The Tarrazu Mountains in Southern Costa Rica is a very unique place. It is located in The Talamanca Sierra right after the continental divide facing the pacific ocean. Altitudes vary sharply and micro climates exists within short distances with amazing results in the type of coffee each area produces.
The following is a list of micro areas within the region that I have identified over the years, each producing very unique coffee tasting profiles. ( Don’t forget to click on the pictures for the high resolution version; enjoy ) :
First, my favorite section of the region is a micro area called Concepcion.
Located in the western most part of the mountains, Concepcion is blessed by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The Port of Quepos and the Manuel Antonio National Park can be seen down below the steep mountain range. Cattle farms surround uniquely located boutique coffee farms, each with its own beauty and coffee bean characteristics.
I still have to figure out what makes the coffee beans from Concepcion area so unique and delicious. The high elevation of the farms is there, the bright sunshine in the mornings and cloud cover are also present. However, the soil is indeed different from the soil around San Marcos, more rocky, porous than most soils in the region.
Perhaps the secret ingredient in the coffees coming from the Concepcion Mountain is the more saline moisture the coffee plants are exposed due to close proximity to the pacific ocean. Perhaps salt in the environment translates into a different coffee composition in the beans? This might be a good explanation because clouds cover the mountain most of the day, more than any other part of the coffee region…. I will let the scientists figure that out. In the meantime I encourage to try these coffees and find out if it is your favorite too. Coffee farms are fairly new and not as many as in other areas so you might have difficulty finding green coffee from the Concepcion mountain.
Located just west of San Marcos, the area around the town of San Pablo is also distinct from the rest of the valley. There are very interesting farms around the villages of San Antonio, Carrizal, Montes de Oro and San Isidro. Driving from San Marcos toward San Pablo, and right after the cemetery, you start driving down the mountain and into this micro valley with nice homes, a modern church and a very unique central park, carved in the mountain slope.
People here are very festive and are well known within the valley for their festivals and carnivals. The latest versions of the Tarrazu coffee Festival have been organized in this beautiful town.
The microclimate here is slightly different from the San Marcos area, same dry – rainy season pattern but a lot more windy in the dry season with occasional cold episodes mixed with rain from the Caribbean sea from January to March. This area is also known for its avocado plantations which can be seen at higher elevations in the Carrizal village.
Despite its name, this area is very rugged, but beautiful indeed. It is the most western area of the valley and the altitudes vary sharply from the highest points such as Santa Rosa and San Francisco, to the lowest elevation near the Pirris hydro dam in the Pirris river basin. There is a small cooperative that process most of the coffee beans in the area. Farms are small, family owned and located in very steep terrain which makes it difficult to harvest and transport to processing mills. The El Dragon Mountain, famous for hikers, can be seen from the village of San Francisco and it is indeed a tourist attraction due to its steep slopes and pristine forests.
The microclimate here is very interesting: It is a bit drier than the rest of the valley, and the altitudes varies sharply even within farms. Another aspect is that the newly built hydro dam has created a microclimate around the reservoir which is making an impact on how the coffee tastes. Drier, hotter months of December through March are indeed a key ingredient in the quality and uniqueness of the coffee beans.
You may know this area because most of the coffees around the village of Santa Maria is processed by the local, well known Cooperative. The amount of coffee harvested in this section of the valley is relatively small. Although the coffee farms are small and limited, there are indeed factors in the climate that are reflected in the cup. The Dota area is surrounded by high mountains, mostly covered by forest, and it is heavily influenced from Caribbean sea moisture crossing the continental divide. In the dry season, you can often see rain falling in the Dota mountains while in San Marcos is bone dry.
Consistency in the cup may vary because some farmers own plantations outside the valley limits which have unique characteristics. An example is the Providencia and San Joaquin coffees which are mixed with the Dotas. On top of that there are many Catimor ( a robusta tree ) coffee plants in these farms which yield lower quality beans but are favored by Dota farmers due to its perfect adaptability to their microclimate, and the higher yields per hectare.
