Time Really Does Fly

I cannot believe these two weeks are over.  I feel like it was just yesterday that we were getting off the plane and waiting in the long line at customs, but tomorrow is the day we head home.  Throughout these two weeks,  I have learned way more than I expected about the coffee industry, and have a new appreciation for the drink I have with breakfast every morning.  During our visits to the six plantations, my group focused on analyzing the logistical techniques used by each company.  I was shocked by the amount of information we were able to gather related to logistics because it is more of a behind the scenes job.  Now I will discuss how logistics affects every step of the coffee supply chain, from coffee farms to customers.

Logistics affects coffee farms in many ways.  First, companies have to decide where they will get their pickers from.  Doka and Life Monteverde both get their workers from Nicaragua, as do many other farms.  Once a farm has decided where they will get their workers, they will have to decide whether or not they want to provide transportation, housing, and/or more for the pickers.  Doka provides transportation, housing and daycare, and Life Monteverde provides housing for the pickers.  Farms also have to determine how to get coffee seeds.  From the sites we visited, I learned that farms can either grow their own seeds or purchase them from ICAFE.  Both Doka and Life Monteverde grew their own seeds this past year.  Farms will also have to determine how they will transport the beans to the milling facilities.  Life Monteverde and Doka both completed the milling process themselves, so transportation was not a huge issue.  If the farms do not have a milling facility, then they will have to ship the beans and determine who is responsible for the transportation.  Another concern is how to keep the beans fresh during transportation.  Throughout the site visits, I learned that shipping the beans in vegetable fiber bags helps maintain the quality of the coffee beans.

Coffee mills also have to address logistics in many ways.  First, the coffee mills need to acquire the beans.  As stated before, many plantations do both processes, the growing and milling of beans.  If this is the case, then transportation is easy because either a short truck ride or forklift will get the beans from the farm to the mill.  However, if the coffee mills are a different company than the farms, then the issue of transportation arises.  They will have to decide who is responsible for getting the beans from the farm to the milling facility, and whoever is in charge will have to purchase insurance.  Once the beans have gone through the milling process, the company will need to store and then ship the milled beans.  Many companies we observed, such as Café Rey, stored their beans in burlap sacks in order to keep them fresh.  Finally, coffee mills will have to send the beans to the next step of the process, the roasting facility (sometimes the same company mills and roasts beans).  The coffee roaster and coffee mill have to decide who will be responsible for transportation.  If the coffee mill is responsible, it will have to provide transportation and purchase insurance.  This will increase the costs for the mill. 

Another part of the coffee supply chain that must address logistics is the coffee roaster. The first question a roaster has to answer is how it will get the beans.  As mentioned before, the roaster and miller (usually a coffee plantation) will have to determine who is responsible for transportation of the beans.  For example, Café Britt purchases beans from 2,000 small local farms.  If Britt was in charge of transportation, it would be very expensive and tedious.  So, Britt puts the responsibility on the farms to get the beans to the roasting facility.  Café Rey differs from Café Britt in that they are responsible for transportation to the roasting facility.  Logistics plays a large role once the beans arrive at the roasting facility.  First, the roasting company needs to figure out how to store the beans, which can be stored for up to a year if done correctly.  As we observed at Café Rey, the beans are stored in sacks made of vegetable fibers to make sure they stay fresh.  Also, the roasting company puts a label on each sack which states the size and weight of the sack, and when and where it was transported.  This will help determine which beans to roast.  Also, the roaster will have to keep the beans between 8-12% humidity while they are being stored to maintain freshness.  Café Rey did this by putting their sacks on pallets and opening and closing the doors of the warehouse to control humidity.  Another logistical concern deals with packaging the final product.  The roasting company needs to package the final product to ensure it stays fresh all the way to the end user.  Café Britt, for example, uses layered, laminated plastic and aluminum to package their materials in order to let the coffee “breathe” and protect it from light, water, and oxygen.  Once the packaging is complete, the final product will most likely either be stored at the roasting facility, sent to a retailer (or a retailer’s warehouse) or to the end user.  If the packages are sent to a retailer, the roaster and retailer will have to discuss who is in charge of transportation. 

Retailers have to address a logistics in a few ways, such as how they are getting the packaged coffee and whether they have warehouses.  First, retailers need to coordinate with roaster about who is in charge of transportation.  If the retailer is in charge, then this will increase their costs.  A roaster can also be a retailer however, as we observed with Café Britt.  Café Britt roasts the beans and then sells some of them directly to end users, making Britt is responsible for the transportation.  Retailers and roasters also have to determine if they want to have warehouses to store the final packages, and if so where to place the warehouses.  Café Britt told us that they have strategically placed a warehouse in Miami because the United States is a large consumer of their products.  Retailers also have to be concerned with packaging.  Even though the coffee is packaged at the roasting facility, retailers must make sure the packaging keeps the coffee fresh.

The final step in the coffee supply chain involves customers.  When it comes to customers, there was not a lot covered in the site visits about logistics.  However, some roasters sell directly to customers and need to be concerned with the logistics behind transporting the coffee.  For example, Café Britt will deliver to the footstep of a customer’s door if they order online.  Companies like Café Britt who deliver directly to the end user, will have to determine if they will deliver directly to the customer or if they will make the customer pay an additional fee for this.  I think it is really cool that someone in the United States can purchase coffee from a company based in Costa Rica and have it delivered directly to their doorstep.

Before coming to Costa Rica, coffee was just a drink I would occasionally have with breakfast.  However, after learning all about coffee, I have a deeper appreciation for it.  As relating to logistics, I did not realize how much work goes into farming the plantations.  I now have a deep respect for the farmers and pickers as they work hard for about 11 hours a day.  Also, I did not realize how much thought and work goes into packaging and storing coffee at different stages in the supply chain.  Finally, I am impressed with how fast and efficient the process is to turn a coffee bean into the beverage that we drink, and how the quality is maintained throughout the whole process.  My personal connection with coffee has been changed in many more ways than just the logistics behind making coffee.  Whenever I drink a cup of coffee now, I will think about all of the workers and steps involved in making that coffee.  I will ask myself: Were the beans produced by small or large plantations and did the plantations use organic or sustainable methods?  Who was responsible for shipping of the coffee from step to step? What material were the beans stored in at different steps of the process? These are only a few of the questions I will ask myself while drinking a cup of coffee everyday now.  Also, before coming to Costa Rica I rarely drank coffee.  However, after drinking it every day in Costa Rica, I will probably start to drink it every day, even though it will not taste as good as it does here.  I am sad to leave this amazing country, but am thankful for all of the knowledge that I have gained about coffee and cannot wait to go home and teach everyone about the coffee supply chain!

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