The coffee supply chain – touched by many hands

In mid-February the Walker College of Business students, as a group, presented the following infographic explaining the coffee supply chain. The students were unanimous in their concern the farmers and pickers are not receiving fair compensation and encouraged coffee drinkers to become better educated about the many hands that touch the coffee we consume.

Coffee: The Supply Chain

1) From Seed to Plant

From seed to plant

Coffee plants are most productive between seven and 20 years of age.

  • Harvest seeds from coffee plant
  • Germinate the seed
  • Plant seed in shaded area
  • Water and fertilize the seed
  • Transplant from nursery to plantation
  • Prune and care for plant until it reaches maturity

2) Harvest and Migrant Labor

migrant laborer

Migrant workers on average make $2 per cajuela hand-picking coffee cherries.

  • Trees must be planted and picked in rotation so that there is enough harvest for each year.
  • The majority of labor is provided by migrant workers from Nicaraugua (Nicos) and Panama (Guaymi).
  • These workers face poor living and work conditions and low wages

3) From Farm to Factory

farm to factory

Most of the time farmers use coops to guarantee they will make money and sell their crop.

There are basically two ways in which farmers transfer their cherries:

  • A CO-OP is where multiple farmers drive their cherries to one big local plant where the beans are purchased and processed. Some benefits of co-ops are improved quality, increased production, and protection of farmers in low market value periods.
  • A MICROMILL is where the farmers will process their own coffee and then sell without the intermediary of a co-op. There is no profit margin and this process benefits the farmer when market value is high.

4) Cherry Processing

cherry processing

The most common processing method is the wet method.

  • Cherries are first separated via large tanks of water. The ripe cherries will sink.
  • The cherries are put through a mechanical pulper that removes the exocarp.
  • During the fermentation stage, the beans are put into large tanks of water for 12-24 hours.
  • The beans are put into drying patios and raked periodically for 6-7 days.
  • The beans are sorted by quality, size color and weight.
  • Finally, the beans are appropriately bagged for shipment.

5) From Farmer to Buyer

Farmer to buyer

Traders offer and provide roasters spreads of physical coffee for shipment one month to 18 months in the future.

  • Many micromills and coops use intermediaries who can connect their products with buyers of large and small scale around the world.
  • One form of exporting widely used is known as free carrier (FCA). This is when buyers arrange for exportation by sea.
  • According to 2013 data, there are 129 countries that export coffee.
  • Coffee is generally purchased from exporting countries by international trade housed dealers or middlemen.
  • Many middlemen will buy large quantities of coffee and sell them at a later date. This is controversial because the buyers have been known to control market prices.

6) From Roasting to Cup

roasting to cup

The coffee begins to lose freshness after 72 hours of being roasted.

  • When heat is applied to coffee, it transforms into fragile, easily opened packets of flavor.
  • Light Roast: No oil on the surface of the beans. Grainy taste. Original flavor retained. Contains most of the caffeine from coffee bean.
  • Medium Roast: More body than light roast. Lacks grainy taste. Has more balanced flavors. Caffeine somewhat decreased.
  • Dark Roast: Almost black in color. Coffee’s origin flavors are often eclipsed by flavors of the roasting process. Caffeine substantially decreased.
Fair Trade? Rainforest? UTZ Certified?

How do you take your coffee? After their Costa Rica experience, Walker College of Business students take their java seriously and want you to as well.