Coffee: Tradition vs. Technology

Technological innovation has been revolutionizing industry after industry. Think Amazon drones, self driving Ubers, and even Pancake bots (???). In the food industry, corporations such as Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts have utilized technology such as mobile ordering to improve in store efficiency and cut down time in lines for customers. Yet the coffee plantations I’ve visited thus far in Costa Rica employ fairly traditional methods in coffee production and distribution. I’ll explore the possibilities of technological advancements in the sectors of coffee first, and then respond with plausible explanations for why traditional methods may work better.



New technological innovations such as drones have been used more frequently to decrease human labor hours. In the case of coffee production, drones could be used to spread pesticide, thus reducing the manpower needed to do this job. This could reduce labor costs and allow for increased labor efficiency, as workers could use this time to do work elsewhere.

Going along with the uses of automated labor, producers could replace coffee cherry pickers with automated machine pickers, as picking is one of the most laborious and time consuming sectors of coffee production. This, again, could reduce the need for laborers and reduce labor costs, and improve efficiency.



A viable option, already being employed by distributing pioneers such as Amazon and UPS, would be to use drones to deliver coffee to customers, or even retailers near the end of the supply chain, in small quantities Moving away from drones, 3D printers could also improve efficiency for distributors. In the packaging sector, the introduction of 3D printers could offer opportunities to decrease the time it takes to prepare the packaging, or create packaging out of more sustainable materials, previously not conducive to old manufacturing printers. The new printers could also allow easier creation of prototypes to test out new and innovative ideas, at a lower time and fiscal cost.


Argument for Traditional Methods

As I have learned from visiting the Doka and Britt coffee estates, a general rule of thumb regarding coffee production is that the more machinery is involved, the lower the quality f the final product. While efficiency may be increased with new technology, quality would suffer. In the case of automated cherry pickers, the machines would most likely extract all of the cherries, not just the ripe ones. Cherry picking by hand, although tedious, is necessary to ensure that only the highest quality cherries are being picked. As explained in the Doka coffee tour, the wet milling and sun drying processes are traditional practices that work better than their machine counterparts. Lastly, implementing new technology is expensive; it is a difficult decision to make when it could also negatively affect the product.


Overall, Advancements in technology could have an incredible impact on the efficiency of coffee distribution and consumption, yet it is probably better to produce coffee the old fashion way.

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