The past couple weeks in Costa Rica have opened my eyes to many new ideas including culture, the coffee industry, and sustainability. Prior to this trip, I had almost no knowledge of the coffee and banana industries. These tours have helped me immensely to understand how much planning and strategy goes into growing these crops. Since agriculture can be an unpredictable industry with the risk of a bad growing season, it is crucial for growers to have buffer crop aside in case they are short on quantity for their buyers. Doka Coffee talked extensively about this because it is necessary to maintain their relationship with their buyers. We also visited Life Monteverde, which provided useful insight into how agriculture can plan to become more sustainable and the issues with sustainability like high costs to the company. On the Dole banana plantation, it was insightful to see how the business plans for diseases, including taking many precautions with outside visitors to avoid spreading them among the mono-culture. These visits personally helped me understand how many issues can arise in agriculture and how to appropriately make arrangements to please demanding buyers.
All of the coffee producers we visited also had processing mills where they extracted the coffee beans from the cherries to export them to roasters. A lot of planning goes into this process to export the product in a timely manner. This includes accounting for processing time, which can be up to a week if the beans are dried on patios. Processing and exporting also includes many documents ranging from contracts with clients to certifications from ICAFE for quality control. All of these documents must be filled out in a timely manner to avoid delays in shipping. Plus, if a shipment of coffee is rejected for exportation, appropriate policies must be in place to find a solution to this issue and get the client the product they bought. There is also a threat of theft, which requires the farm to buy insurance and have a backup plan in place for upholding their contract with the client. This part of the process was very interesting because I was unaware that so many steps were taken to ensure the coffee beans could be exported. It was especially interesting to learn that ICAFE must certify a farm’s coffee before it can be exported with the label of “Costa Rican coffee” due to the high quality of the country’s coffee.
We also visited roasters who buy beans from farms, which were Café Britt and 1820. However, almost every site we visited featured roasting, which meant we were exposed to various different blends of coffee. The most interesting part about this opportunity was that we could see first-hand the slight variations between temperatures and time that were used to make each blend. We also saw different ways to roast that included taking the sugar off of the bean versus leaving it on at Life Monteverde. These are all carefully crafted recipes these companies have developed and perfected over time to be sold, often with many years of work prior to launching on the market. While I always understood that I preferred some coffees’ taste over others, I had no clue how the many different types of coffee were curated. Therefore, it was interesting to learn that it is largely the quality and slight variations in roasting that leads to vastly different flavors. I will definitely be paying closer attention to the coffee I buy, since now I have a better understanding of the flavors I prefer.
Also, a few of our site visits includes talks about marketing strategy and the customer. This was a big portion of what we saw at Cafe Britt. They have carefully planned and designed their company around marketing quality coffee to tourists. This planning included very strategic store locations in tourist-heavy areas, including airports, and samples at every location so the consumer truly believes they are buying a quality coffee. While these strategies seemed very profit focused and a little exploitative of tourists, it was very insightful to see Cafe Britt’s success. They have built their business to its current level by focusing on an experience for the consumer, who is typically a tourist looking for a great experience in another country.
Finally, touring Costa Rica has been a very eye-opening experience for me as a first-time international traveler. I have learned so much beyond the coffee and banana industries in these past couple of weeks and seen some of the most beautiful places with the best people. So here is one last Pura Vida! to the country that will forever be one of my favorite places in this world.