Born on the outskirts of an empty motocross field, Finca Rosa Blanca Inn and Coffee Farm is a family’s lifelong dream come true. Thirty years and 30 acres of reforested land later, the fully realized Finca Rosa Blanca has now become a testament to sustainability and regeneration in Costa Rica, most notably for its organic shade-grown coffee.
Located just 30 minutes from San José in the forested hills of Santa Barbara, Finca Rosa Blanca is a pioneer in eco-friendly hospitality. Made up of an all-local staff, the resort boasts a number of impressive achievements for its environmental efforts, including a 5 out of 5 ranking from Costa Rica’s prestigious Blue Ecological Flag Program and a 100% score from the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST).
Just as impressive as its accomplishments is its long list of wonderful amenities. The resort offers daily coffee tours through its shade-grown coffee plantation, bird- and animal-watching tours, ziplining, and farm-fresh Latin fusion cuisine, as well as a dozen other exciting experiences. At the center of Finca Rosa Blanca’s success is its commitment to positive social and environmental impact. We spoke at lengths with second-generation owner Glenn Jampol, who runs Finca Rosa Blanca with his wife, children, and a community of loyal staff.
Why shouldn’t travelers to Costa Rica miss coming to the Central Valley?
The Central Valley of Costa Rica is one of the oldest and most historical focal points of Costa Rican culture. The climate in the Central Valley is superb (National Geographic named one town here as the best climate in the world) with temperatures ranging from the low 80 degrees in the day to high 50 degrees at night, allowing for amazingly comfortable living and exploring. Surrounding the Central Valley are the Coffee Highlands, which yield some of the most spectacular coffees in the world and have a long and rich history of culture and innovation in coffee production. The most iconic cultural symbol in Costa Rica is the beautifully painted oxcart, which was built and used to bring the freshly picked coffee to the marketplace in the towns nearby from the coffee farms that for more than a century surrounded and were an integral part of the city of San José.
Gastronomy and the culinary arts in Costa Rica have evolved quickly over the last 10 years, and travelers should not miss the neighborhoods in San José which provide and serve world-class and original Costa Rican dining. The myriad museums and cultural institutions, including the Museum of Natural history and the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, make the Central Valley a wonderful and exciting destination for anyone looking to explore Costa Rican culture.
Tell us more about El Tigre Vestido, your on-site restaurant, and how the chefs bring Costa Rica’s gastronomic heritage and products grown on the farm together on the plate?
Chef María Cordero Herrera honors Costa Rican culinary traditions and prepares each menu from the freshest ingredients from our organic gardens and local farmers, emphasizing ingredients sourced from Costa Rica. This philosophy is at the heart of our menus, as well as rescuing each flavor and ingredients that our forebears placed on the changing seasons. The concept is to create a complex menu but simultaneously remembering those flavors and textures that are disappearing from our present-day cuisine.
In each seasonal menu you will find unique flavors as well as smoked, slow-cooking in banana leaves, tubers and fruit freshly harvested from our farms, grains, organic and high-quality products, sustainable and artisanal fishing, fresh salads sourced from our gardens, artisanal seasonal ice cream, bringing flavors from our markets to these menus, at the same time rescuing products from each of our provinces, many of which have almost been lost.
We source our fresh ingredients from the organic coffee farm, gardens, and orchards and seek out the fruit and vegetables that the younger generation of Costa Ricans have forgotten and that our guests from other countries have never tried. Our goal is to rescue Costa Rican culinary traditions, while simultaneously revolutionizing the relationship between coffee and cuisine. We have developed tasting menus using the coffee from our farm as well as the flour made from the coffee cherry, which for generations was discarded as unusable.
What food should every traveler try to truly experience the culture of the Central Valley?
