Coffee Mecca in Santa Elena, Costa Rica


If you read my post about how you’re hard pressed (har har see what I did there?!) to find good coffee in Central America, you can imagine how excited I was that we were heading to the source in Santa Elena, Costa Rica.


This is Victor. He is a badass.

My bestfriend Brad has flown in for a week and made it his goal to visit the Santa Elena Coop that grows the beans that are shipped to Austin, Texas via Texas Coffee Traders. His unhealthy addiction/consumption of this desired bean lead us to the cool mountains and cloud forest near Monteverde. Most of the premium coffee in Costa Rica is grown in these mountains and likewise, almost all of it is shipped out of the country. All Arabica beans, I was ready to drink myself into shaky coffee spasms.

To start our trip we chose a hostel that offered free coffee. I mean, if you are there, you might as well do it right. To our delight they carried massive buckets of Santa Elena Coop coffee and believe me, they were making new pots every 10-15 minutes to satisfy the full house in off season.

That day we were heading out to a farm owned by Victor. He has been in the coffee business for 20 years and before that, solely made his money from milk. Knowing it was in his best interest to find more products to sell, he started his 3 hectare coffee farm. Just to let you know, Victor is a badass and during the tour, you can feel the love he has for his land and coffee beans. And while he only spoke Spanish, the guide just didn’t capture the spark Victor has in his eyes.


Nursery bean.

The cool thing about the coop is that all the beans created from the farmers are organic (and certified at that!). As a way to improve life, the farmers also have to plant gardens as a way to sustain their families. Banana trees and various other fruits and veggies can be seen planted in between the separate fields of coffee plants.

The beans start out in a nursery in pairs. The beans were picked specifically from plants that have hearty genes and if one of the pair does not survive, they scrap both plants. This way they can guarantee the quality of the product.

It takes 3 years for a single plant to mature and single branches will only produce fruit for 5 years. Victor painstakingly prunes each, individual plant in groups every 5 years to make sure his yield stays high. It takes another 3 years for that branch to reach maturity and so on, and so on.

As the rain came down in sheets, Victor stopped to pick a few choice cherries from the bushes. Brad and I gave each other shit eating grins and popped the raw bean into our mouths. The bean was hard with a thick, sweet, gooey liquid on the outside. We were buzzing for the next while as we meandered through the bushes.


Coffee Cherry


One of the 3 hectares.

Since Santa Elena is in a microclimate, Victor and his sons have to harvest their beans from the plants 6-7 times a year since all cherries will not ripen at once. This is done by hand due to the incline of the mountain, however, this also guarantees that all the beans going to be dried are perfect ripeness. While it does cost more to do it this way, they do it in the sake of quality, knowing their products are good for the earth and without the help of pesticides.

After stomping around in the mud for two hours and seeing a sloth we were invited to have a cup of coffee in Victor’s house. Served by his wife and from his personal stash of coffee, Brad and I could help but let soft sighs of comfort out as we couldn’t believe we were actually at the source.

Thank you Victor for showing us how much passion you put into your product. Thank you Brad for making me go on this coffee tour. If you are in the area I highly suggest checking it out. Not only is it educational, but nothing beats getting into the culture like being lead around a small farm by a farmer.


Victor pointing to the coffee cherries and flower.


Dried beans – not the kind that are exported but an earthy kind that farmers and locals like and drink.


The rest of Victors land – grass for his cows.

Disclosure: We did NOT receive anything for free! The hostel guy liked us and got us a student discount but it had nothing to do with being a blogger. I genuinely loved this tour and suggest it to everyone!


34 Responses to “Coffee Mecca in Santa Elena, Costa Rica”

  1. jill- Jack and JIll Travel October 10, 2011 at 6:11 am #

    Yummm. coffee. We went on a couple of these tours in Colombia. Very informative. And hard to believe that in a lot of them, they still pick these coffee beans by hands.

    • Erica October 10, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

      @Jill: My mind was blown with how much information they throw at you. I felt like I gained a gold star in coffee knowledge and even felt like a bigger snob (in a good way!).

    • ashley March 3, 2016 at 7:34 pm #

      I just wanted to see where you did this coffee tour? I have been looking for a tour in santa elena and this seems more intimate than the industrial tours I have been seeing. I much prefer that!

      • Erica March 16, 2016 at 11:42 am #

        Hey Ashley – I apologize about the delay. We got this coffee tour through one of the hostels in town. They set it up. 🙂

  2. Mica October 10, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    We’ve also done coffee tours in Colombia and I was not that impressed with the final cup. But the coffee in Antigua…Holy shit. Amazing. So amazing, that I used to pay DHL to ship me 3 bags every few months or so to Miami. I love coffee.

