Cooking and eating through a new culture

The Buzzz

Oh sweet nectar of the gods…

Coffee. I love coffee. I cannot function without coffee. Not very well, at least.  I have my particularities about my morning ritual. Particularities lovingly shared with Rafa. On the way down here he made me promise to pack coffee and the French press in the car since “Mexico has crappy coffee”. I may choke down whatever I can, but Rafa with NOT tolerate a poor brew. I can’t say that I blame him after all, he had worked for Britt, the most popular coffee company in Costa Rica.

To say you are indoctrinated into coffee in Costa Rica is the understatement of the century. When coffee was first introduced, the government gave plants to the poor and offered free land to anyone who would plant coffee on it. Primary school children in the 1940’s learned to read with “Coffee is good for me. I drink coffee every morning.” In 1998, the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica ads extolled the health benefits of caffeine and described coffee as “the true aphrodisiac.” Ticos put coffee plants around their house like people stateside put evergreens. Rafa swears that when the coffee boom hit and the demand for Hawaiian Kona coffee exceed production, they imported the coffee from Costa Rica and sold it as Kona. Rafa is the coolest, calmest person I have ever met under pressure. But if you want to see that fiery Latino come out, just talk smack about Costa Rican coffee.

I must admit, my palate is not a refined as Rafa’s. I leave the coffee purchases to him, but I have certainly noticed a difference in the coffee down here. I no longer drink it just to kick myself into gear in the morning. The subtleties of a good cuppa coffee is what now makes my morning. You need to appreciate the classic, citric Costa Rica flavor profile. The fragrance of the dry coffee grounds is full of honey, refined toffee sweetness, and citrus blossom accents. Brewed, the aroma has dynamic orange and lemon notes, with a graham cracker scent as well as being malty and honeyed. The cup is dynamically bright, with fresh-squeezed lemon juice flavor adding a high-note zing to the cup, while there is a tenor-level of honey, caramel and barley sugar that fades elegantly, though rather fast, on the palate. I think people don’t know what a really clean, delicate, bright, mild, sweet cup of coffee actually tastes like. Needless to say, it makes Starbucks taste like it’s been filtered through a litter box.

Ticos religiously drink coffee twice daily. Obviously, the morning with breakfast (and mom’s gallo pinto) and mid afternoon with pastries or light tapas style snacks. Still, it’s common to have a cup throughout the day too. But Ticos don’t have that cracked out buzz going on like you see in other countries. There are a handful of coffee shops around but coffee is mainly shared at home with family. For a country that thinks Pizza Hut is fine dining and Taco Bell somehow turns a profit, the coffee chains are wonderfully absent. Costa Rica may not have had a standing army since 1948, but they would riot in a heartbeat if they imported coffee here.

I am conflicted about what information to give you about brewing coffee. As stated earlier, we use a french press and grind beans every morning. For those of you who like to flip a switch; a good bean, fresh water, and a metal filter is the way to go. Also, taste your coffee before you dilute it in sugar and milk. Pick up on the subtleties of the body and aroma. You wouldn’t put low-grade, watered down gas in your car. So why drink the equivalent in coffee?

As for the Coffee Institutes claims? I did quit my job, sell my house and move here…


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