Every holiday season, upon return to the States, I would bring stocking stuffers for my friends and family in the form of Costa Rican coffee. That is how it all started, this passion I have for connecting folks with one of the greatest joys the world of culinary delights has to offer, “café” as it is called down here – coffee baby, the stuff you love, want and need at the start of each day my friends.
About 3 years ago I decided to formalize my efforts and I underwent the process of registering my own export coffee brand, calling it Café Marbella, named after the small coastal town on the Central Nicoya Peninsula where I have a “finca” or agricultural property. I love the region for its simplistic, old-school way of life.
People are people and the tallest building is the cell phone tower that provides 4 bars of service when once there was no service. I also decided to get my barista certification from the Asocación de Cafés Finos de Costa Rica (The Costa Rican Fine Coffee Association). That is the country’s official entity when it comes to coffee grading, cupping, tasting and naming of the top barista honors each year at the Taza de Excelencia competition.
The world’s most important coffee purchasers keep a steady eye on the results of this competition, and the winner each year finds themselves in a better financial position as people in places like Japan pay top dollar for their prized grano de oro (this is coffee in its unroasted or green bean form, “grain of gold”).
I was fortunate enough to make friends with people like 2012 barista champion Maria Auxiliadora Solis, whose family has a coffee plantation and refinery in the Los Santos region in a place called Tarrazú. Sitting at 6,000 feet above sea level, they produce specialty coffee, coffee that ranks above a score of 83 points – cupped and judged by the most discerning of tastes, when you sip this stuff then go back to your normal French Roast that burns on the coffee pot all day, you quickly realize that you never knew what you were drinking until now.
Most Costa Ricans do not have the pleasure of drinking their country’s best coffee as most of that coffee gets exported to people like Starbuck’s (who blend it and dumb it down with mediocre coffees from Brazil and Guatemala). What the locals are left to enjoy, and what I used to stuff stockings with, is a second or third grade coffee which by any normal person’s standards, still tastes pretty damn good (the lesser of evils is the Volio or Montaña brands).