The Future of Coffee: ICAFE Innovations

Today we went on our last two coffee tours at Café 1820, a local coffee production company, and ICAFE, the regulators and researchers of coffee. Both tours were very interesting, but being the Chemical Engineer that I am, I loved learning about all the science related research occurring in the Costa Rican coffee industry. Throughout the past couple of decades, many problems have occurred in coffee growth and I find it very interesting how ICAFE keeps the industry ahead of diseases and how they check the quality of the coffee that is exported. After visiting their laboratory today and looking at their current research, I am both amazed and intrigued in the innovations that are underway.

One laboratory that caught my attention was ICAFE’s analysis center. There they check the mineral intake of coffee trees to tell farmers what nutrients they should add to the soil to produce optimal coffee beans. In the past year, this process has become a lot simpler due to the ICP machine (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry Machine) that measures the amount of minerals (AKA metals) in a coffee tree leaf. This new machine is very helpful because the previous machine could only check one metal at a time while this one can check all of them at once by detecting wavelengths. Moreover, ICAFE is now trying to find a more cost-effective way to run the machine because the Aragon used in the machine is very expensive.

Another innovation that ICAFE is trying to perfect is the cloning of resistant coffee trees. Coffee rust and fungi have become a major problem in the growth of coffee trees, but ICAFE is trying to find a way to reduce the disease’s effects without using chemicals. One of the leading solutions is to clone already resistant Arabica coffee trees knowing that they will be resistant as well. This process is lot faster and more effective than naturally modifying coffee trees that would take up to twenty years to complete. Ultimately, if this research is verified to work, a cure for this ruthless disease could be just around the corner.

The research being done at ICAFE is both astounding and helpful. Since ICAFE regulates and helps all coffee companies in Costa Rica, if a small coffee farm is dealing with a problem that could ruin their crop, ICAFE can help them identify and solve that problem. Additionally, ICAFE might be bad for a big coffee company that use outdated processes that produce low quality coffee, but ultimately ICAFE works to maintain Costa Rica’s high valued name in the coffee industry. Today was one of my favorite days in Costa Rica and I am extremely interested to see and read about the future innovations that ICAFE initiates.

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