The core of the Costa Rican cuisine is the black bean and corn that for generations have been the main staple in any home. Anyone coming here to experience the culture of the Central Valley should try “Gallo Pinto,” which is made of rice and whole black beans, and sofrito: red peppers, onions, cilantro, and garlic sauteed and added to the mix. Enjoyed with or without eggs every morning for breakfast with sour cream, handmade corn tortillas and sauteed ripe plantains.
Finca Rosa Blanca is best known for its incredible 30-acre organic shade-grown coffee farm, but 30 years ago the land looked much different. Can you describe this transformation of both environment and community?
In 1985 when my family purchased the land where the hotel and gardens of Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Farm are now located, it was a motocross field, which had been a coffee farm. Due to the extremely low prices that were being offered for coffee in the early 1980s, many of the farmers surrounding us were forced to sell their farms to speculators and developers because they could no longer afford to maintain them or even pick their coffee. These coffee fields, like most in Costa Rica, were family-owned, small parcels ranging from one acre to several hundred hectares but had been farmed and managed for generations by the same families. The owner of the parcel that my family bought had been forced to rent it to a motocross group who cut and removed all the coffee plants and shade-giving trees (but fortunately not the giant “Higuerones” that still stand today) to try to get enough income to avoid selling the farm. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the motocross concept was not financially viable, and we were able to buy the small farm which had become areas of mud, rollers, and patches of weeds. However, this was beneficial for our vision and dream, as it gave us a “blank canvas” with which we could create and design every inch of the property and create the artwork that is now Finca Rosa Blanca.
Part of our goal was to plant native trees and plants to regenerate the land to its previous beauty as well as to participate in the traditional coffee culture of our town, which is globally renowned for its premium coffees. So, with our naïve dreams, little or no knowledge about coffee, and relying on the help and suggestions of our gardening staff—all of whom had worked their whole lives in coffee fields—we began to plant thousands of coffee plants around the new inn recently opened, to reestablish the missing cultural attributes of the farm.
In 2002, we heard about a much larger farm for sale across the road from our little hotel and we feared that the stunning beauty of the farm would attract speculators who might develop yet more gated communities. Teri, my wife and partner, and I decided to buy the farm on the same day with the goal of protecting it. We dreamed about using the coffee farm as a learning tool, not only for growing organic coffee, but also for reforesting the farm with shade trees, which would have a symbiotic relationship with the coffee, such as the Poró (coral tree).
Over the following many years with the help of our staff, all of whom were from our community, some neighbors, forestry engineers, and our agronomist who was an expert in organic coffee (which was very uncommon, and still is), we planted thousands of native and endemic trees. We also hired many community members to help us create an organic farm following the contours of the terrain to avoid erosion from rain and water runoff; followed by the removing and replanting much of the coffee using organic planting techniques. These helped us create a robust circular ecology and eventually doubled the bird population from 60 to 142 species.
We realized that the work we were doing generated employment, tremendous enthusiasm, and a sense of optimism— not only by our local workers who we hired from our town, but also from the municipality—all of whom acquired a sense of pride about having our forested and organic coffee farm in the community. Over the following years we were presented with several local awards and decrees honoring our work.
You cultivate a variety of beans on your shade-grown coffee farm. How do you choose which types of beans to grow?
When we set out to grow organic coffee on our farm, we were not only looking for a model for sustainable and regenerative organic agriculture but also to produce a very high-quality coffee. In addition to our work as conservationists and ecologists, we also had to learn—through tradition, experiential knowledge, and experimentation—how to improve the “cupping” results of our efforts, which would yield a high-quality cup of coffee. Sustainability, first and foremost, depends upon financial sustainability, and our product was in competition with many other coffees and needed to be of extremely high quality for us to survive as a business and continue our model.
