Some of the world’s finest coffee grows on the cultivated slopes of the Valle Central, and a number of the region’s fincas and estates run tours of their plantations, which take you through the process from planting and picking to drying and roasting. The area is home to five of the country’s eight regional coffee varieties: from west to east, they are the Valle Occidental, the Valle Central, Tres Ríos, Orosí and Turrialba. Differences in altitude, soil composition and production methods mean that the beans harvested from each estate have their own individual characteristics, which a good barista (professional coffee-taster) can help you detect. Coffee-tasting, or cupping (catación), is an art in itself, and at the end of most tours you’ll learn how to measure a cup’s uniformity, its complexity, dry fragrance, wet aroma, brightness (actually its acidity) and body, as well as the finish it leaves on the palate.
The following fincas and estates are open year-round but are best visited during the picking season (Oct–Feb), when you can often get involved in harvesting the bright red beans and roasting them yourself:
Café Britt Barva; Valle Central. Slick group tours from the country’s largest coffee exporter, including a musical rendition of the history of Costa Rican coffee, plus more insightful tasting tours for aficionados.
Café Christina Paraiso; Orosí. Owner-led tours (by appointment only) of this environmentally sound family setup on the edge of the beautiful Valle Orosí.
Doka Estate San Luis de Sabanilla; Valle Central. Doka, which produces Café Tres Generaciones, boasts the oldest beneficio (water mill) in Costa Rica and offers ox-cart rides around its estate.
Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn Santa Bárbara; Valle Central. Highly personal insight into the workings of a small-scale organic coffee farm – and its sustainable practices – with an experienced and informative barista.
Hacienda Espíritu Santo Naranjo; Valle Occidental. Part of a cooperative of producers in the Naranjo area, whose friendly guides lead you on a historical tour through their compact plantation.