This was a major source of anxiety when we arrived. I don’t generally drink a lot of coffee, but I figured in a country known to produce excellent coffee, a sip here and there would be a nice little indulgence. Unfortunately, what we were told was the best coffee was about as good as the stuff Dunkin’ Donuts serves at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Luckily our neighbors didn’t protect their wi-fi service we were able to locate Café Milagro on the internet.
Café Milagro was started by an American (also named Adrienne), who over a decade ago was equally horrified by the lack of good coffee available within the country. All the good stuff got shipped overseas!
Unlike me, however, Adrienne decided to stay and be part of the solution. She started out by acquiring a small coffee roaster in the town of Quepos. Over time, she gained the respect of the nearby coffee growers (who by now had stopped selling her bags of nails!) and locals who would swarm around her shop to smell the freshly roasted beans and enjoy a pastry.
Today, Adrienne has a thriving business. Café Milagro is now a very popular restaurant (seemingly popular with the gay crowd for all my homosexual friends!). And she’s also opened another restaurant about half way between Quepos and Manuel Antonio — considered by many the most beautiful of Costa Ricas national parks. Her coffees are available at several restaurants and hotels throughout the country and to you through the internet! She offers organic, whole bean, ground, dark and light roast all with flat rate shipping to the US of $9.95! If you visit, make sure to stop in the roasting building next door where you can also pick up some souvenirs and learn a little about the roasting process.
Another great place we found for coffee is a souvenir shop and restaurant called El Mirador del Cafetal, located about 50 minutes outside of San Jose on the road to Jacó. It will be on the driver’s side overlooking the west coast valley. Actually, there are only two restaurants on that mountain. It is the second one — only a few hundred meters past the first one. You can’t miss it.
It turns out that this restaurant is an extension of El Cafetal Inn, a coffee plantation and bed and breakfast in Atenas (20 minutes from the SJ airport). The view from this restaurant is breathtaking! And the souvenirs were not only reasonably priced, but had an authentic, Costa-Rican made look to them. El Mirador also sells coffee beans that you can bring home, including green beans that you can roast yourself, (although not vacuum-sealed to preserve freshness, so get them in the freezer when you get home!).
For food, I’d have to say that I enjoyed the food at El Mirador more than the fare at Café Milagro. The food at Milagro was not bad, but it had a distinctly American flair. A little like Friday’s gone Latin American with some experimental concoctions based on locally available foods. Milagro also had the soy milk option on the menu which just makes me cringe since soy is NOT the health food we’ve all led to believe (read The Whole Soy Story for the dirty details of this phenomenon or wait for my blog entry under health).
El Mirador’s menu, by contrast, featured an extensive selection of Latin American favorites such as black beans with yucca fries, chicharrones and tamales at really, really good prices. Because the country has been duped into widely using industrial oils in their cooking, it was unfortunately prepared with less than ideal ingredients. I considered this, however, a small price to pay for the spectacular views and more traditional menu that afternoon. To my knowledge, you cannot purchase their coffee over the internet.
As a final note, in the town of Quepos (same town as where Café Milagro is located) facing the bus station is a place called the MegaSuper. While this store caters to the expat crowd, complete with sushi fixin’s and a few fresh vegetables (rarer than you’d think it would be down there), it also carries Costa Rica’s most famous coffee, Café Britt. Café Britt isn’t only reputed to have excellent coffee, but they have a huge variety of shade-grown organic coffee, hot cocoa, chocolates, and iced drinks in interesting flavors. Keep in mind that they export the best, so that would probably put Café Britt on top since they are also available in the airports as well.