The likely date of the arrival of coffee to America is 1720 when they brought the first seeds, Arabica Coffea species (Typical variety), to Martinique in the Antilles. From there originated the berry that was sowed in Costa Rica in the beginning of the 18th century.
Prominent Costa Ricans contributed to the development of coffee, and the first to cultivate it was the priest Félix Velarde, who, in 1816, made reference to having a plot of land cultivated with the beans. Don Mariano Montealegre was the crop’s main promoter during the decade from 1830 – 1840.
Costa Rica was the first Central American country to establish the budding coffee industry. The first two Heads of State, Juan Mora Fernández and Braulio Carrillo, supported the development of the coffee enterprise. They saw coffee not only as a product that was capable of stimulating economic change for Costa Rica, but also projected coffee production in the following years, during which the coffee bean would become the product that gave rise to Costa Rica’s economic development.
As the first plants grew, Costa Ricans’ interest in its cultivation increased, and by 1821 there were 17,000 coffee trees in production, with the first export of two quintals of coffee to Panama in 1820. The exportation of coffee to the United States began in 1860, and initially, the weight was almost 25% of the all exported coffee.
Authorities of the Republic implemented a series of measures aimed at promoting the coffee industry, among which are notable: 1821: The Municipality of San José distributed free coffee plants among residents; 1825: The Government exempts coffee from tithe payments; 1831: The National Assembly decreed that any one who grew coffee for five years on idle land could claim the land as their own; 1840: a decree is issued to plant coffee on the undeveloped land to the west of San José (Pavas).
Several decades passed between the introduction of coffee and its consolidation as an export product. The commercialization of coffee began in 1932, when Don Jorge Stiepel, who had close business ties with the English, first exported to Chile. It has been confirmed that Captain William Le Lacheur opened direct trade with English ports in 1943.
Le Lacheur made the trip from London to Puntarenas in 1943 on the “Monarch” to transport back a shipment of 5,005 quintals of coffee, one of the most representative exports. Afterward, other freighters full of coffee set sail to England, which marked the success of the coffee trade.
Throughout the history of Costa Rica, coffee has been a fundamental pillar of the society and a driving force behind development and the national economy. For this reason it has been called the “golden bean.” With the development of its cultivation and opening of export markets came an economic, social, and cultural surge, and an improvement in the country’s infrastructure:
The Federal Debt was paid; the postal service, first Government printing office, San José Hospital and San Juan de Dios Hospital were founded; the Santo Tomás University was founded, and the National Theater was erected.
Also established were the first libraries, the opening and improvement of roads and the construction of the Atlantic and Pacific railroads. Development of the Banking system (in 1863, Banco Anglo Costarricense, Banco la Unión, Banco Internacional) helped small farmers with their credit to increase their cultivation areas.
In addition, there was the Mauro Fernández Education Reform, the first higher learning centers and libraries, the Political Constitution of 1871, profound changes in the State during the 1880s and changes in the electoral code and practices.