Before coming to Costa Rica, I never thought about where my food, or drinks for that matter, originated. Market omelets came from market and that was that. Never had I thought about where the eggs, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, onions, or cheese came from. At most, there was a farmer a ways a way who raised chickens and sold them to University of Pittsburgh for my Sunday morning breakfast. Didn’t Common Grounds buy their coffee beans from a Starbucks headquarters? It never crossed my mind how many people dedicate their lives to making sure I am highly caffeinated and awake for my hike to Chevron for an 8 am chemistry lab. Since arriving in Costa Rica, we have ridden the bus past countless coffee plantations and farms, giving me a glance of what I was going to learn in the next two weeks.
Throughout the coffee process, the managers at the different stages have different jobs but are generally are in charge of making sure the operations run smoothly and efficiently. Coffee farms are the very beginning of the coffee making process. Here, the coffee plants are planted, cared for, and then harvested. Managers of coffee farms have many decisions they need to make. We learned that a lot of key decisions made by the management team at the farms are related to sustainability. For example, they need to decide the types of fertilizers, if any, they will use. They also need to make decisions regarding their downstream customers and to which coffee mills they will sell their beans. When the coffee is ready to be exported, the managers sign off on the paperwork. There can be multiple managers or a hierarchy of management depending on the company. At Life Monteverde, there were twelve owners and two made most of the decisions. One specialized in nature and decisions regarding the agriculture, while the other handled the paperwork and logistics.
A common buyer of coffee fruits from coffee farms are coffee mills. At the mills, the fruits are separated, peeled, fermented, dried, and stored. The managers of the mills have very different responsibilities than those of the farms. At the mills, managers are responsible for the paperwork and business partnerships. At Doka, the managers showed us the extensive list of documents they must fill out in regards to exporting their beans. At Coopedota, we learned that the general manager is a member of the cooperation who no longer runs a farm in order to focus on management. The general manager is appointed by the board of directors and is in charge of overseeing all of the processes that take place at the facility and ensuring the partnering facilities are in check.
From the coffee mills, the coffee beans are shipped to the roasters. At the roasting facility, the coffee beans are roasted in ovens of various temperatures for various amounts of time, depending on the final product that the coffee will become. The managers of the roasting facilities are in charge of overseeing quality control of the roasting process. For example, they need to make sure the beans are not over-roasted and do not go to waste. They also must handle the paperwork for the imported coffee and the roasted coffee they will export. Managers of roasting companies have the final say on who the company chooses as their upstream suppliers and downstream customers. After the coffee is roasted, it could be sold from the roasting company as their brand, sold to retail stores and used in blends of various beans, or a combination of both. The management team has the final say in the percentage that is sold from the roasting company and retail store.
At the retail store, managers are in charge of receiving the coffee and from where, hiring the baristas, and making sure the store runs smoothly. The managers are responsible for choosing a roasting company to partner with and receive roasted beans from. To do this, managers must prioritize their values and research where the beans come from, all of the way back to the farms. Some influence in this decision depends on sustainable practices, price, and business relationships. The managers are, again, responsible for filling out the paperwork for receiving the beans and checking the quality. Managers also hire the baristas. They must ensure their workers have great customer service and make coffee properly, whether they train the baristas themselves or send the newly hired workers to a place, such as Coopedota, to have them trained.
Finally, the customer will purchase the ground, whole bean, or cup of coffee. When the manager of the store or roaster opens the business, they should have a target audience in mind. Café Britt’s target audience is tourists, Life Monteverde’s is the local community, Café Rey’s is the Ticos. After the coffee is purchased and inventory is adjusted, the manager’s job is done.
Six coffee tours, five waterfalls, four bags of coffee, three nights in hotels, two weeks, and one study abroad trip later, I am a coffee expert and can’t wait to tell my family about the wet mill process. As an avid coffee customer, I have grown to appreciate more so than ever the entire process of coffee production and the manager’s important duties. This trip has granted me new best friends, a newfound love of sustainability and nature, and a rediscovered appreciation of The Black Eyed Peas. My eyes have been opened to all of the work, thought, and care that goes into my Einstein’s Frozen Caramel Macchiato or Starbucks’ Grande Americano and I will never forget the things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, or the memories I’ve made. Hopefully I’ll see you soon, Costa Rica, but until then, ¡Pura Vida!