Tourism is Costa Rica’s #1 moneymaker. Coffee’s #4. Costa Rica’s coffee industry focuses on quality. It’s the only place in the world where it’s illegal to grow anything but Arabica coffee beans. Ruth and I love coffee. That’s why Franco, a new coffee shop in San José’s Bario Escalante, was on our must-do list when we were there recently. Franco turned out to be far more than a coffee seller.
We were warmly greeted by Franco’s co-owner Cesar Madriz. Cesar began instructing us about Costa Rican coffee right away. He provided several examples for us to taste and we bought 2 to bring home. Cesar researched coffee for 8 years before opening Franco. He’s a Tico, the name Costa Rican males call each other, but his business partner Brandon, who works for Uber but is not a driver, is from Kansas City. Cesar, who is a serious traveler, spent Christmas this past year in the United States. He regrets that he missed accumulating snow by 2 weeks.
Coffee is called “the golden bean” in Costa Rica. Bario Escalante is San José’s hot “gastronomic area” according to Tripadvisor, a fan of Franco’s as is The New York Times and Ruth and me.
Cesar gave me a pride-filled tour of Franco’s innovative building, which was a house when Bario Escalante boomed in the 1970s. Cesar opened up the front so its street-friendly and kept the backyard a customer magnet with lots of plants. The house’s rooms are now devoted to coffee lovers, who also appreciate fine food and flowers. Franco is a very inviting space.
For now Cesar serves only coffee from Costa Rica’s Brunca region. Brunca borders Panama and has both coastline and mountains. Its coffee high country ranges from 2,600 to 5,577 feet with an average temperature of 71° Fahrenheit. This is ideal for coffee bean cultivation. Franco’s varieties range from low elevation mild to high elevation sweet, complex and citrusy. Coffee growing began in Brunca’s microclimate perfection in the 19th century when Italians emigrated here and joined locals in bean production. Coffee grows best in cool, high elevations with volcanic soil that has ideal drainage. Coffee beans were already 90% of Costa Rica’s exports by the 1850s. It surprised me to learn that a country producing such superior coffee beans today is not among the world’s top 10 growers. They are Guatemala, Mexico, Uganda, Honduras, India, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Columbia, Vietnam, and #1 Brazil. Over 75 countries grow coffee beans, and Costa Rica’s are among the best.
Franco is opened from 7 am to 10 pm on weekdays. It’s far more than just a delicious coffee seller. Because of Brandon, who works on weekends, Franco specializes in fine, Kansas City style smoked meats. Ruth and I sampled the squash soup, but we could have enjoyed a snack, a sweet from Franco’s bakery Pastel, or tried an unusual entree like yucca with mojo from Franco’s full kitchen. But what really sets Franco apart is its in-house, co-tenant Florist Bromelias. While in Franco you can buy a single rose or a full floral arrangement. Good idea.
Cesar hopes to open a 2nd shop eventually, but for now he’s content to simply thrive at Franco.