Over these past two weeks we have learned about every step, process, and aspect in coffee growing, milling, roasting, selling, and buying. Costa Rican culture, industry, and environment all play an enormous role in the coffee industry. In my case, I focused heavily upon how each aspect of the coffee industry in Costa Rica sources the products they need. Without being able to buy the products they need, the coffee industry in Costa Rica would be impossible. It is from buying that all other steps in the coffee process are made possible.
On the actual coffee farms there are a myriad of things they must buy in order to achieve a successful growing season. The first is the physical: fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, water, labor, and other necessities for growing in Costa Rica. Sourcing fertilizers can be done either on site through compost or buying it through a vendor. Herbicides and pesticides are often bought through the ICAFE or another vendor. Water, being scarce during the dry season, is often sourced from high elevation places and then pumped into the farm for irrigation. Labor often comes from other Latin American countries supplying their migrant workers. The non physical things the farms need come in the form of information. The ICAFE gives farms this information that is obtained through experimentation and laboratory work. The ICAFE studies climate, soil chemistry, water chemistry, pathology, and other factors that have an impact upon growing. The ICAFE then distributes this information through a text messaging system and the farmers can buy other things in preparation for the changes coming in the growing season.
After the coffee is grown it is off to the mill where it can be processed for roasting. These coffee mills in Costa Rica almost always buy their coffee beans directly from local coffee farms. In some cases, the coffee mills are actually at the farms where the beans are then directly milled from the field. Other things the mills need, such as equipment or labor, are bought from specific companies that provide the necessary equipment or local Costa Rican workers to work in these mills.
Once the coffee has been milled, it is time to be roasted and exported. Buying the things the roasters need is very similar to what coffee mills need: labor, beans, equipment, packaging, and transport. Buying the coffee, labor, and equipment is nearly identical to the mills. Often roasting and exporting is done where the milling is done. Labor comes from local workers. Beans come from mills. Equipment is from similar companies that provide industrial machines. Packaging often comes from a specific company that sells these products. Packaging is often bought from these companies as the roasting plant can not manufacture these things. The transport of these goods is often achieved by buying trucks for delivery or buying a membership to online systems that track the delivery of beans in shipping containers that leave on shipping boats.
After all of this it is time it is headed to retail stores. It is at these retail stores, such as a grocery store or Starbucks, where the roasted and packaged beans finally arrive after going through the long process. These retail stores obviously need to buy the final product, the roasted and packaged coffee. This product comes from the roasters and shipping companies. Not only this, but the retailers need advertisements for this coffee. Buying these advertisements is essential for getting the message that they have authentic Costa Rican coffee. Buying the coffee and advertisements gets the coffee to its final destination: customers.
Since the customers are the final place to reach, they buy only the final product: the coffee to consume. This final product is the culmination of countless hours, people, and researchers that make this entire process possible. The bag of coffee that you buy from the store is the result of hundreds of years of tradition and care that have turned the brand of Costa Rican coffee into such a renowned staple of people around the world. These two weeks have completely shifted my understand of how coffee is made. By looking into the lives of farmers, the processes of companies, and the struggles and solutions at every step, my entire definition of coffee has completely changed. Never again will I thoughtlessly drink a cup of coffee. Every time I think about coffee I understand what it truly takes for it to reach me. This trip has taught me invaluable life lessons: how to be a international student, sometimes it takes a trip of thousands of miles to meet people you have class with, and the underlying processes of nearly everything we use, especially coffee, goes much deeper than we realize. My personal relationship with coffee will forever be changed, coffee is more than a drink to me now. Thanks for reading, can’t wait for the next time. ¡Pura Vida!