee at the Vista al Valle processing plant in Naranjo.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times
Dario Morales makes sure only the best coffee beans are selected for the first-class coffee.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times
Coffee flowers.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times
A group of "Naranjeños" enjoy a day in the park.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times
The Naranjo church, one of the most beautiful in the country.
Alberto Font/The Tico Times

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