Regulating Costa Rican Coffee

Today, we did our last two coffee tours: ICAFE (Instituto del Café de Costa Rica) and Café 1820. ICAFE was very interesting, because even though they have all the equipment to produce their own coffee, they’re a government funded agency that regulates coffee quality and provides resources to Costa Rican coffee companies. They have laboratories that look at ways to identify coffee, resistance to coffee parasites like broca and rust, and other aspects of coffee growth that can affect quality and yield.

ICAFE is great because their research is constantly shared with coffee farmers, and the farmers can turn to ICAFE when they are having problems, such as diseased plants. They also control the quality of all the coffee that’s being exported, so coffee farmers can rely on ICAFE to make sure their product is top quality. However, ICAFE’s strict regulations can expose coffee farmers who don’t care about top quality. A chemist who gave us a tour of his lab today told us about some farmers who get coffee from Honduras and mix a small amount of Costa Rican coffee in. This way they can market their coffee as being from Costa Rica, but their product is much cheaper to produce due to its inferior quality. Using chromatography and other chemical processes, the chemists at ICAFE are able to tell the difference between coffee grown in Costa Rica and in other countries. This allows the agency to stop exportation of this bad coffee, keeping Costa Rica’s superior coffee reputation from being tarnished.

A theme I’ve seen with farms here in Costa Rica is the way that every resource is used in some way. ICAFE is no different. An engineer gave us a tour of ICAFE’s coffee processing facility and told us about their roasting ovens, which are powered entirely by discarded coffee parchments. This part of the coffee, which is removed and otherwise has no use in the coffee producing process, is readily accessible to farmers and are incredibly inexpensive and sustainable fuel for powering the roasters. The engineer told us that ICAFE had this idea and has shared it with farmers around the country who are now reducing their carbon footprint by using the parchments instead of traditional fuels, such as propane.

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