Great Expectations or Great Exportations?

Costa Rica has acquired many benefits from coffee exportations taking off. With lots of money coming in from the coffee trade, many people were brought out of poverty. More jobs in the agricultural sector were available and in other sectors when development started taking off. The quality of life and standard of living improved. Better hospitals, better healthcare, better schools and more demand for higher education all became a new norm. Benefits for workers in Costa Rica were and are very good. The Costa Rican government and other organizations implements many labor laws and regulations and makes sure workers are paid well. An increase in income also allowed for the purchase of large consumable goods like cars (having a cool car or bike is very important in Costa Rica). Improved transportation systems now connect the country with many trains and highways (although the rules of the road are sometimes questionable). And, because agriculture put Costa Rica on the economic map, new industries like tourism could bloom.

Many of the Ticos I have met are very proud of their country’s exports, especially the coffee. After all, the Pope just stated Costa Rican coffee is the best in the world. However, I have noticed a slight disconnect. Although the Ticos revere their agriculture—delicious high quality coffee and fruits that taste like candy—they don’t always consume the highest qualities that many of the Costa Rican farms are producing. For example, my Mamá Tica admires how delicious Doka Estate Coffee is, however she doesn’t drink it everyday. She prefers Café 1820, a much less expensive brand that is more of a commodity product than a gourmet product. Another brand admired by many local Ticos is Café Rey. The company has been around for over 50 years. Café Rey is known for its good and consistent quality and traditional flavor. The company’s motto is actually “la bebida de los ticos.” These brands sell mostly inexpensive blends to the locals, not super fancy beans sourced from the highest altitudes of Costa Rica (although an exception is Café Rey’s special Tarrazú coffee).

Maybe some people are unhappy with the country’s exports, but from what I have noticed everyone seems quite content. They always have enough fruits and coffee to go around. The Ticos seem no worse off without the super expensive gourmet coffees. It might be different with other economic classes, but I have seen almost no bad judgements toward exporters. Mamá Tica prides herself on her excellent cooking and for saving up money to go visit the rest of her family in the United States. She doesn’t feel the need to go out and buy super exquisite coffees. In my opinion, if everyone is happy with their products and they are all getting what they need, then there is no need to change.

My Mamá Tica does, however, feel passionately about buying fresh and local food. I have noticed a lot of Ticos have this expectation—that their food and drink will be from their home country. Earlier today, I asked some extra questions at Starbucks. While we were riding around in the buses, I had noticed a one or two Starbucks stores here and there. I asked Don Carlos about the stores. He told me there were 11 Starbucks stores currently in Costa Rica, and the stores were doing very well as far as sales go. Having previously heard a little negativity towards the Starbucks brand, this confused me. Don Carlos explained that the local Starbucks’s were only using Costa Rican coffee beans, and Starbucks was eventually planning to start roasting in Costa Rica. This makes a lot of sense because Costa Ricans care  strongly for their local agriculture. For Starbucks to adjust to Costa Rica, they have to adjust to Tico expectations.

The Ticos don’t expect the absolute highest quality (that’s reserved for the tourists to keep them coming back) but they do have expectations companies must meet to be successful in Costa Rica.

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