Over the past two weeks, I have learned more about coffee and Costa Rica than I thought was possible. The impact that the coffee industry has had on the Tico culture is amazing because the industry has shaped the way Costa Rica is today. Even though coffee is no longer the main industry for the country, it still affects the lives of the Ticos every day. For my project, I focused on the logistical side of the production of coffee. Logistics are often an overlooked yet very important part of any business, so it was interesting to see what the different companies did to improve efficiency. Overall, the process of producing coffee is pretty standard, but the way that the coffee flows from being just a tiny seed to the cup of coffee you drink every morning varies from company to company.
To fully understand this process, we need to start with the farming process. When the seeds are first planted, they are put into small individual containers in order to properly develop for a few months. Then in order to save space in the fields, farmers plant the baby plants in pairs of twos to further develop. After nine months side by side, they are finally planted in the fields. The plants take about two to three years after that to fully develop, and the coffee beans are picked. There are two different ways the beans could be picked: by hand or by a machine. Most companies have their beans picked by hand in order to ensure that they are red and ripe. If they were to use a machine, there would be no way to tell if the beans are ripe, so the coffee would not be as good in quality. The beans are then transported by truck to the mill in which they will be prepared to be roasted. This stage of the farming process is widely varying throughout the industry. For example, Doka Estate is a large enough company that they own their own mill and trucks. This eliminates any extra costs to hire an outside trucking company to transport their beans to the mill. In contrast, a cooperative such as Coopedota which uses over 900 small local farms to receive its coffee beans, has the local farms use their own trucks or provides their trucks to the farms. This process is a little more complex because there is a great amount of uncertainty as to how the beans are being transported to the central receiving area. Coopedota also has a few small collection facilities throughout the area to make it easier for farmers to transport their beans, but again, this complicates the process and leaves more room for error.
Once the beans arrive to the mill, they are put into bins called cajuelas which are equal to one bucket picked by a worker in the field. They then fill another separate bin called a fanega with ten cajuelas; this fanega is then dumped into an empty water tank to begin the sorting process. Once all of the coffee beans are put into the empty water tank, they allow water flowing down the mountain to fill the tank. The coffee beans that float are considered to be a lower quality and are automatically sent to a separate chamber in order to remove them from the higher quality beans. The rest of the beans are then pushed through the sorting machine by water. At Doka, the machine is downward sloping in order to use gravity to move the water through the machine. This machine has different slots in which the beans fall through according to quality. This process is different at Coopedota because their factory is much more spread out and complex. Because of this, they must use not only water but also suction to move the beans throughout the mill. This can cause many complications such as one of the chutes becoming clogged due to the suction of the beans. The beans are then moved by the water into the different tanks to be fermented; the workers then spread the beans out on a concrete patio where they are raked in order to dry. An alternative but less practical method is to transport the beans through another chute and into a cylinder dryer. The raking process is much better because it preserves the beans better and leaves less room for mechanical errors. The beans are then put into large, breathable burlap sacks that allow the beans to stay fresh.
Once the beans are dried, they are sent to be roasted. The now green beans are poured into the roaster where they are cooked for between 14 to 20 minutes. The machine then opens, and the beans are poured into the cooling machine which constantly spins the beans, so they do not burn on the metal. After the cooling process, the beans must be packaged; this can be done by hand or by a machine. For smaller roasting companies such as Doka Estate, it is smarter for them to hand package their beans because the cost of the machines to package the coffee would be much more expensive than just paying workers to do it by hand, but for a company like Café 1820, who is a large roaster in the local market, it has to using machine packaging in order to keep up with the demand.
Once the coffee is packaged it is sent to retail stores or exported. Coffee can be exported before or after it is roasted depending on the type of customer companies are dealing with. Doka exports most of its coffee before it is roasted, and Coopedota exports its coffee after the roasting process. The most important part of exporting products is keeping track of the shipment and all information pertaining to it. In order to do this, most companies use a website called INTRA which helps to coordinate shipments with customers. The information that can be found on the booking form provided by this site includes: the number of containers, loading location, and where the truck will be sent. From a logistics perspective, the information located on INTRA helps to simplify the multiple parts of the exporting process. Furthermore, once the shipment is in the hands of the designated third-party shipping company, the coffee company shipping its product is no longer held responsible for the shipment, and all of the liability is passed onto the shipping company.
Finally, the coffee is put into the hands of the consumer. This can either be through a direct shipment or a retail store. In a retail store, customers must select their preferred product, and then, wait in a line to check out with a cashier. Once, they have paid for the product, the coffee has finally made it from a small seed to the hands of the consumer. Overall, the production process is very complex in the coffee industry, and the best way to keep up with the high demand of the market is to simplify the different processes to lower costs and the amount of time needed for production. Consequently, success in any business can be increased through logistics, and the coffee industry is no exception.