October 27, 2020

Exploring The Costa Rican Chorreador

Last year, Costa Rica produced just over 85 million kilograms of coffee. Coffee has been grown in the country since the 18th century. Despite fluctuation in the amount of coffee it exports over recent years, it continues to be an important part of the Costa Rican economy.

However, outside of production, Costa Rica also has a rich and unique culture of coffee consumption. Brewing coffee using a chorreador is one such example.

This brewing method is similar to rudimentary or historic filter coffee brewers, but it is not well-known beyond Costa Rica. Read on to learn more about what a chorreador is, how you brew with it, and what kind of results you can expect from it.

Lee este artículo en español Explorando el Chorreador Costarricense

What Is It?

Café chorreado is prepared using a chorreador, a simple brewing device consisting of two main parts. These are a chorreador stand and a bolsita (“little bag”) – a fabric filter held in place with a wire. 

Brewing coffee with a fabric filter is by no means unique to Costa Rica. It is also common across producing countries in South America and Asia. The chorreador stand is usually made of decorated and painted wood, while the bolsita is a cloth filter that is typically made from cotton.

Heyner Varela is a roaster and the owner of Choco Café in Monteverde, Costa Rica. He says: “[In Costa Rica, many] people prefer drinking coffee brewed this way as it’s part of our culture… not so much because of the quality of the brew.”

While Heyner offers this brewing method in Choco Cafe, he tells me that people are unlikely to see it in many third wave coffee shops. However, he tells me that when people do encounter it, they get curious and often want to try it. 

Fabiola Solano is a barista and the Vice President of the Bartenders and Baristas Association of Costa Rica. She says that because the device uses a reusable cloth filter, it could become popular in cafés aiming to reduce their waste. “You can reuse them many times and they’re very cheap,” she tells me.

Heyner agrees, but points out the importance of cleaning the filter. He says that as long as a single filter is rigorously cleaned after every use, it can last for as long as a month. 

He says: “After every use, we clean it. At the end of the day, we boil it, rinse it, and store it in the fridge to prevent bacteria from developing and to reduce the taste of old coffee.” He says that the oils in the coffee will stain the filter, so it cannot be used indefinitely.

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Brewing Coffee With A Chorreador

Fabiola and Heyner both use a water to coffee ratio of between 1:15 and 1:16, and a medium grind size, similar to what you’d use for any other manual pour over brewer. They both tell me that the temperature of the water should be between 92 and 97ºC.

After carefully pre-weighing your coffee and hot water, mix them in a pot to brew, and then pour them slowly into the cloth filter. For the best results, Fabiola recommends that you slowly and constantly stir the mixture as it filters through the bolsita. She says that this keeps the grounds from getting stuck to the sides of the filter.

Heyner agrees that going slow is best, but notes that brewers should remember that the cloth filter is much more porous than a paper filter would be. As a result, water flows through very quickly, increasing the risk of the coffee under-extracting and creating a weak, watery brew. Heyner recommends aiming for a total brew time of between 3 and 3 and a half minutes.

Heyner and Fabiola both agree that the chorreador is travel-friendly. “You can improvise the coffee stand,” Heyner said. “All you need is the wire and the filter, and you can brew coffee anywhere.”

The Chorreador In Costa Rica

While the chorreador was invented in Costa Rica, brewing coffee with a “sock” is a much more widespread practice. Coffee has been brewed with cloth and fabric filters in countries across Latin America and Asia for centuries.

Both Fabiola and Heyner tell me that although Costa Ricans have adopted electric coffee makers and popular devices like the Hario V60, the chorreador is still used in many homes. Fabiola says: “People still like it because it’s so traditional.”

For Heyner, the chorreador creates a simple and authentic tasting brew that reminds him of his childhood. Many Costa Ricans are first introduced to coffee with this device. “It’s something every grandmother offers you – it’s nostalgic,” he says. 

Fabiola agrees, noting that it’s common for Costa Ricans to pass down knowledge of this brewing method from generation to generation.

The chorreador is a traditional and important part of Costa Rica’s coffee history. Its centuries of use and place in many coffee-drinking families mean that while it might not take the world by storm, it will still remain popular among certain communities in Costa Rica.

Interestingly, brewing coffee with a chorreador (or a cloth filter) also seems to be popular among coffee shops and brewers who are keen to reduce the environmental impact of their coffee habit. 

So, if you’re interested in brewing coffee without paper, or even in experimenting with traditional coffee brewing methods, consider investing in a chorreador stand and a bolsita. If you’re not familiar with it, it could be a unique new experience.

Enjoyed this? Then read What Is A Chai Latte?

Photo credits: Julio Guevara, Neil Soque

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