Coffee in Costa Rica
Updated: Oct 11, 2019
Sitting here in my kitchen, sipping some Alchemy cold brew at 5 in the afternoon, I'm reminiscing on my recent solo trip to my favorite country.
On the last leg of my tour de Costa Rica I called an Uber in pursuit of a coffee shop called Cafeoteca that I'd read about in an article titled '5 Must-Visit Specialty Coffee Shops in San Jose, Costa Rica'. Navigating the nameless streets of this colorful Central American country is not as easy as plugging in an address and letting GPS do the work, Far, far from it, my friend. I'm not joking when I say that Costa Ricans don't even know where they hell they're going in their own city! Places are found by proximity to other places. It's common to see an 'address' listed as "50 metros sur del Banco Nacional y 100 metros oste del supermercado". (50 meters south of Banco Nacional and 100 meters west of the supermarket). Getting to your destination requires patience (pura vida!), asking passersby if they know where _____ is, and sometimes calling a friend for assistance. Deep breath, you'll get there eventually.
I have been to Costa Rica three times now, spending a total of about 3 months there, so luckily I knew what to expect when trying to get somewhere. My 12 mile Uber ride took just over an hour, but hey, we made it! I walked up to the cafe door, ready for some cafe costarricense rico. Instead I was met by one of the staff letting me know that they were closed for the next couple of hours for a staff meeting. No problem, I thought. I'll just explore this area for a while and come back later.
Cafeoteca is located in the Barrio Escalante, one of the nicest neighborhoods in San Jose. Tico neighborhoods are usually a mix of residences, shops, schools, grocery stores, you name it. There is no clear cut distinction between residential and commercial areas like there are in most US cities, so that adds to the interest of getting around. I absolutely love the charm of Costa Rica and its lack of rules, but nonetheless, it takes some getting used to. With a deep breath and a mental note of Cafeoteca's location, I headed out to explore the area.
I stopped at another cafe and had some lunch, then walked around the neighborhood, took some photos, and tried not to get too lost. Eventually, I headed back, ready for some coffee.
Coffee is one of Costa Rica's main exports and a major part of their economy. Ticos put their money where their mouth is, literally. They love their coffee, they like it strong, and they drink it often. It's even common for kids to drink coffee - usually with a healthy amount of milk. There are tons of coffee farms, distributors, and shops all over the country, but my favorite are the small scale business for their quality and business ethics. Plus, generally speaking I always prefer to support small/local when possible.
Back at Cafeoteca, I ordered my standard latte. Danny, one of the baristas, made it with such care that it was clear to me that coffee is more than just a beverage to him - it's art.
I started talking to a couple of the other patrons in the shop as we sipped our coffee. Their knowledge of the coffee industry and the process to make it was expansive, and soon Danny joined in on the conversation. He whipped up some different kinds of coffee for me to try, and although they were great, my caffeine tolerance is only so high! I was chugging water while trying his concoctions and nodding along to his anecdotes on the coffee I was drinking.
Danny went to tend to other customers, and another barista took his place behind the bar. I wish I could remember his name, but my memory sucks and I didn't get his card or IG handle. Here he is though, so you can put a friendly Tico face with the story.
This sweet guy was just as passionate about his craft as Danny, but he went one step further and whipped out his book on the coffee-making process! I listened as he explained the steps from bean to cup and showed me pictures from the book. He was talking pretty fast and I'd had too much coffee and too little food, so I'll admit my comprehension was pretty minimal at this point. But just watching him talk about something he clearly loves so much was endearing and inspiring. I hope I did a good job of at least making him feel like I understood every word.
I spent probably two hours at Cafeoteca that afternoon, getting way over-caffeinated and fumbling my way through conversations in Spanish. Ticos are warm, friendly people, and it's really easy to strike up conversation, even for an introverted gringa who is unsure of her Spanish speaking and understanding abilities.
Traveling to a foreign country alone is challenging. I know spending a month in Costa Rica sounds dreamy, and I am so incredibly grateful that I was able to do this, but there were some really hard days where I wanted to give up and catch a flight home. My mental health was a challenge every day, and I felt like I was fighting a losing battle trying to keep it at bay and fully enjoy my time there. But in a way, I'm glad this trip wasn't all rainbows and butterflies. Because I learned more about myself and my ability to persevere in trying situations this way, and I got to make memories like this. Pura Vida.