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History of Coffee ‘El grano de Oro’ in Costa Rica

Around 1790-1804, Governor Tomás de Acosta imported 6 lbs. of green coffee beans for planting from Panamá in 1808. Shortly thereafter, Father Félix Velarde began to cultivate the coffee beans in his garden, encouraging his neighbors in San José to plant coffee in their gardens, as well. Thus, cultivation of coffee in Costa Rica was begun, especially around the Central Valley near San Jose.

The first export was to Colombia in 1820. The government began encouraging citizens to grow coffee and in pursuit of this endeavor supplied all persons interested with 25 coffee plants for free. Thus coffee growing from the onset was different from most other countries. As opposed to large plantations, in Costa Rica individuals grew the coffee and it thus quickly won the hearts and souls of all. Symbolically it would, in the future create the largest democratic middle class in all of central America.

Beginning in 1823 and up until the early 1840’s, English sea captains based in Valparaíso, Chile, carried Costa Rican coffee to Europe. Yet since it arrived via Chile, Europeans weren’t cognizant of its actual provenance. In fact, it was sold in England under the name Café Chileno de Valparaíso (Coffee from Valparaíso, Chile).

During this period several Costa Rican planters began to cultivate coffee on a large-scale. One such planter was tobacco farmer don Mariano Montealegre Bustamante. Possessing the land, knowledge and wherewithal, don Mariano soon became one of the most prosperous coffee planters in Costa Rica. His coffee plantations were located in the vicinity of what is today the Parque La Sabana, at the west end of San José.

In 1842, Costa Rican coffee planters made their first direct shipments of coffee to England aboard the British vessels Sirena and Ellersllie.

In 1854 another group with a vision for the future exported this ‘grain of gold’ to London with the cooperation of William Le Lacheur Lyon the captain of the English ship “Monarch”.

These direct shipments were seminal events in the history of Costa Rica. European coffee connoisseurs soon recognized Costa Rican coffee as one of the world’s finest, and scores of Costa Ricans began to study medicine, engineering and the fine arts at Europe’s most prestigious universities. More importantly, Costa Rica now had access to Europe’s wealth. The face of this once sleepy little ‘Rich Coast’ was now changing.

This economic prosperity enabled the country to build the first access to the Atlantic coast in 1890 via a new railroad. Then in 1897, the awed inhabitants of the capital city of San Jose were able to attend the memorable inauguration of the National Theater which was paid in full by the coffee and banana farmers desiring to have well known European Opera singers sing locally.

One of the most important notes to take home from reading this article is that the government of Costa Rica took solid and sure measures to ensure their economic prosperity by securing the quality of the coffee grown there. It is for this reason that the government passed a law in the early 20th century that states that only Arabica Coffee can be grown in Costa Rica. This is unique in all the world. No other country regulates the quality of coffee as completely as does Costa Rica. It is truly the most carefully grown, harvested and processed coffee bean you may find. Yet another assurance you can expect from coffee that comes from the rich coast of central America.