    • Erica October 11, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

      @Mica: Now THAT is an awesome coffee addiction! How awesome. I think I may consider it from the coffee company I loved in Utila.

  3. Tricia(Geeky Explorers) October 10, 2011 at 7:43 am #

    How amazing that tour sounded – nothing like getting right to the source of something you love. Keith & I would be in heaven!

    • Erica October 11, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

      @Tricia: The only thing that sucks is that you HAD to be at the source to get a decent cup of coffee. Kills me!

  4. Heather October 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    I’ve enjoyed both of the coffee posts you’ve done — giving us a glimpse of an individual, the business, and the passion. Some of my faves since you’ve been on the road!

    • Erica October 11, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

      @Heather: Thank you so much! I definitely have a passion for small business owners and watching their passion come alive in front of my eyes. It kills me that my posts like this go relatively unnoticed too lol. These are some of my fav journalistic pics I’ve taken as well. I’m trying to branch out!

  5. Emily in Chile October 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    What did the coffee cherry taste like – just less roast-y flavored coffee, or did it have its own, different flavor? The tour sounds great!

    • Erica October 11, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

      @Emily: The bean itself was really hard and you couldn’t chew it. You kinda just sucked off the sugary coating. It didn’t taste like coffee at all but a sugary fruit. 😛

  6. cailin October 11, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    If only I liked coffee …. 😉 hahaha love the pics 🙂

    • Erica October 11, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

      @Cailin: It is an acquired taste – kinda like beer. I made myself like it to get through 3-4 hours of sleep a night during college. But still, I drink it in a very blasphemous manner – with sugar and milk.

  7. Katrina October 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    That is awesome. I don’t know why I ever thought of Seattle as having anything to do with quality coffee. Must go there now!

  8. Candice October 13, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Hey, ship some up here whydontcha?

    • Erica October 13, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

      @Candice: It will cost a firstborn.

  9. dtravelsround October 16, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    I’ve never done a coffee tour. This sounds great!!

    • Erica October 16, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

      @D: I can imagine it is like a winery tour but with coffee. 😛

  10. Sebastian October 17, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    Sounds like you guys had a great time! Your pictures are beautiful!

    • Erica October 21, 2011 at 11:11 am #

      @Sebastian: It was probably one of my favorite adventures ever. Loved the colors and the passion!

  11. Camels & Chocolate October 18, 2011 at 4:29 am #

    Of all the travel experiences I’ve had, I’ve still never been to a coffee farm! This looks delightfully fun–and aromatic.

    • Erica October 21, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

      @C&C: That is just a damn shame! I couldn’t suggest it enough.

  12. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ October 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    To be honest I never used to really care what kind of coffee I get as long as it wasnt awful…. but good coffee is growing on me… and also putting a hole in my pocket.

    • Erica October 21, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

      @Hogga: After having the kerosene they would like to call coffee, I can tell immediately when we have the good stuff.

  13. Stephanie - The Travel Chica October 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    That hostel would have had to cut off the free coffee if I were staying there 🙂

    • Erica October 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

      @Stephanie: …and that was how I had 8 cups of coffee in one day leading me to spaz out.

  14. Federico October 21, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    You had miserable weather that day! But good coffee is so hard to find…glad you did there. Did you know that the sweet bean is used as candy in Colombia?

    • Erica October 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

      @Fede: The rain could not stop us from enjoying our COFFEE! I had no clue it was a candy – YUM!

  15. Sarah Wu October 30, 2011 at 12:30 am #

    Wow, I’m not a coffe person but thi post is so cool to see how they were created! Especially the details of the photos *bonus*.

    • Erica October 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

      @Sarah: Thank you! I LOVE this set and it is totally one of my favorite sets.

  16. Jess Dunkin January 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm #


    Your tour sounds great (and your pictures are beautiful!). Just wondering how much the student price was? I am planning to be there in June and would love to go!


    • Erica January 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

      @Jess: I think normally it costs $30 to go on the tour but we got charged $25. I think you may be able to talk them to $20 depending on how many people were with you. I totally suggest this for sure and is still one of my favorite experiences. <3 Good luck!

  17. Epic April 27, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    Took thé santa Elena coiffée tour at Victor’s plantation
    It was great.vicor is a nice guy he even invited us for coffee
    In his home
    It’s a must do if you ever go to monteverde

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