Many coffee intermediaries in Costa Rica, like Café Britt, focus on delivering high-quality coffee to their consumers. So much so, that if a coffee producer doesn’t deliver on the certain quality that a buyer wants, they can be rejected. Today, we learned that if a producer gives Café Rey a bad batch of coffee, or something with a lower-grade quality than what Café Rey was expecting, they will send it back with no cost. Our tour guide explained that the producers know what they’re doing. They sign contracts that they will get the same exact coffee that they “cup” (aka taste test). The seller knows this agreement. Delivering anything other than what was agreed upon is not acceptable in this trade. This expectation is present throughout many coffee supply chains. This expectation allows for the highest-quality coffee to be exported and consumed. Therefore, one of the benefits of Costa Rican coffee production is the quality of the product. However, since this coffee has one of the highest qualities in the world, it comes with its disadvantages.
Many countries want Costa Rican coffee because of it’s incomparable taste, body, and aroma. Coffee corporations want to keep up with this demand, so they export it. What does this leave local Ticos with? Lower grade coffee. I was thinking about why this is the case (because it’s the topic of our blog post and I genuinely want to know). Are Ticos okay with it? Earlier on this trip, we were informed that Ticos see coffee as a commodity. Until Café Britt changed their displays, coffee was barely marketed in Costa Rica. Most companies figured that it didn’t make a difference to specialize their packaging. If Costa Ricans weren’t interested in gourmet/premium coffee, why create those costs? I would be curious to know what Costa Ricans think about this dilemma. Are they content with getting just an average cup of joe? Do they want premium coffee? My impression, thus far, is that Ticos don’t really care to buy premium coffee. I think they deserve to have the highest grade coffee in the world, since that is what their country produces. But, coffee being viewed as a commodity has been Ticos’ perception for a long time, according to Café Britt.
More specifically, I asked Starbucks Estate about how much supply they take from local producers. Don Carlos explained that they don’t take 100% of the supply from Costa Rican producers, unless they want Starbucks to purchase all of it. On the other hand, Starbucks has contractual agreements. For example, they have contracts with Doka and Tarrazú to supply them with a certain amount of coffee each year. Usually, the contracts last 1-3 years. Don Carlos explained that Starbucks didn’t want to force the small producers to give up all of their supply, and so they allow them to choose the percentage. This way, local Ticos are left over with the amount that they choose. In my opinion, this is a strategy to take the blame off of Starbucks hands. If the Ticos would want to argue the gourmet coffee supply, they would have to take it up with their local producers and not Starbucks (since Starbucks “allowed them to choose”).
In conclusion, I don’t think that Ticos mind not having “premium” brands/coffees available in mass quantities in their local market. I believe that the Tico culture has a lot to do with their preference for traditional, average quality coffee. Café Rey explained that most Ticos enjoy the “Tradicional Café.” This blend includes lower quality coffee beans and sugar. This method of mixing coffee and sugar was traditionally used to save money. Adding sugar to ground coffee is basically the equivalent to watering down a drink. Even though this version isn’t gourmet and transparently has lower quality beans, Ticos still prefer it. That being said, Ticos deserve the high quality coffee that their country produces, but frankly, they don’t want it.