Pop Quiz #6

Test your knowledge on the flora and fauna growing along UGACR campus trails and throughout the Monteverde Cloud Forest here in Costa Rica. You never know when a trivia night will call for tropical ecology facts…

This one’s for the coffee connoisseurs:

It is illegal to commercially grow which of the following species of coffee in Costa Rica?

A. Arabica

B. Robusta

C. Liberica

DSC_0751

When plant-related diseases spread throughout Costa Rican coffee plantations in the early 1980s, the country could no longer compete with Brazil’s big-boy machinery and mass coffee production. Having lost hope and interest, the government turned to the beef industry and coffee plantations transitioned into grass-blanketed pastureland.

And then, someone had another idea. If competing by quantity were no longer an option, Costa Rica could re-enter the coffee business competing by quality. Which meant Costa Rica’s coffee production was about to get a makeover.

As a result, in 1982, the Costa Rican government passed a law making it illegal to produce Robusta coffee.

Why?

Although the lofty Robusta plants produce large amounts of fruit, they contain up to double the amount of caffeine found in other species, such as Arabica. The plant uses its overwhelming amount of caffeine as a natural defense mechanism against insects – yikes, makes you think humans should not consume pure Robusta beans, either.

In fact, the amount of concentrated caffeine causes health implications including stomach problems, headaches and shakiness. In an effort to dilute these caffeinated consequences of Robusta beans, it is almost always mixed with Arabica beans. Consequently, the quality is diminished.

So Costa Rica decided to nix the mix, and compete with better quality beans, having since developed a reputation for its high-caliber Arabica coffee. This species yields less overall fruit, is very delicate and sensitive to climate and soil, and produces quality coffee beans as a result. Maintaining this reputation is key; otherwise Costa Rica faces a decline not only in its coffee prices but also overall economic stability.

Who is in charge of making sure this reputation is maintained?

The Institute de Café, (ICafé) is a government organization founded in 1933 to delegate Costa Rican coffee taxation and exportation. Over time, all aspects of the coffee business, from managing workers’ wages to researching and experimenting with disease-free seeds to certifying beneficios, places where coffee is produced, fell under ICafé’s jurisdiction. As does quality-control: all coffee undergoes a checkpoint where a needle-like machine samples beans to ensure that only grade A beans are exported, and Costa Rica’s reputation prevails.

What are the consequences?

If a plantation owner is caught growing and selling Robusta coffee beans, their entire plantation will be cut down. Because it takes two to three years for a coffee plant to grow back and produce fruit, most farmers are not willing to undergo the economic impact of loosing those valuable few years of coffee bean production to a slightly higher yield using illegal plants.

Speaking of coffee, it’s time for me to refill my mug with this delicious locally produced coffee.

P.S. They ship!



Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern.

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