Britt Shops  is the number one travel book retailer in Costa Rica , with 42 outlets that sell a wide range of English-language guidebooks, coffee-table books, and nature- and culture-themed guides.
Unless you’re arriving overland (which I doubt), your very first impression of Costa Rica may well be of Café Britt, the gourmet coffee and coffee-goods purveyor whose presence is now as synonymous with the nation as marimba music  and the traditional painted ox-cart .
Café Britt dominates San José ’s Juan Santamaría International Airport  with its El Cafetal emporium occupying prime space alongside two smaller Britt Shops, plus numerous espresso stands where passengers can get complimentary cups of freshly brewed gourmet coffee. Since the airport handles more than 2 million passengers a year, that’s great traffic passing through the three retail stores selling coffee- and Costa Rica-related merchandise, from jewelry and handicrafts to a huge range of Café Britt chocolate-candies and shelf after shelf of gourmet coffees, coffee liqueur, etc. in addition to magazines and books.
From the moment you arrive to the moment you depart, Café Britt is ubiquitous day by day, thanks to free sample coffees (and colorful tourist pamphlets) distributed in hotels and other tourist venues (and even on flights operated by Grupo Taca ). Guaranteed, even the ready-to-use coffee packets next to the coffee-maker in your hotel room will also be Café Britt.
Within the past decade ago, many Costa Rican hotels and tourist attractions that once operated their own gift stores have since realized the advantage of partnering with Café Britt. Today the rapidly-expanding company operates more than 40 shops throughout Costa Rica. Many are in the top hotels. Others are at the Rainforest Aerial Tram , Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort  near Arenal Volcano , and similar top Costa Rican attractions. See the Britt Shops locations website  for all the individual venues.
Café Britt—which now has 92 Britt Shops in nine countries, plus coffee-roasting and chocolate-making operations are based in Costa Rica, Peru and Mexico—even has two stores in Miami International Airport , as well as throughout Chile , Peru , Mexico , Antigua & Barbuda , Curacao , Dominican Republic , and New Caledonia  in the southwest Pacific Ocean .
Bronx-born former coffee-broker Steve Aronson , 64, who founded Café Britt in 1985, has grown his company into a $60 million operation thanks, not least, to his genius marketing vision and an eye for untapped upper-end niches. Take the airport’s El Cafetal…
"When you walk into the store, you feel like you're in a shade-grown coffee field," says Steve of El Cafetal, with its eight artificial shade trees, a fountain, and a 40-foot-long mural of a coffee plantation.
Speaking of the plantation…
Café Britt’s trademark CoffeeTour —a theatrical tour of its coffee plantation and processing plant tracing coffee’s history and production cycle, given by professional actors and actresses in traditional 19th-century Costa Rican costume—is not only educational and fun: It’s also a brilliant marketing tool that generates brand loyalty among the 50,000 people who annually take the tour, which ends with a sampling of gourmet roasts and chocolate-covered coffee candies.
Among the things tour participants learn is that Café Britt is one of the few coffee retailers worldwide that grows, harvests, roasts and ships its own coffee direct from its country-of-origin organic plantations to customers' doorsteps—hence its trademarked "from the plantation to the cup" tagline.
The goal? To create a memorable experience so that you’ll remember Café Britt and continue buying the brand via mail-order long after your Costa Rican vacation has ended.
In fact, despite the ever-expanding retail store presence, Café Britt sells the bulk of its retail organic coffees on the Internet for shipping almost anywhere in the world. Retails sales in Costa Rica account for only about 40 percent of sales, sales Steve, who in 2009 passed the reins of the company to his 36-year-old son Philippe (Steve now concentrates on environmental and educational philanthropy, not least his ProParques  project to assist Costa Rica’s struggling National Parks system).
The bulk of sales are to mail-order customers plus export to companies such as Seattle's Best Coffee . (Café Britt once supplied to Starbucks , but no longer does so… perhaps because the former has grown so large that it now competes with Starbucks in the best-name-brand stakes.) In fact, so much coffee is shipped abroad via DHL  to Café Britt's more than 30,000 loyal "Coffee Lovers Club"  customers that DHL featured Steve in commercials that aired in Latin America.
So next time you’re in Costa Rica, be sure to call in at a Café Britt store… and while you’re there be sure to buy the latest edition of Moon Handbook Costa Rica . Several other Moon guidebooks to destinations relevant to Café Britt will also be available in Britt Shops's 92 retail outlets.
If you're traveling only to San José and the Caribbean, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast  pocket guide.
If you're traveling only to the beaches of Nicoya, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula  pocket guide.
If you're traveling only to Arenal and/or Monteverde, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Arenal&Monteverde  pocket guide.
Learn more about Christopher P. Baker .
Disclosure: I occasionally accept free or discounted travel when it coincides with my editorial goals. However, my opinion is never for sale. The opinions you see in Cuba & Costa Rica Journal are my unbiased reflection of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker