Now that the trip is over, it’s time to analyze everything I have learned about logistics in the coffee supply chain. It has been an awesome two weeks of learning and experiencing.
1. Coffee farms
The first step in the supply chain of coffee is the coffee farms. The logistics at the farm have to do mostly with the cherries and the workers. The farmers will first need to get the seeds to plant the trees. This can come from Icafe or perhaps a previous harvest. The farmer then needs to get workers to work the land and take care of the trees. Most farms get workers from Nicaragua during the harvest because it is only for a few months and then they can go back home or somewhere else where another crop is ready for harvest. Most of the farms provided housing for the workers on or near the plantation so that the transportation wasn’t a big issue. They got them there and then they stayed, and some companies even provided daycare for families of the workers The farmers need to keep track of lots of information about the trees and the harvest. They need to know or be able to tell when the trees were planted because they provide the best harvest for a few years and then it is best to cut and back and let knew branches grow to again get good harvest. They also need to keep track of how much each worker collects every day in order to pay them properly. A good worker collects about 20 cajuelas a day. They should also record the percentage of the crop that is collected which is actually ripe and red. This information will be important for communication with the workers, with the buyers, and data Icafe collects. The next logistical step is transporting the beans to the coffee mills. The beans need to be processed right away to stay fresh so they are typically transported by truck to the nearby mill everyday at the end of the day. Some of the farms we visited had their own mill, or the cooperative had a large mill for all the farms. The ones that have their own mill save money with regard to transportation and reduce carbon emissions. However the large mills will be able to be more efficient by saving water and saves the farmers the money and hassle of having their own.
2. Coffee mills
The logistics at the coffee mill have to do with get the beans through each step of the process. Many farms use wet mills so the beans are transported between steps via water canals. They must be separated by density and size. The bean then has the husk get removed by friction and ferments. After that is is dried, so workers will need to transport it out to the patio to sun dry and rake it periodically to turn it over and dry it evenly. Or they can move it to the ovens to dry it. The farmer needs to ensure it’s humidity level is about 11%. The data about the amount of beans and qualities (like humidity level) will need to be communicated to the coffee buyers. Next the beans need to be transported to the coffee roasters. The beans can be stored at the mill after they are dried in sacks made of vegetable fiber. This enables the green beans to breathe and stay fresh. The farmer and roaster will come to an agreement about who is responsible for the transportation of the beans. Sometimes the farmers were responsible for delivery and would get insurance to cover the shipment. Other times the roasting company would be responsible for getting the beans and would need to get the insurance to cover it.
3. Coffee roasters
The green coffee beans are shipped in the burlap sacks in a container lined with paper to protect them. This was typically via truck. Some coffee roasters got the beans from small local farms to reduce the cost of transportation and decrease carbon emissions. However to make the different flavor blends, some roasters get beans from the eight different regions in Costa Rica which could be a lot of transportation but is worth it for the desired quality. Once it arrives at the roastery it is typically stored in a warehouse. This allows the company to regulate how much they want to make at a time, depending on the market and the orders they receive. The quality of the beans in each bag is checked when it arrived to ensure they received the product they paid for. In the warehouse they stay in the burlap sacks in stacks on pallets to enable air flow in case it is humid. To control humidity in the warehouse they can open and close the doors and move the beans closer or farther away from the door. At the roasting plant the beans are roasted for different lengths of time depending on the type of roast (light, dark, medium), humidity, and amount. The company needs to keep track of the beans and which type they are in order to make the proper blends. The beans are then cooled and possibly grinded. The roastery is also responsible for then packaging the coffee. In order to keep the coffee fresh they use specific materials. Cafe Britt used plastic and aluminum with one-way valves to enable the coffee to breath but not get contaminated. Cafe Rey used similar layered laminated metallic packaging with one way valves. The packages are then sometimes places in cardboard boxes and loaded up for shipment in a truck. Once and agreement about the sale is made, the data about the amount being exported and the price must be communicated to ICafe.
4. Retail stores/baristas
To get from the roaster to the retail store is another logistical step. A contract is typically made about the purchase to specify conditions and requirements. Some roasters were responsible for the shipment getting to the destination so they use an exporting company and get insurance. Sometimes the retail store is responsible for the shipment and they are the ones who need insurance. Other times the possession of the product transfers somewhere in the middle like at the sea port and so they are each responsible for a part of the shipping. It is important to track the product and communicate via email. Cafe Rey sold mostly locally so they just had a man in a truck go deliver it every week to the stores and fill out the paperwork when he got back. Once the retail stores get the coffee, they should put it on the shelves right away. The coffee should be taken off the shelf after about three months because it won’t be as fresh anymore. At a coffee shop it could be sold as fresh coffee or prepared by a trained barista. The store should keep track of the sales to communicate it back through the supply chain and to ICafe. This is necessary to keep track of the market and determine how much money everyone gets.
The final step in the process is the customers purchasing the coffee, whether at a retail store, coffee shop, or elsewhere. This is important to logistics in the supply chain because this is where the money comes from to send back up the chain through each stage all the way back to the farmer. The customer will also make opinions about the product and information about the quality of the coffee will also be sent back up through the chain to each step and finally the farmer. The money and information about quality is important because praise about good coffee and the income is what the farmers and the roasters and everyone needs to continue making coffee. If they didn’t get paid or the coffee was bad then they would not be able to support themselves and would have to stop making coffee. So the customer is important because it is why the whole thing happens and enables the process to start over and over again.
My New Relationship with Coffee
First of all, I am now addicted to coffee, which is probably not good for me but will be good for everyone else in the supply chain to get more money. I am also now a snobby coffee drinker because I have tasted gourmet coffee and don’t really want burnt bland coffee at a fast food place or something anymore. Although I will probably always have a weakness for things with lots of sugar or frappuccinos (though nothing will beat the one made by the barista at Coopedota). But actually I appreciate coffee much more and analyze much more than just the taste. I now think about the work and processes that go into it. I will wonder whether it was made at a small farm or a big one, whether it was processed in a wet mill or dry mill, and whether it was sun dried or put in an oven. I will also how far the beans had to travel and if they were blended with ones from different roasts. I will give credit to the farmers, pickers, truck drivers, roasters, and everyone in between and above making decisions. Also learning about the supply chain and doing this project taught me more about business in general and the many things involved. I hope to apply my ability to see the big picture to my engineering career. I think I have enhanced my skills at analyzing why things are done a certain way or thinking of improvements. I hope as a chemical engineer I will be able to plan out efficient sourcing, storage, and delivering logistics because that is important for every process and company. Maybe I can even be a chemical engineer for a coffee company and return to Costa Rica. Who knows? The world is full of opportunities and things to learn, and I am grateful for what this trip has taught me.