Costa Rica is the land of coffee. Well-known by connoisseurs and coffee buyers, the country produces one of the world’s finest arabicas. So why is it that, when driving around, it’s so hard to find a place for a decent cup of coffee or cappuccino?
We frequently do drive around, and we always watch out for a place to stop for a decent cuppa. Most roadside places offer straight black coffee, not bad and always using good local coffee, but very few have a real coffee machine that delivers Italian-style cappuccino or expresso coffee. So when we spotted Cafe Mutute, 3 kms before Empalme at km 50 of the Panamerican highway heading south from Cartago towards Cerro de la Muerte (” Mountain of Death”) and San Isidro, we immediately stopped to check it out.
And a find it was! Started just a few months ago, it is a joint venture between 6 relatively small coffee farms and staffed on an alternating basis by them. What they had to say was fascinating. Paulo, from one of the farms, said the initiative came from frustration at selling their coffee beans to a large local cooperative and losing all control over the final product and how it was marketed. That includes pricing. At home they were all used to drinking great coffee produced from their own beans. Thanks to careful techniques, these were constantly improving over the years, and they appreciated this. Yet the high quality they were achieving was being lost once their beans were mixed in with all the other farms by the cooperative.
The breakthrough came with the introduction of ‘micro-beneficios’, or micro coffee processing plants. These dry the beans after harvest, remove the skin, sort, and – unless then sold in green bean form – roast them. The micro-beneficios are economic for smaller farms, and the 6 members, each with 10-20 ha of planted coffee, had their own. This enables them to market the final product, whether exported or through retail outlets in Costa Rica, such as Cafe Mutute.
In Cafe Mutute you can see, taste, and buy, coffee from each of the members, each identified by an attractive label. This is not ordinary coffee, but coffee from the Tarrazú region of Costa Rica, the valley of Todos Los Santos (All Saints), one of the most famous coffee regions in the country. The farms have marvellously local names: Monte Copey, La Cabana, Don Pepe, Altos del Abejonal, El Roble, and Puente Tarrazú. And they have a range of pastries that look tantalising although we did not check them out.
Paulo said they also organize coffee tours, and there is no doubt these would be the real thing, far from the more popular spectacles to be found close to San Jose. The trouble is these are not really geared to couples, and require advance booking. So not easy to organize if you are passing by.
In a Zagat Blog on the 10 most annoying coffee trends, it’s clear that the smaller coffee shops are finding increasing favour with consumers fed up with the large chains “burning the bean and calling it dark roast”:-
It’s America’s newfound obsession with localized, farm-to-table fare that will save the local coffeehouse, and the fact that many of the folks who sounded off about their pet peeves pointed to the “burnt” offerings being sold by the big boys. …..While big chains will continue to outnumber the mom and pop shops in sheer volume, they’ll never succeed in world domination due to the lower prices, unique menu items and customer service that small coffee shops provide. And, they also know how to roast their beans.
Cafe Mutute is definitely offering the real thing, and they clearly know the whole process, from farm to the coffee cup. So if you do find yourself passing by, perhaps en route for San Gerardo de Dota or beyond, do be sure to stop off and try one of their coffees. It’s the real thing!