During out time in Costa Rica studying the coffee industry, I have made some observations about how coffee is delivered down the supply chain. The supply chain begins at the coffee farms and plantations where coffee chairs are grown and harvested. Workers handpick coffee cherries from the plants until they have filled the baskets they wear around their waists which are one cajuela in size, which equates to around 26lbs of cherries. The workers deposit these cajuelas of cherries at a collection site on the farm. Collecting coffee cherries in units of cajuelas appears to be an efficient method of delivering coffee from the farm to the next step in the supply chain. A smaller unit could lead to an efficiency loss because workers would fill up their baskets quicker and spend more of their time walking back to deposit their baskets instead of picking cherries. A unit heavier than the cajuela could overburden workers, slowing them down and decreasing productivity. From the collection site on the farm, the coffee cherries will be delivered to the nearest processing mill.
Larger coffee farms tend to contain their own processing mills, so the delivery of cherries from farm to mill is fairly simple and usually only involves a small truck to move the cherries from the collection site on the farm to the mill. Combining these two parts of the supply chain, harvesting and processing, works well for farms because it reduces shipping expenses and removes a middle man from the supply chain that could increase the end cost of the product. Smaller farms, however, can often not afford to operate their own processing mills. These smaller farms usually will deliver their cherries to a nearby larger farm that does have a processing mill. Sometimes a middle man will buy the cherries form the small farm and sell them to the larger farm, but most farms, both small and large, will try to avoid this since it will unnecessarily increase costs by introducing a middle man. Large and smaller farms prefer to work together to deliver the coffee cherries to the mill using the resources they have internally, namely small or medium sized trucks.
At the processing mill, the coffee cherries are ultimately made into green coffee beans. These beans have a stable shelf life, remaining fresh for up to a year and not requiring refrigeration. Exported coffee beans are normally sold to roasters in shipments of large shipping containers. The containers are delivered by truck from the coffee mill to a port on one of Costa Rica’s coasts. A cargo ship takes the package to the destination port, where another truck, or possibly train, will take it to its destination at the roasters facilities. The exportation process involves a total of fifteen separate documents for most exporters of coffee beans in Costa Rica. These documents include certificates from ICAFE, health inspection certificates, and customs papers, among many others. While all this bureaucracy could hinder the efficiency of the export process, most coffee exporters have adapted to the conditions and, with years of experience, developed organized methods to file all required paperwork quickly.
Coffee roasters turn green coffee beans into roasted and normally grinder coffee product that can be used by consumers to prepare a cup of coffee. Supermarkets and other vendors are the main buyers of roasted coffee, and the delivery process involved is fairly straightforward, usually involving shipping the coffee by truck to its intended store. The coffee is delivered to the end user when they go to the store to buy their coffee. Many roasters allow individual customers to order coffee directly from them and have the product shipped by a company like UPS or FedEx directly to the customer. Roasted coffee is shipped in bags of varying sizes. Coffee bags need to maintain cool, dark, and dry conditions to prevent oxidation of the coffee. The bags should also contain a one way valve to allow excess gas to escape the bag. Britt, a coffee roaster that also owns retail spaces, carefully selects retail spaces in airports that are likely to get a lot of traffic to help them deliver their coffee to the end user.
Learning about the coffee industry in Costa Rica while experiencing the country’s culture has been an interesting and exciting experience. While leaving is sad, I am excited to see what adventures the future will hold.