For many travelers, San Jose is merely a stop-over destination before heading out to one of Costa Rica’s famous national parks or stunning surf spots.
However, if you find yourself with a few days to spare after flying into the Juan Santamaria International Airport just outside of the capital, then you can certainly make them count.
This rough diamond of a city can be a great place to re-fuel before you continue your adventure.
As the capital is home to over a quarter of the Tico population, it’s the ideal location to experience a different side of local life and it’s definitely worth a few days of your time.
San Jose Coffee Scene
Despite being a famous coffee producer, you won’t find the coffee shop culture of many big cities here – no people sitting out in pavement cafes sipping a cappuccino and reading the paper in the sun.
But that’s not to say you can’t find an excellent cup of coffee.
Here are some of the places to do just that in San Jose.
Barrio Escalante is a trendy neighborhood around 30 minutes walk from the downtown area. In recent years, its reputation as the place to go for great restaurants, bars and cafes has rocketed.
Head down to Calle 33 and walk along this stretch of road to see why.
There’s a whole host of international cuisines on offer and amongst these, a number of quality coffee shops.
As you join Calle 33 from the Central Avenue, Pandeli is one of the first places you’ll come to on the right hand side. This open fronted coffee shop, bakery and delicatessen offers a mediterranean inspired menu of breakfast, brunch and lunch options.
There’s always fresh bread, pastries and cakes to enjoy alongside a coffee.
Try a Turkish or Arabic coffee if you fancy something different.
Santatere Mercadito Local
Santatere Mercadito Local is more than just a great place to get coffee. Located in Barrio Escalante’s Calle 33, almost opposite Pandeli, it’s also a small local market with a zero-waste section.
You can buy cereals, grains, dried fruits, herbs, spices and more without packaging, as well as artisan soaps, honey, organic fruits and vegetables, beer, wine and more.
This is the place to support local producers through their complete use of local products.
It has a cool vibe with lots of greenery and gourds hanging from the ceilings.
They offer a decent-sized coffee menu including with liquor, as well as a very extensive flavored tea list.
Central Market is truly the place to experience the real Costa Rican city life.
It’s always packed with locals buying fresh produce, homeware and anything else you might need.
The stalls are endless and crammed into this lively maze-like building in the downtown area of the city.
Cafe Central is a well-known stall here, with a reputation for its impressive coffee. You can buy and sample coffee beans roasted right there on the premises.
The owners are more than happy to talk about the origins and characteristics of the different beans on offer from different regions of the country. Definitely worth buying some to take home!
Amongst the hustle and bustle of the noisy downtown area, there’s a quiet sanctuary of a coffee shop and art studio called La Mancha.
When you reach the Levis store in front of you on the main Central Avenue, take a right and you’ll find their entrance into a courtyard on the left hand side.
In this area of the city, you probably won’t be expecting to walk into this old style building with a high glass roof and decorative white archways.
It’s a beautiful space decorated with art, hanging plant baskets and fairy lights.
There’s such an atmosphere of calm and coolness after the noise and heat of the city just outside.
They have their own blends of coffee to choose from, as well as a number of different infusion methods – Chemex, V60, Kalita, Vandola, French press or AeroPress – for up to four cups.
The cakes are also delicious.
Alma de Café
In the busy centre of downtown San Jose, the historic National Theater stands at the side of the Plaza de la Cultura.
Built in 1897, this is as grand as the buildings get in the capital with its columned architecture and marble lobby.
Inside, you will find Alma de Café – a beautiful cafe where you can mix coffee with culture.
With a fancy European coffee house feel, you can marvel the ornate décor and artwork whilst sipping your coffee of choice from the extensive list. There’s a wonderful array of cakes to enjoy or you can have lunch here too.
This is a sophisticated coffee stop option in a grand setting not easily found in the capital.
Café Miel Garage
If you’re looking for a sweet treat, Café Miel Garage is the place for you.
Located in the Barrio Otoyo neighborhood, it’s a short walk from the main museums of the city center. They say they do not just sell coffee, they sell an experience.
Their iced coffees are desserts in themselves – extravagant flavor creations including chocolate, biscuits, cream and ice cream. If that’s not enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, there’s an array of delicious cakes to purchase too.
If iced coffee is not your thing, there are the usual hot coffees you’d expect, as well as their own inventions such as their honey and cinnamon cappuccino.
Coffee In San Jose, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s coffee history is as deep and rich as the taste itself.
Before tourism, this was the main industry and the country is still one of the most important and acclaimed producers in the world.
You don’t need to worry about the quality of coffee available but it might take a little effort to find the perfect setting to enjoy it.
Here in San Jose, with a little exploring you can uncover the city’s hidden charm.
These are some fantastic independent coffee houses, providing the perfect atmosphere to accompany your caffeine kick.