The highest quality coffee varieties that would thrive in our altitude of 1,250 meters above sea level were primarily Caturra, Borbón, and Catuaí, along with some other less common varieties that were available. As the result of many factors, including climate change, Costa Rica suffered—along with most of Latin America—tremendous damage from Roya (coffee rust), a disease that usually requires strong chemical applications to keep it at bay. As an organic coffee farm, we did not want to purchase these damaging chemicals, and they were not permitted in our organic certification, so we had to investigate how we could survive this fungus without potentially losing most or all our plants. The best solution was to purchase the newer hybrids created here in Costa Rica that were resistant to Roya and still produced a very high-quality bean. The most prevalent or promising and of superior quality of these new hybrids is called Obatá, which has shown very little incidence of Roya.
How do regenerative farming methods produce a superior cup of coffee?
Regenerative and organic farming methods do not necessarily produce a superior cup of coffee, but they do foment the robust ecology which is necessary to balance the life cycle and wellbeing of the organisms and life on the farm. As a result of this balance, a symbiosis emerges between the coffee plants, the birds, the microorganisms, and all the inhabitants that make this farm truly sustainable and regenerative. This harmony lowers or eliminates the need for additives, preventatives, herbicides, insecticides, and all the other damaging chemicals that are often used in conventional coffee production. This allows us to give more attention and time into improving the quality of the coffee through financial investment into new technologies, creating superior storage and roasting facilities. We are proud of our extraordinarily high-quality coffee which has gained both a national and international audience.
The quality of Costa Rican coffee is known around the world. In your own words, why is coffee a symbol of Costa Rican heritage?
The coffee culture emerged in the 1800s in most of Central America and brought needed income and farming knowledge to the Costa Ricans, who were already an agricultural society and culture. This product helped finance much of the monuments and construction of Central American cultural icons for San José such as the National Theatre, modeled after La Scala. Because so many farmers dedicated their lives to the growing of coffee, it was passed down from generation to generation, and a large segment of the population was either directly or indirectly influenced by the health of the coffee industry. Many traditions and national holidays were the result of the coffee business, including the remarkable and iconic oxcarts that were painted in brilliant and unbelievably detailed styles in the towns of Puriscal and Sarchí. Events with oxen, religious holiday events, and the Costa Rican relationship to the coffee plant, the land where it was grown, and the foods that the “cafetaleros” (coffee farmers) consumed became important elements in the Costa Rican life. In the 1970s, in order to protect the reputation of the superior coffee that was produced in Costa Rica, the government required that 100% of the coffee grown here had to be “Arabica,” which is the highest quality species of coffee worldwide.
Even today, our town and those surrounding us are lovers of coffee and its history and heritage, and many private citizens like to pick coffee during harvest season with their families as a cultural tradition.
Finca Rosa Blanca is a pioneer in responsible tourism. Why was this part of your vision from the start, and all these years later still essential to your DNA?
We were two of the fortunate people to have attended the University of California at Berkeley in the late ’60s and ’70s. Besides the interesting and historical moments that those of us experienced in that moment in history, we were also the first generation of the 20th century to understand and feel the results of the chaotic direction the world was taking, including the polluting of our air, the environment, and our planet, which was the product of greed and disregard.
For us, it was a moment of unmistakable clarity and realization that, in addition to continuing to be good citizens and stewards of our planet, we also needed to be responsible in our businesses and in our lifestyles. So, when we began the Finca Rosa Blanca project, the dream and the commitment for a responsible path were already dyed and entirely woven into our DNA. We felt that our future and that of our family had to include the reduction of our impact on the earth. We needed to tread responsibly, to participate in our community, and to try to find new opportunities through the technologies and tools that we could learn and then teach our staff, our neighbors, and our guests about our vision and commitment to the wellbeing of the planet. We were dreamers, we were storytellers, and we were optimists. We felt that there were many obvious and logical paths to take in our journey to find the less invasive route. We were slowly but surely gaining a holistic comprehension of the symbiosis between surviving financially as a company while still using the business as a model for others seeking new possibilities and positive methods to reduce their environmental and social impact. It is definitely woven into our DNA and everything we have done since the day we started and even now we look at the future to see where we’re going and commit to the lifestyle of regeneration and reduction.