As we learn about the coffee industry, we also have to think about how it will adapt and change with the development of advanced technology. What we are learning about the process on this trip could be very different in even 10-20 years. The democratization of technology will allow coffee producers and distributors to use things like automation, drones, and technology.
In the first stage of the coffee process, automatic machinery could be used to prepare the soil and plant the seeds. To harvests the berries, I feel like it would still be superior to use the original method of workers with baskets. The reason for this is because of how complicated the harvest is. The workers have to go to each individual plant and pick only the red coffee cherries. They do not all ripen at the same time so they have to go through multiple times and make sure to pick the ripe ones which will make the best coffee. They do this by hand and collect it in a basket. The workers are efficient and work quickly because they are paid for how much they collect. I think generic automatic machinery harvesting methods won’t work because it does not all ripen at once, and you can’t ruin the coffee trees because they can give a good harvest for twenty years. Robots would have difficulty going through the terrain. A drone with a basket attachment could possibly scan for color and pick red berries, but the problem is still worrying about conditions. It may be difficult to navigate a drone carefully between the trees and branches without damaging it. Also technology is not always resistant to the heat, humidity, and rain of the Costa Rica environment. Additionally it would need to have enough power to last long. Eventually we may improve technology to be able to efficiently harvest the coffee, but I do not believe we are close enough yet that it would be worth replacing the workers. Furthermore, one has to consider the economical effect of taking away so many jobs. So planting could be improved with technology but I think it is better if harvesting is not.
After harvest, the coffee goes through the wet mill process to sort the beans, allow them to ferment, and dry. It is possible that the wet mill process could be replaced with more automation but in my opinion the wet mill process is still efficient enough and it produces good coffee. After learning about the process and talking with professionals I learned that with coffee, taking shortcuts reduces the quality. Sorting by size and weight could be replaced by more advanced machinery but I do not think it is necessary because I think it is good that the coffee is in the water through the process. Then it needs to stay in the water to ferment. For drying it could be done in the oven or out in the sun (being raked by workers). In the oven is faster but not better. So I think it is good to keep the method of drying in the sun. I’m sure some type of robot/machine/drone could be designed to rake and flip the beans but that must be decided by the coffee farmer if the investment into the technology and displacing the workers is worth it. I don’t think it would be, once again because technology is not yet good in all conditions and therefore might not be reliable.
I do believe that the roasting process needs machinery and could be run efficiently with robots. The machines could be set to run for different amounts of time to get the light, medium, and dark roasts. The robots could combine to form the blends that are sold (like breakfast blend and house blend). Then the packaging process could definitely be advanced with technology. 3D printing could be used to make the packaging and containers with the right materials to store coffee. The package could be designed to look appealing to the customer and the containers could be designed by engineers to ensure safe transportation.
Distribution of the coffee could also be improved with automation. Before we know it, trucks and even boats could be driving and navigating themselves to deliver products from place to place. Then drones could drop off the coffee that a customer ordered online right on their doorstep. None of this technology is perfect yet, but that future is in sight. Again, one would have to consider the cost of the advanced technology and the fact that they are taking away jobs, but it is likely companies will start to run this way.
Finally, technology can already been seen in our consumption of coffee. Coffee machines and keurigs prepare it for us. I can even get a bottle of starbucks frappuccino in a vending machine. Robot could one day make the drinks in coffee shops, and maybe even 3D print your personal cup. The possibilities are endless, the question is whether that is what we really want.