The Hierarchy of Coffee

As Professor Lizano explained last week, the country of Costa Rica didn’t really appear on the map until the introduction of coffee into their economy. The introduction of this business has greatly benefitted Costa Rica by not only bringing a world-renowned reputation to the Ticos, but also bringing wealth and careful concern to the country. As the coffee industry is booming, standards have been put into regulation to ensure equity for farmers. As explained this morning at the Starbucks estate, the regulations of C.A.F.E (Coffee and Farmers Equity) and the Fair Trade Agreement demand proper wages, environmental practices, and conditions for farmers. Additionally, the practices declare that producers receive 80% of the free on board price. This helps to maintain interest around the coffee producing business for future generations.

However, although Costa Rica remains an icon in the business of gourmet coffee, the Ticos themselves don’t actually receive much of the coffee produced in their homeland. Most of the coffee produced by companies such as Doka and Café Britt is exported to the United States and Europe. What does this leave for the Ticos? 3rd tier coffee.

This afternoon we visited a roasting facility in San Jose, Cafe Rey–the only place we’ve visited thus far that focuses on providing coffee for the locals. In fact, their slogan is “la bebida de los ticos,” or “the drink of the Costa Ricans.” Café Rey roasts their coffee beans in sugar—a process by which previously visited gourmet companies have been clear they do not condone. During our chat with Life Monterverde, one of the guides explained that companies roast with sugar to cover up the flavor of poor quality. This might be the case, as our speaker today avoided the question when prompted to explain Cafe Rey’s standards for producers. This morning, Starbucks made very clear that they refused to buy from producers who didn’t meet C.A.F.E regulations. Café Rey made no mention of these practices.

With that being said, Ticos don’t place the same value on coffee as say, Americans do. Gourmet coffee drinks are very popular in the States as they represent luxury.  Americans have high taste; we place great importance on our daily double-shot-espresso-soy-latte-with-two-pumps-of-caramel. In Costa Rica, coffee is seen more as a commonplace commodity. The Tico’s can’t afford to waste all their money away on cappuccinos with whip. Furthermore, I doubt they would even if they could; they have better priorities. Therefore, it may not be such a bad thing that they receive 3rd tier coffee in their supermarkets. The 1st tier brands simply wouldn’t sell, creating problems for the economy. Plus, the sugar roasting method seems to be working considering Café Rey’s success. More importantly, the Tico’s are happy, so I believe this arrangement will suffice.

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