Posted Saturday, September 29, 2018 at 11:33am by Zen Recreations
Coffee, Costa Rica and… Water?
Costa Rica produces less than 1% of the world’s coffee, yet Starbucks went out of their collective way to set up a company-owned 600-acre coffee farm there. Maybe this is a sign of coffee arrogance, but it seems more likely that the (somewhat experienced) folks at Starbucks know a good thing when they smell it.
Although there are several clearly separate Costa Rican growing regions, for the most part these distinctions don’t make it to the front counter of coffee shops and don’t make it onto a label. There are some exceptions for the Tarrazu snob, maybe, but mostly it’s “Costa Rican Blend” or some such title on the package.
Just as “French Roast” or “Chai Latte” evoke thoughts of extremely bold or spiced addictions, Costa Rican coffee paints a particular taste picture for fans, often requiring specialized vocab. Generally, Costa Rican coffee is highly acidic and very intensely flavorful. While each region is certainly different (and even specific farm varieties stand alone), Costa Rican coffees are referred to as having a “heavy” or “thick” body, and being “creamy”.
There is, of course, more to the story.
For one thing, it’s actually against the law to produce bad coffee in this little country! Costa Rica owes a large part of its reputation to its wonderful beans, so the government protects this national asset religiously.
For another, farmers leave their beans on the plant for as long as possible in order to glean the most flavor possible. That takes longer, costs more, blah blah blah, but the extra wait is apparently worth every tick of the clock. A mental image is easy—Juan taps his foot all day, has another cup of Joe, and goes home without picking any beans—but that’s not really what happens. These picky folks only pick the really, really ripe beans, and they leave the rest to be picked later.
And while we could yack for a while about “wet processing” or other industry insider stuff that is common to this region, Costa Rican coffee does have an obvious, country-specific flavor. True, there are regional distinctions that produce a particular peachy or apple-like flavor and some areas stand out for having a very heavy aroma and super-acidic taste. (There is absolutely a difference between Brand X and Brand Y Costa Rican coffee.) But all Costa Rican coffees also share qualities of climate, altitude, closely related plant varieties and soils, all of which bundle together nicely into the “Costa Rican” brand.
All these qualities plus similar ripening, picking and processing techniques brings us that Costa Rican ambrosia. This dinky little 1%-of-the-market country has put a stamp on the coffee market like no other, and the product deserves to be alone on a sign at the coffee shop from time to time: “Coffee of the Day: Costa Rican Ambrosia.”
It’s the Water, Stupid
And yet. Have you ever gotten a *bad* cup of Costa Rican at someone’s house? Or a bad cup of (fill in your fave blend here)? If you’ve ever taken a sip of a much-anticipated cup of Java only to do a double take to stare at the cup (because it takes like a watery sawdust infusion), we hope you’ll remember that 98% of what you’re sipping isn’t coffee.
Although a poor cup of coffee may be a first-world problem, it’s closely tied to an everywhere-in-the-world problem: Clean water. Nothing can ruin a pot of coffee more surely than tap water with chlorine or off-flavors, softened or distilled water makes terrible coffee—the minerals in good water are essential.
Zen Recreations isn’t here to march in the streets today (we’re a company dedicated to having safe travel fun, after all!) *BUT* it is certainly time to pop up a reminder about the quality of our environment and our water.
Bottom line, we can’t go enjoy a whale-watching trip if people kill off all the whales with plastic bags – got it.
But in the case of water and coffee, this is both a pleasure-on-our-taste-buds topic and a save-the-planet topic. While you could distill your coffee-making water every time, there is an honest-to-goodness contribution and quality in your morning caffeine jolt that comes from good water.
Do you remember the beer commercials that talked about “Rocky Mountain spring water”? The minerals and cleanliness of such water is quite real, and unlikely these days to come from any river. (Sadly, the water that comes out of your tap is not likely to be very high quality.)
No soapbox speeches here, but we do want to keep in mind that the water in whatever we drink plays a real part. If you’re making your Costa Rican brew at home after your visit to the coffee Co-op Santa Maria De Dota (Option 3 in our itinerary), you might be truly surprised at how much better it can be with truly clean water!
At home, your tap water is allowed to have certain percentages of pollutants, sediments and even bacteria. Just because your water meets government regulations doesn’t mean it will produce the best tasting coffee, OJ, tea or “flavor X” squirt drink.
So, today Zen Recreations is a big advocate for improving your water, starting with the cup of Costa Rican Java juice trickling out of your coffee maker first thing in the morning. We hope you’ll do a taste test and brew up some coffee the way you do normally, then with super-clean water, and see if you can taste the difference! Better yet, try the A-Versus-B Taste Test on your Significant Other!
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