I can’t believe my Plus3 experience is coming to a close! Over these past two weeks, I’ve learned way more than I thought was possible about the coffee industry, seen enough bugs to last a lifetime, and have had some of the most amazing and beautiful experiences. On the classroom side of things, my group’s topic was customer service, and so it’s only appropriate that I give a brief recap of everything I’ve learned during my time here.
We start with coffee (and banana) plantations, which are the first step in the supply chain. From my tours at places like Doka Coffee and the Dole banana plantation, I learned that customer service is a lot more involved than I initially thought. To ensure top quality, coffee farmers must decide where to grow their plants, what specific species they’ll work with, when and how often to pick the cherries, and what method they want to use to dry the beans.
While those working on a banana plantation don’t necessarily have the same areas of concern, they still have to work just as hard. The banana bunches must be covered in plastic to prevent insects from getting to them, and creating a drainage system is necessary to eliminate excess water that would allow bacteria and fungi to grow. Additionally, it is a good idea to set up an overhead cable system to support the plants when the weather is especially windy.
Moving on to the processing mills and exporters, we see that it’s important for them to maintain quality by doing such things as filtering the coffee cherries so that only the ripe ones will ultimately be sent to the roasters. Some mills, such as Doka, also choose to sun dry their coffee beans, instead of using an oven, to give their beans a better, richer flavor.
The next step in the supply chain is the coffee roasters and retail stores and cafes. Here, customer experience is especially important. To appeal to the most people, companies offer multiple roasts — for example, light, medium, dark and espresso — as well as multiple blends, such as peaberry, classic and special reserve. Being transparent, along with being attentive to what customers want are also key aspects. For many people, sustainability is a priority, and so companies can address this by getting Carbon Neutral or Fair Trade certifications.
From the customers’ perspective, we found that most often, people are looking for companies that provide high quality products, pay attention to their needs and are transparent. As mentioned above, sustainability is becoming more and more important. And, being sustainable sometimes requires outside-the-box thinking; for example, using special types of grasses to treat unclean water and looking into natural pesticide options.
Overall, learning about customer service in the coffee supply chain has greatly increased my respect for those working in the industry. Prior to my experiences here, I didn’t realize how much planning and engineering went in to being a coffee (or banana) producer. I’m amazed at the number of ingenious and creative innovations Tico farmers have come up with to improve the quality of their products.
My time here in Costa Rica has given me an in-depth look at those involved with the coffee and banana industries and opened my mind in all different ways. Nos vemos pronto y ¡Pura vida!