The microclimate here is unique in the sense that the forests and the continental divide influence the coffee beans the most . Moisture from the Caribbean permeates through the Mountains to the north occasionally in the dry season. The rainy season is definitely rainier, and the dry season is not so dry. It can get really cold in December through March since the mountains block the warm breeze from the pacific ocean.
Located west of San Marcos, The Quebrada Honda area is a beautiful micro valley in itself. Right after the town of San Lorenzo, the road continues and you can start seeing beautiful coffee farms in steep slopes surrounded by pastures or sugar cane. The villages of Napoles, San Martin, San Bernardo, La Ardilla are located in this area, and people here, unlike other farming communities, own cattle ranches on the side.
The area name describes perfectly the surroundings: Steep terrain crisscrossed by small creeks that have carved deep in the mountain range. Many farmers prefer this area because of the very favorable weather conditions for growing arabica coffee trees.
The microclimate here is perfect for the development of Arabica coffee plants. Catuai and Caturra plants thrives in this microclimate due to the perfect combination of sunlight, moisture, and cloud cover in the afternoons, plus the fertile volcanic soil. It rains enough when the trees are flowering and the coffee beans are developing so yields, year after year, are consistent. Sometimes, you can hear farmers from the San Marcos area complaining about the lack of rains affecting their coffee trees, while farmers from Quebrada Honda enjoying large harvests due to the perfect weather conditions in this section of the Tarrazu mountains.
High altitude, combined with fertile soil and stronger sunlight and cloudy, rainy afternoons give coffees from this area a very unique profile sought after by roasters. The catimor Robusta, lower quality type of coffee tree is seldom found in Quebrada Honda due to its poor adaptability to this microclimate which is a guarantee to the roaster and enhances the prestige of the Quebrada Honda coffees.
South west of San Marcos, the San Carlos area is indeed a distinct area of the region called Tarrazu.
The towns of San Carlos, San Jeronimo, La Esperanza, Bajo de San Jose Mata de Caña and Zapotal. It encompasses the area between The Cura mountain to the west and the Pirris hydro dram and reservoir to the north.
The microclimate here is unique since it is affected by the hydro dam reservoir and the moisture from clouds that from time to time come directly from the Pacific ocean. Drier, hotter conditions can be observed at lower elevations such as Bajo San Jose and San Jeronimo in the harvest season. In my opinion, this area is the hottest area in the valley. The coffee trees are grown in steep slopes which is difficult to harvest, and the pruning of trees cycle occur more often due to the coffee plant vulnerability to lower elevation conditions, specially around the river dam.
Some people is in the believe that the hydro dam has affected the quality of the beans but this is not something that have been scientifically proven.
This area is the best known area of the valley, and the biggest. Most tourist and coffee lovers, one way or the other, arrive to this small city in southern Costa Rica simply because the hotels, nice restaurants and nightlife are located here. The farms around town are the oldest in the valley and as such, have been attracting roasters and coffee middlemen for generations.
The well known “Hacienda” farm is located in this district as well as local Cooperatives and coffee processing mills. Chances are you will not miss visiting this area because all roads in the valley leads to the few blocks that encompasses the city. Farms around villages such as El Rodeo, Canet, San Pedro, San Guillermo, San Lorenzo, La Sabana, La Pastora are representative of this area.
Regretfully, coffee farms in San Marcos are being converted into urban centers. Recent projects in locations such as El Rodeo and Santa Cecilia are clear examples of this trend.
The microclimate here is very well defined: Rainy between May and November, hot and dry between December and April and mornings can be very cold if wind from the north is added to the equation. The stability of the climate patterns make this coffee very uniform from harvest to harvest which has lead the pack in terms of claiming a unique profile attached to the origin.
Now you know: by reading this article, you have become an expert in Tarrazu geography and Tarrazu coffee beans.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a tourist, a gourmet coffee bean connoisseur, or an expect wholesale coffee trader; you will find the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica a very interesting place to visit. The areas suggested above are a must-see for any traveler to Costa Rica. Whether you like to drink gourmet coffee, visit high cordilleras, practice mountain biking, or simply enjoy the beautiful rural towns, Tarrazu is a place you cannot miss.
Please leave your comments, and share your knowledge about the coffees from these wonderful areas in Costa Rica.