The Engineering Side of the Coffee Industry

Today we visited ICAFE which is a national coffee institute associated with the government to oversee all of Costa Rica’s coffee production and exportation companies. ICAFE works really hard to develop new coffee varieties that are resistant to different fungus, pests and diseases. They also focus heavily on sustainability and work hard to recycle coffee in order to use it for other purposes such as fertilizers and pest control to cut down on other resources or harmful chemicals. Similar to other coffee site visits, one of ICAFE’s main goals is to help sustain the natural environment by using innovative techniques through research and education to tourists. 

Something I found really interesting that ICAFE researched was the samples of soil where coffee is grown after the crop season has been harvested. There is a team in the chemical lab that analyzes the soil to see the chemical compounds of that soil and then determine what chemical make up is best for the coffee beans. The team was able to gather a standardized solution that is used by coffee companies all over Costa Rica! The nutrition of the plants are very important to the quality of the coffee, so these researchers are doing great behind the scenes work for people all over the world to enjoy the tastiest cups of coffee. 

After visiting the chemical lab, we got to check out the research lab where the engineers do research on diseases that affect coffee plants and biotechnology. In one of the rooms, individuals were observing plants affected by various diseases and learning how to combat these problems with sustainable options for cures. The researcher showed us how they create a natural environment simulation that mimics the conditions that coffee plants are under. They create different climates using technology to see what conditions affect the plants in different ways. Once they do this, they are able to determine the types of harmful fungus that cause rust and other damages, and then inform their clients of these diseases. From there, they formulate other natural fungus to fight the diseased plants instead of using chemical solutions that could cause additional damage to the coffee. 

ICAFE does a great job of helping coffee production companies all over Costa Rica who want to improve the overall quality of their coffee as well as produce even more. They are always sure to inform these companies of how they can improve and use more sustainable options to improve their crop and cut back on resources. Sometimes larger coffee production sites may not want the help of ICAFE because they are interested in quantity over quality. These companies may not care so much about what goes into their coffee beans but instead may be worried about how much they can sell. Overall, today was an awesome experience because I got to see the engineering side of coffee production and not as much as the familiar business side of the coffee industry. I loved seeing how passionate all of the engineering students were to see the various labs and I had a lot of fun!

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