The past two weeks have exposed me to more coffee than I have been in my prior 18 years. I have seen six different coffee plantations and learned almost everything there is to know about how coffee is first planted to when it finally arrives in the consumer’s hands. I now have a deep understanding of how the coffee supply chain functions and specifically, how it relates to my topic of making coffee.
The first stage of the supply chain happens at the coffee farms. This is where everything starts and the coffee is first planted. But, from what I have seen, this is not as simple as just planting the coffee and waiting for it to grow. Many factors go into a good coffee environment such as altitude, weather, soil, sun exposure, and many more. Once a region that meets all the criteria have been found, another key aspect is needed to produce a good coffee plant. This is tree cover and the need to reforest. The main reasons that this is important are shade, wind-breaking capabilities, and the increase in biodiversity these trees bring. The shade is important because this allows enough sunlight to get to the coffee plant but not enough to allow weeds to grow. This means that the farm needs to use less herbicides which leads to a higher quality crop since chemicals are not used. The wind-breaking that the trees do block the spread of fungi that can travel throughout the farm. This, as seen with the shade, decreases the amount of chemicals needed for the plant. The biodiversity increase that the reforestation brings creates a more sustainable environment for the coffee to grow in and will lead to a higher quality product. In terms of making, this is where it all begins. This first step of the process is essential because the quality of the crop that is produced here will carry into all future steps and determine how well the end product tastes.
After the coffee has been grown on the farm, it is then transported to the mills for the next stage of the process. The coffee first needs to be separated after being picked to ensure that only the best coffee moves on to be roasted. There are two types of ways that the coffee is sorted. The first is by density. This is done in a large chamber that is filled with all the coffee beans and then filled with water. This is done so that the ripe coffee beans will sink to the bottom and continue on in the milling process while the unripe ones will rise to the top and be taken out. The next factor to distinguish between is size. The way that this is done is by using a series of filters that sequentially catch the larger cherries in each filter. The cherries are then moved on to be dried. This is done by either sun drying or the use of machines. Many of the companies said that the sun drying method gave a truer flavor but took almost double the time. I learned that this stage of the making process has the potential to thrive in sustainability. One way that this is done is by using the same water throughout this process and then sending this water back to the farms to be used for irrigation. This ensures that no form of other power is necessary and only one batch of water is needed to get through this stage which is very environmentally sustainable. Also, the economic aspect of this is seen as no other power sources are needed to use if the farm chooses to sun dry. Once the coffee cherries are dried and stored, they are ready to move on to be roasted.
The roasting is where the magic happens with the coffee. I have seen that there are many ways to make a high-quality roast that can range from a light roast, the shortest amount of time, to a dark roast, the longest amount of time. Each type of roast is done in a precise amount of time to produce the flavor of coffee the company is shooting for. The beans that will end of making a specific type of blend enter the roaster together which is an oven like machine where they are heated and spun around. I noticed that a very sustainable aspect at this stage of the making process. Before being roasted, the parchment is still on the coffee bean. But, to be roasted, this parchment is removed and then used as fuel to power the roasting machines. This is both environmentally sustainable as the byproducts of the coffee are not going to waste and economically sustainable as alternative forms of energy do not need to be purchased. This is one of the final steps of the making process and is arguably the most important because this is where the coffee comes to be made into what is sold to retail stores or directly to the consumers.
After the coffee is packaged, it is ready to be sold at retail stores or to be made by baristas. I have learned that getting the coffee to these downstream consumers is just as vital as making the coffee. Also, the presentation of the coffee, brand, and store is extremely important. This is because a company could make the best coffee in the world, but if they do not have proper ways to transport and effectively market their coffee, the whole process was pointless. In addition, the way the coffee is presented in some cases is also as important as the product itself. I witnessed this firsthand at the Coopedota barista lesson. This allowed me to see just how precise and intricate a person must be to present coffee in a delectable way. Regarding the making process, this is where it all culminates. All of the steps that have been taken previously all come together to present one product that the consumer will ultimately purchase.
The final stage in the coffee supply chain is us, the customer. This is what all of the behind the scenes action has built up to. The customer is the one that everything is geared towards and is every company’s top priority. I have experienced the extreme dedication to marketing and attempting to sell to the customers by many companies along this trip. In general, I have a newfound dedication to all of the work that goes towards marketing and making the customer have a desire to buy the coffee. In terms of making, I believe that the customer section of the supply chain is the reason the making process is so important. This is because many customers have certain wants and desires of their coffee and a specific making process can be aimed towards these to target certain audiences.
I feel that my personal relationship with coffee has definitely grown along this journey. Before this trip, I rarely drank coffee and did not know much about what went into the coffee making process. Now, I am fully aware how the coffee supply chain functions and the sustainability measures that are used throughout Costa Rica. Also, I have gotten the chance to taste some of the best coffee in the world and now have a better understanding as to why so many people around the world love and drink coffee.