Paul Delima Coffee

The facts and History Surrounding Costa Rica and Coffee
Updated Friday 07 July, 2000
by boake moore

Coffee and Costa Rica:

"He proudly shows us the branches of the coffee trees, bent under the weight of their crop. He touches them tenderly, as a father would his children... his eyes shining with happiness. 'Do you know, doctor, why these branches curve so toward the earth? They are grateful to the farmer, and bow before God.'"

José Corvetti, describing a visit to the farm of Italian immigrant T. Malavasi,Tres Ríos, 1935
Coffee and Costa Rica were meant for each other, and they have grown and prospered together, complementing each other in the pursuit of excellence. Costa Rica repealed the death penalty in 1870 and abolished the army in 1948, and coffee supported those reforms with its high productivity and environmentally friendly disposition.

In a country which has enacted laws protecting 21% of its territory in order to preserve the 5% of the world's biodiversity it shelters, Costa Ricans are encouraged by their environment to love what they do, and to do it well.
In its desire to protect the environment, Costa Rica has carefully tended the soils and climate that are best suited to coffee production. As Costa Rica's soils have been enriched by volcanic ash, they contain a slight degree of tropical acidity. They are also rich in organic matter, which makes for good distribution of the coffee plant's root system, enabling them to retain humidity and facilitating oxygenation. This combination of factors invigorates the coffee plants and is one of many elements contributing to the quality of Costa Rican coffee.
Over 70% of the country's coffee is produced in the mountains, which vary in altitude from 3,280 to 5,580 feet above sea level. Mountain temperatures range from 63 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit. Sunlight is stable, and precipitation levels are ideal. All this makes for as dependable and high-quality a coffee crop as any produced in a greenhouse.

Costa Rica is the only country in the world which has issued an executive order (N°19302-MAG, 4 December 1989) banning the production of any variety of coffee other than Arabica. This standard is made possible by the expertise, experience and favorable physical conditions which converge in this remarkable land.

The story of Costa Rica's coffee is the story of the nation that saw it come to life over two centuries ago. Throughout the years, it has been the yardstick by which the country's life and economy have been measured.

Our grandparents tell us...

Coffee was first brought to Costa Rica during the last decade of the eighteenth century. So we are told in a letter sent by Panamanian trader Agustín de Gana to the Governor of Costa Rica, Don José Vásquez y Téllez, announcing that he was sending two pounds of coffee.
The history books tells us that Father Felix Velarde was the first Costa Rican coffee grower; his will, dated 1816, refers to a plot of land on which coffee had been planted. Tradition has it that he bequeathed the seeds to his neighbors, inviting them to plant them. His suggestion must have taken hold, because the first recorded export of Costa Rican coffee, a one-hundred pound shipment to Panama, took place in 1820.
By 1832 coffee was also being exported to Chile by Jorge Stiepel, a German businessman living in Costa Rica. In Chile, the coffee was repackaged and sent to England, where it was sold as "Valparaíso Chilean Coffee".

Meanwhile, a group of forward-looking coffee producers, including Mariano Montealegre, who was the main promoter of the crop between 1830 and 1840, decided to take on the task of exporting it directly to England. The first shipment was made in 1843 thanks to the efforts of the captain of an English ship, The Monarch, which transported 5,505 one-hundred-pound sacks to Europe.

The first two Heads of State of Costa Rica, Juan Mora Fernández and Braulio Carrillo, strongly supported the coffee trade, as they sensed that it could generate economic growth and enhance Costa Rica's position on the international market.
As coffee production developed further, the country's economy, society, and culture flourished. But that is another story...
The story of Costa Rica's coffee is the story of the nation that saw it come to life over two centuries ago. Throughout the years, it has been the yardstick by which the country's life and economy have been measured.

Coffee bears fruit...

What does coffee have to do with the theater? What does the tax year have to do with the coffee harvest? In Costa Rica such relationships are essential, and are part of the benefits obtained from the "Golden Grain", as it is called in Costa Rica.

Coffee exports to Europe during the mid-nineteenth century brought many opportunities for Costa Rica, opening a window to the Old World that would eventually bring in railroads, a postal service, printing presses, the country's first university, and what is perhaps the region's greatest architectural treasure: the National Theater. Designed as a miniature copy of the Paris Opera House, the National Theater, located in the center of the capital city of San José, became a symbol of coffee-driven prosperity because it was initially financed by coffee taxes.
Coffee did not simply transform the Costa Rican economy and its landscape, it also changed consumer behavior and working patterns. The development of a taste for coffee was, perhaps, a reflection of the democratic society that was being forged. In the words of historians Peters and Samper, "Drinking coffee became a ritual of Costa Rican society, a society that was free of economic and social distinctions; everyone drank it, from the simplest farmer or laborer to the most prominent politician."

And, just as Costa Rica lives and breathes democracy and peace, it also lives and breathes coffee. It is no coincidence that per capita consumption of this drink is the highest of all coffee-producing countries in the world. The close relationship between coffee and daily life led Costa Ricans to plan their calendar around the harvesting, processing and sale of coffee, to such an extent that the Costa Rican tax year is based on the coffee trade: it begins in October and ends in September of the following year.

For a long time, in fact, even the school year revolved around the coffee harvest. But that did not prevent education in Costa Rica from becoming in 1886, what it still is today: free and mandatory.

Textbooks and teachers arriving from Chile during the early years of the coffee trade, and later on, from Europe, became part of a tradition which also included a unique land ownership structure, in which small and medium-sized properties have remained a part of the rural landscape to this day. That landscape has changed over the years. What has not changed is Costa Rica's continuing love affair with coffee.

About the Author
Boake Moore is an IT Sales engineer by trade and founded a non profit coffee company called Mission Grounds Gourmet Coffee -http://www.missiongrounds.com/ourphilosophy.php. It donates all its profits and proceeds to helping orphans and impoverished children. We currently are building schools in rural China, orphanages in South America; supporting orphans in Russia and Africa. And helping homeless children in the United States. http://www.missiongrounds.com


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