Is Café Britt really lit?

Today, we ventured to Doka Estate and Café Britt to start learning about coffee. The respective coffee plantations and roasting facilities were quite different. While Doka Estate is a medium sized family-owned coffee plantation focused on growing good quality beans and exporting the majority of those beans (they only roast about 5% of their crop themselves), Café Britt has a radically different business model. Café Britt describes itself as a roasting company, but it’s really much more of a large corporate marketing force. Café Britt excels at selling its products and its name. The best way I can describe the Café Britt experience is the coffee version of Hershey’s Chocolate World; Britt has actors, props, dancers, even a “plantation.”

Café Britt was the founder of the first coffee tour in Costa Rica in 1989, and has been oriented towards exportation and tourism since the company started in 1986. Over time, Britt expanded its products and brand by selling chocolate and opening private retail stores in airports in multiple different countries. The company makes a huge effort for an outstanding first impression and be a name many tourists are exposed to. The employee from Café Britt explained that they use this model because tourists are more willing to pay more for the fancy gourmet coffee Café Britt sells. Coffee used to be a commodity in Costa Rica, and that sentiment continues to endure. When I asked my Mamá Tica what kind of coffee she buys, she said she didn’t like Café Britt (and even Doka although she acknowledged how good their coffee was) because the fancier coffees are too expensive.

Café Britt’s measurement of success is, in my mind, best explained by the company goal: “We satisfy the customers tastes and exceed expectations with authentic and innovative goods. Our entrepreneurial and flat organization respects the environment and adds value to shareholders.” They sell the Café Britt image to the customer with impeccable design, innovative products, and environmental certifications. Britt has beautifully designed packaging and retail stores, specifically modeled for each type of coffee and country in which it sells (“sense of place” approach). It is constantly innovating with new ideas like capsules of coffee. And, it is attempting to go green by encouraging organic coffee, meeting requirements of the different materials for Costa Rican Rainforest certifications, and repurposing it’s old packaging into purses and furniture.

The high quality roast Café Britt holds itself to also adds to its success, and is an essential part of the making process. Café Britt has a high tech tasting lab in which professional tasters have to train for at least five years to work in. They work on making the perfect blends and flavors. It’s a difficult job since coffee has over 800 different aromas, and they must measure multiple different qualities of coffee. Café Britt must source its coffee from specially picked out locations to get the ideal tastes it wants. Café Britt works very hard at maintaining their reputation for quality.

I love Café Britt’s dedication to marketing and high quality, but the retail stores and overdramatic tours make me a little nervous. To me, it feels very overdone, but I also might feel this way because I visited Doka before Britt. I think getting too touristy could—too many slothhats with “Costa Rica Pura Vida!” splattered all over it in rainbow colors—could start to dig into the brand value. I think Britt could benefit from taking steps back from the retail or not taking it any further. However, their new fancier store models could be very good for selling a more “expensive” brand and quality.


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