Traditional oxcarts, or carretas, are one of the most prominent national symbols of Costa Rica, and they call back to the country’s long, proud history with coffee. That longevity and pride, as well as quality in work and deed, is the reason we chose the same symbol for our newly expanded office in the capital city of San José: Oxcart Coffee – Cafe Imports Latin America, a full-service import-export operation that allows us to work directly with growers, build better connections, and keep a closer eye on the quality and logistics of all coffee shipments leaving Costa Rica bound for Cafe Imports’ sales offices around the globe.
“We’ve been involved in the coffee industry in Costa Rica for a few years,” says Cafe Imports green-coffee buyer Luis Arocha, who heads up the Oxcart Coffee office alongside green-buyer’s associate Francine Ramirez. “The idea of opening an export company was the next step that makes sense: In previous years we were doing 90 percent of the activities involved [in exporting] but were involved in 100 percent of them. We decided to make this entity so we can register with all the institutions so we can export the coffees we already buy directly from producers, and to integrate the supply chain so we can control quality and be aware and more efficient.”
“Efficiency” is one of the reasons the oxcart is a perfect mascot for this office and the relationships built in it. From the early 1800s all the way until the 1930s, oxcarts were the primary means for producers to transport their coffee from the Central Valley to the coast—a journey that could last as many as 15 days through the mountains but was significantly faster than by foot. The carts themselves were a mishmash of local and Spanish design: Colonizers brought them over to use in harvesting and transportation, but the European-syle wheels snapped and broke over the terrain; soon the spoked wheels were replaced by discs that married the Spanish versions with solid wooden discs of Aztec origin, which could cut through mud and roll over rocks without getting stuck or cracked. To honor the significance of the cart and to show personal and familial pride, producers began painting intricate and often meaningful patterns on their carts and wheels, with flowers and animals, family symbols, landscapes, and pointed stars adoring the carts that cut through mud and dust on their way to the port town of Puntarenas.
That pride and honor in the power and value of producers is another reason the beautiful oxcarts are a sign of this new export venture: “It is focused on being a producer service because we have all the tools as an exporter: We can get credit lines, we can pre-finance, and we can also pay faster the producers because the moment the coffee goes afloat, Cafe Imports can pay through Oxcart. That means that the producer gets paid two or three weeks faster than they used to be.”
Producers will be welcome to use the Oxcart Coffee offices not simply as a place to do the business of selling coffee, but also as a kind of quality hub and resource: Open cuppings, an onsite roasting lab, the ability to get calibrated together in real time, and the space and time to have candid conversations about quality and expectations will make Oxcart a truly special addition to our relationship-building and development efforts in Costa Rica—and beyond.
“Oxcart is a Costa Rican export company, but Cafe Imports is a worldwide company,” Luis says. ”The idea is to be able to share all that knowledge and experience of all of our years with everybody—bringing coffee people and producers to the Oxcart office to create and be more part of the community. The coffee community is growing in Costa Rica and I want to be part of it, seeing us as a hub of experience and tastings. The cuppings will be wide open places, where people can come.”
We invite our customers and producer partners to join us for Open Door cuppings and conversation at the Oxcart Coffee offices in San José, and of course to take a photo of the gorgeous hand-painted carreta mural that welcomes all.
Pura vida, and welcome to the Cafe Imports family, Oxcart Coffee!