What’s Better: Traditional or High-Tech?

Costa Rican culture is extremely traditional. Even at my homestay there are many instances of traditional ways of living that could be updated with new technology. They just choose/prefer not to change the way they do things. I think this attitude is prevalent around the country. I notice that there are a lot of things that could be updated/modified, but remain the same. Honestly, I didn’t know that Costa Rica had the capabilities of creating such high-tech gadgets. It was interesting to see the different technologies they have explored, not only in the coffee industry, but in arts and sciences as well.

In coffee production, there are main stages: harvesting, separating, drying, storing, and roasting. Traditional and innovative methods are used during these stages. Coffee cherries are still harvested by hand. Again, this falls in line with the “this is how things have always been done” attitude. This traditional method insures that only the highest quality cherries are picked from the plant, and that unripe cherries can continue to grow healthily and ripen. Companies are also coming up with new technologies to harvest/grow coffee plants more sustainably. For example, new technologies include shade trees, eco-friendly fertilizers, and exo-friendly pesticides. At Doka, we saw that there is hydro-powered machinery to separate the beans from the cherry, and low-quality from high-quality. The machines have been used for close to 100 years, so this technique is not cutting-edge. However, the machinery is really effective/efficient and eco-friendly. It serves its purpose and is good for the environment. Why would they change it?

After the beans are separated, they must be dried. One traditional method used (the method used most frequently) is drying by the sun. But, there was new technology that was created to decrease the amount of drying time (even though you lose the premium quality of the bean when you use the new technology). Some beans are dried by machines that look like huge clothes dryers. Basically, they just tumble the beans around until they are at the perfect percentage of humidity. This relatively new technology reduces human errors regarding humidity percentages, and speeds up the drying process (hence, making mass production easier/less time consuming).

After the beans are dried, they can either be stored or roasted. Companies will store the beans with the parchment still attached if they want to ship their supply to roasting companies or stock up inventory. If the company wants to produce ready-to-go roasted coffee, they can roast it themselves! The roasting process has new innovations that help reduce human errors and perfect the roast of the bean. This is very important because the different roasts only vary by two minutes. This means one missed minute can lead to a whole batch being ruined.

New technology is key in distribution. The entire supply chain now communicates using smart phones, laptops, video chats, and collaborative databases/programs. If you are not caught up with this new wave of technology, you can’t sell internationally or create sustainable relationships with partners in the supply chain (and if you can, you won’t be very efficient at doing so).

Most Costa Ricans prefer the same tastes. They prefer a light-medium roast, while Americans prefer a darker roast like espresso. Cultural preferences really come into play when companies try to market themselves to a specific region. Companies take into account what the preferences are of specific cultures/regions in order to make them feel like they have a “sense of place” and buy their product (shout out to Café Britt). I think this method is more traditional because you have to dive into the traditional preferences that a market may have. I don’t think this is a new idea, but it works very well. Also, most Costa Ricans still use a chorreado to make a cup of coffee. Sure, they could probably buy a coffee maker or Keurig and save half of the time and effort. But yet again, there is the same attitude of “that’s the way things have always been done around here.” I think this method is superior to Keurig’s or other coffee machines because it extracts the rich flavor out of the ground coffee. Trust me, my host mom makes coffee this way every morning and it is unbelievable. It’s so much better than the new technologies, that I’m thinking of buying one to make coffee back in the US. All in all, I think it’s best to have a mixture of new and traditional technologies in the coffee industry. In Costa Rica’s case, a mixture of the two produces the best coffee in the world!

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