Before a cup of coffee can even be consumed, it must go through a lengthy process of preparation. This means that the supply chain for coffee is very complex. Throughout this trip, as we went on numerous coffee plantation tours, we learned all about the complexity of the supply chain and about how important “making” (my team’s topic) is.
On the coffee plantation, there are a lot of details to consider when you are taking care of your crop. At this early stage in the supply chain, “making” is focused on how we can increase the yield of the plants every year when picking season comes and how we can be more productive with the environment. Coffee can be very limited in the sense that it isn’t a crop you can harvest multiple times a year; you only have a few months and each plant only gives one harvest of coffee cherries. Some ways that coffee plantations try to increase the yield is by implementing sustainable practices designed to improve the conditions around the plant, such as soil conditions, and shade. Having the perfect conditions is essential to not only an amazing cup of coffee but also to getting the most cherries off of each possible plant.
From the coffee plantation, coffee cherries travel through processing mills and possibly to exporting companies. One of the largest issues for processing mills is ensuring adequate quality control because depending on which system the mill uses, it could be done incorrectly. If you reject cherries because of a density that is borderline between low/high, you could be losing potentially high quality beans. To fix this and make the process more efficient and productive, a mill could have multiple quality control checkpoints or ensure that no low quality beans got mixed into high quality ones. Additionally, they could have a system of checks and balances where if you want to reject some cherries, you could do another quick test or analysis to determine if they are actually bad. This part of the supply chain is the highest producer of waste and so “making” involved looking at ways to reuse or decrease waste by making the process more efficient or more sustainable. After the beans pass through the mills, they can either be exported as “green beans” by a distribution company such as Doka Estate, or they can be sent to a coffee roaster and then onto retail stores/cafes.
Most coffee roasters roast beans on demand, or per a client’s specific order. So, when they are making each order, they get the specific roasts (light, medium, dark, espresso, or in between ones) by roasting for different times while at the same temperature. One way they could make this process more sustainable is by using a biomass oven instead of a normal non-renewable energy source. Biomass ovens use fuel like wood, dried pulp, and parchment to heat up the ovens instead of a energy source like gas. These ovens are important because you reduce the amount of leftover waste from the previous step in the supply chain and you also are helping the environment by being more sustainable.
The most important thing about “making” with the last step in the supply chain, the Customers, is the marketing of the product. How you present the coffee to them and how the packaging looks are two very important details. If you can tell a story with the packaging and make an impression on your customers, like Cafe Britt does with their new line of coffees, then there is a higher chance that they will buy it. Normally, customers are more likely to buy something if the packaging is bright, colorful, and eye-catching. Additionally, the story needs to be told in the retail shops/cafes to be most effective. After all, you can’t tell a story half-way and stop; you need to follow through with your marketing to tell the story in its entirety.
I think this trip has been eye-opening to how complex the coffee industry is, especially in a country that is tightly regulated like Costa Rica. My personal understanding of the processes has been expanded so much and I feel like when I see a bag of coffee in the store now, I see everything behind just the coffee grounds. I know about all of the intensive, hard labor that went into creating the final product so I think I appreciate it more. Being able to spend two weeks in paradise while learning about one of my favorite beverages has been a dream come true. Every day was jam-packed with activities and learning but, it was in such a fun environment. I’ll never forget anything that I learned during this trip or the amazing people I’ve met! Pura Vida!