Here we are! These past two weeks have flown by, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. Throughout this entire experience, I’ve been looking at everything we’ve learned about the coffee supply chain through a certain lens. Whether we were at a coffee farm, processing plant, roaster, or packaging plant, myself and my group were paying attention to one specific question: how do all these places maximize their sales? Over this entire experience, we’ve visited firms from every channel in the supply chain, and in the end, we’ve been able to develop a much deeper understanding and appreciation of coffee.
During the trip, we visited numerous farms dedicated to growing coffee. While it isn’t harvesting season, we still got to see and learn about the various steps that go into planting, growing, and picking coffee beans. Agriculture as a whole is arguably one of the world’s most necessary professions, and our appreciation for what goes behind each cup of coffee has increased greatly. At all of the farms we visited, we learned about the different measures they took in order to ensure that the beans they were producing would be high quality. Various irrigation tactics and planting methods were shown to us in order to convey how difficult it is to produce a quality product. In terms of selling, I’ve learned just how important these precautions are, because downstream players, such as Café Britt, only want to buy the highest quality coffee beans.
After the beans have been picked, they are transported to a mill, in order to be processed. These mills can either be at the same farm that the coffee is grown at, or they can be at a company such as Coopedota, that imports raw coffee cherries in order to mill. At a mill, the raw bean is peeled, washed, and left to dry, traditionally in the sun. During this process, the mill is responsible for sorting out the highest quality beans (based on density) and based on their preferences, choosing which ones to sell to a roasting facility. I’ve learned that in terms of selling processed beans, the mill has to make sure that the entire sack of coffee beans is standard quality. If a roasting facility doesn’t like even a single sample of one bag in a shipment of hundreds, they will send the entire shipment back. This puts a lot of pressure on the processing facilities because if they wish to prosper in sales, they have to be especially careful in milling.
Coffee’s next stop on its journey is at a roasting facility. Once it has arrived at the roasters, the shipment of coffee will undergo multiple rounds of quality control. As I’ve already mentioned, the low-quality beans will be sent back to the mill. When we visited Café Rey they mentioned that this only happens with less than 1% of shipments. After the shipments have passed quality control, they are then transported to the roasting facility. Usually, a company that roasts also packages and sells a large percentage of their beans, and this gives them the power to choose how long they roast for. A wide variety of consumers are very picky about their coffee, and wont drink anything that’s been over-roasted, like many batches at Starbucks are. In order to maximize sales, coffee roasters usually offer a variety of light, medium, and dark roasts, with multiple “sub-roasts” in each of the above categories, so there is a little something for everyone.
The final step in the supply chain is the one that most casual consumers are most aware of. After being roasted and packaged, everyday coffee can be found in stores, restaurants, or coffee shops to be consumed by the masses. In order to complete the final step in the journey, individual sellers of finished coffee must be able to successfully market the finished product to everyday consumers. This can be done through advertisements, both traditional and online. In addition to ensure repeat customers, these coffee shops and restaurants must make sure to actually brew the coffee to the individual consumer’s satisfaction. This includes very basic precautions, such as not making the coffee too hot, not messing up the order, not spilling it everywhere, etc. Finally, after all the above steps are completed, coffee’s journey from ripened cherry to finished cup of coffee is complete.
Over the course of this entire experience, my personal connection to coffee has definitely improved. I now respect what goes into each cup a lot more, and won’t be able to drink a cup again without visualizing the entire coffee process. I’ve also developed a deeper appreciation for agriculture, and sustainable farming practices. Overall, I would highly recommend Plus3 Costa Rica to anyone who’s interested in not only the global supply chain of coffee, but also those who are interested in how to preserve our beautiful world and how to take care of it for the years to come.