This Resort in Costa Rica's Cloud Forest Should Be on Every Coffee Lover's Bucket List
One of Costa Rica's most prized cultural exports is coffee, yet some of the best is difficult to find domestically. At Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection, located among the spectacularly lush mountains of Pérez Zeledón, coffee gets the spotlight it deserves. At the resort's on-site coffee bar Mercado, head barista and coffee scientist Fabiola Rojas showcases the region's best-in-class coffee, some sourced from farms just a few kilometers away.
"I buy the coffee from when they are green beans, and I'm in charge of roasting profiles and all coffee experiences on the property," says Rojas, who is the brains behind Mercado. "We really wanted a high-end coffee experience, the same way you would get a high-end wine experience at our restaurant Grano." Much like the detailed wine menu at Grano, which serves elegant dishes spotlighting indigenous ingredients and cuisines throughout Central America, Mercado has a coffee menu that specifies each bean's farm of origin, varietal, and processing method.
Guests can set up private coffee tastings with Rojas, or they can grab a latte at Mercado and watch the peaceful cloud forest downpour from the cozy interior.
On a recent visit, I did both. The picturesque resort, which is dotted with thousands of coffee plants and 50 spacious casitas, offers guests some of the most immersive coffee experiences of anywhere I've traveled, on- and off-site. Coffee-obsessed guests can visit scenic local coffee producers and farms located in the nearby mountains, followed by immersive tastings and seminars on roasting styles. If your vacation personality is more about luxuriating, you can stay put — surrounded by 180 acres of rainforest — and drink some of the world's best coffee from the comfort of your casita (or even exceptional coffee soda, complimentary in the mini fridge). Even for the spa-inclined, there are coffee options: The Well at Hacienda AltaGracia offers luxurious river baths, which include a handmade coffee scrub treatment, in the middle of the verdant on-site forest.
At Mercado, I marveled at the chalkboard of coffees on offer, and the incredible amount of detail. If guests like a particular coffee, Rojas can arrange to ship it to them when they return home from vacation. And since the menu changes often, she can recommend other beans with similar flavor profiles.
Rojas scouts the coffee herself, which means she maintains strong relationships with growers and producers; this usually involves proving to them she will roast, brew, and serve their beans properly before they'll even sell to her. Currently, Rojas is overseeing a new project for Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection, to produce its own coffee.
"There are around 7,000 coffee plants on the property," she says. "The idea is to produce very good quality coffee. We always support our producers and will work with the best to make our own. We have four varieties that will be ready in one and two years. In March we saw some flowers."
During my tasting at Mercado, Rojas presented the hometown favorite Milenio F1, a new honey-processed coffee that had just days prior had won the "Cup of Excellence" at a prestigious green coffee competition. I sampled it in three different formats: made with a siphon, a Vandola (a terracotta, Costa Rican-invented, pour-over brewing device), and another locally made, clay pour-over pot. She tasted along with me, remarking on the different qualities each process extracted from the beans.
She was most excited to show me the results from the Vandola, a device invented just a few years ago by Minor Alfaro and handmade in Santa Barbera de Heredia. "It is the first patented Latin-American coffee pot," she said. The beautiful blue jug, which narrows at the neck where the filter begins, lends a sweetness and soft body to the coffee. "So much of the best Costa Rican coffee goes abroad. It doesn't always happen here in Costa Rica."