January 21, 2015

The Costa Rican Coffee Shop Culture according to Glen Arce

Map of Costa Rica.

But what about the coffee shop & cafe culture. What does his average Costa Rican customer drink or desire?  F. Solano, met with Glen, a barista at Café del Barista Aranjuez, to investigate. Glen’s love affair with coffee is young but he’s already won the Costa Rican Amateur Barista Championship and was runner-up at the “Reto Barista” 2014. What’s Reto Barista?  It’s a Costa Rican competition (organised by Manuel Dinarte) which he explains in his interview below.

Spanish Version:  La Cultura de Tiendas de Café en Costa Rica según Glen Arce

Before We Talked About Costa Rica Coffee Coffee Shop Culture, We Learned About Glen…

What is coffee? 

Coffee is art for me. Every day you have to give your best because you only have one chance to make things right and there is no turning back. It is not like a drawing where you have an option to erase. Coffee behaves differently every day.

What do you believe specialty coffee to be? 

In Costa Rica it could have a great future but right now there are not enough baristas interested in making this happen and there are not enough customers who know what specialty coffee is. We try to educate our customers so that they can appreciate the good coffee.

What was your first encounter with coffee?

I discovered coffee when I was unemployed and could not find job. A friend of mine who is a barista told me that he could teach me how to use an espresso machine. At first I thought that was the only thing I would learn but then I prepared the first espresso. I was able to tamp correctly from the first time and the result was a good espresso. I started to fall in love with coffee due to the variety of flavors you can get depending on which of our 8 coffee regions it comes from.

Name your most outstanding coffee moment?

I’ve had 2. The first was when I won the Amateur Barista National Championship after 3 months and 7 days of working as a barista. I made some mistakes during the competition, I had to pull the espresso shot 3 times and I didn’t rehearse this because it had never happened during training. It was very satisfying to win first place against baristas with a lot more experience than me.
The second most memorable moment was this year when I won second place of every category of Reto Barista. The categories are “Extreme Cappuccino”, “Latte Art Dual” and “Spirituous Beverage.”  The first time I competed I got 7th place. 
Another smaller moment was when I learned to steam properly thanks to help of my boss here at Café del Barista.

A vid of  Café del Barista Aranjuez & Glen himself.

Q & A on Costa Rican Coffee Shop Culture

Why do people drink coffee?

It depends on the customer’s preference. Some people just drink coffee out of habit, or they come here because it is a nice place. We also have customers that know that we use quality coffee and are looking for a place where a skilled barista can prepare decent coffee.

What is most important to the consumer when selecting coffee? 

The most important thing for the customer is that their coffee is prepared just as they like it. It doesn’t matter if it is a custom drink, we try to prepare it to please the customer. Some people drink the same style of coffee every day and others ask for something different and let the barista’s imagination run free.

Do consumers know or care about where coffee comes from? 

Very few people care about the story behind the cup. Some aficionados may have taken a course or know more about coffee and sometimes ask about the coffee’s story.

What characteristics do people look for in their cup? 

They look for a balanced cup, meaning a sweet yet bitter taste. They look for a good body in an espresso.

Café chorreado

What are their drinking habits?

People that come here want coffee from the espresso machine or our national drink, café chorreado. Very few people ask for another brewing method, even though we have them, people prefer to have their “café con leche”. Lattes, cappuccinos and Americanos are also best sellers.

What are the rules & taboos of coffee drinking?

In Costa Rica there are no rules or taboos but we just drink coffee whenever we want. Most of the time in the morning (7.30 to 10.00 am) or in the afternoon (2.30 to 7.30 pm)

What cultural traditions are infused with coffee?

People often ask for very hot milk, and they always want the biggest cup. When they see how small the cappuccino cup is, they ask for something bigger.
Many people don’t drink espresso because they think it’s a caffeine shot but it is not. Some people look for a certain coffee/milk proportion. For example more coffee than milk or more milk than coffee. Most of the people always look for sweetness in their drink, meaning added sugar or some kind of syrup.

What goes with coffee?

It varies according to the customer.

Describe your local coffee scene? 

We try to stand out with our coffee, offering lots of opportunities for growth, and training on all levels.

How long does it take to get a cup of coffee?

It takes between 5 to 10 minutes. Every time you prepare a drink you must deliver quality and fulfill the customer’s desires.

2013 Amateur Barista Champion. Represent.

Interview conducted by F. Solano and edited by B. Recchi.

Perfect Daily Grind.