In looking at how delivery relates to the various phases of agricultural production and distribution in Central America, I’ve managed to have a greater level of respect for the delicious fruits and drinks that I consume on a regular basis. Starting all the way at the growing phase, we got to ask some great questions to the various producers that we met along the way in order to better understand how they ship their products away from their farms/plantations. In the case of coffee, though there was a bit of variety due to all the different nuances in terms of what kinds of beans could be shipped and to what extent they would be roasted at the same plantation where they were grown, we saw a reliance on a lot of old-school technology like simple burlap bags. In many ways, this felt consistent with the hand-picked style of cultivation to get the cherries off of the plants in the first place, which starkly contrasts with the heavily mechanized large-scale harvesting and shipment methods used in the Great Plains. To be fair, though, pineapple and banana shipments were a bit more straightforward because both of those plants include natural protective shells.
In terms of the mills themselves, these would often be part of the same facilities as the crops. For example, Doka had a lot of machinery near the visitor’s center where all of the bean sorting and shelling would happen in their various water-powered gizmos. Every coffee plantation that we visited did some sort of roaster in-house, even if brands like Doka used them for an extreme minority of their beans. By ensuring that the exported product was already de-shelled (not including the “natural” beans), this would allow the plantations to save shipment space, ensure a proper drying process, and preserve freshness in the form of tightly-sealed packaging, even if the beans were raw. Shipment from the mills was notably a little more complicated for pineapples because they made an effort to avoid touching the actual fruit to avoid bruising, meaning that once the fruits were loaded via their stems, it was all a mechanized chain of shipment to the clients.
For specialized coffee roasters and retailers like Britt, beans would arrive in the same fashion that they would leave plants like Doka. In terms of distributing the already-roasted product in the form of ready-to-be-purchased 340g bags, packaging plays a very important role. Especially for brands like Britt that care a lot about the experience of purchasing gourmet coffee, creative and appealing packaging is essential for enticing customers into that buyer’s experience. They put a lot of attention to detail into these bags to fit the customs of the countries where they would be sold before loading these finished bags into tightly-packed cardboard boxes. These boxes would then be loaded into specialized FedEx shipping trucks to be delivered to either any local stores (for those that are to be sold nearby) or to a distribution center like the main one in Miami.
For the customers (especially those in the U.S.A.) who order regular shipments directly from Britt, the delivery process would look like that of many traditionally-ordered online packages. In a lot of ways, Britt’s approach to American sales resembles that of those monthly subscription boxes (i.e. BarkBox, Hello Fresh, Dollar Shave Club, etc.). For the customers who purchase Britt beans in the various retail stores throughout Latin America that either carry the Britt brand or, at the very least, offer Britt products, the delivery process is usually just as simple as carrying the beans back to one’s house along with any other goods they may have personally physically purchased on that same outing.
Looking at the trip as a whole, it feels a little weird. Maybe it’s the constant action-packed daily schedules or the slight sleep deprivation, but either way, I have largely lost track of time, especially in terms of which specific events happened when. It does feel like a full two weeks; it’s just kind of all jumbled up. Also, whereas most Pitt students had their school year end on May 1st-ish (and some up to a week earlier if they had no in-person finals), ours was extended far longer by this journey. As such, today (I am typing this on Friday morning) also marks the start of summer vacation for me, which is just now sinking in. ¡Ojala que todos que me acompanaban en esta viaje tienen veranos increíbles!