The innocuous looking capsule you use to make your cup of joe every morning has had a much more interesting journey than you’d think.
Not everyone knows where their cup of coffee comes from. Fortunately for me, I had the pleasure of travelling to Costa Rica with Nespresso to see the hard work and dedication it takes to be under the brand’s AAA Sustainable Quality Program, which combines Nespresso’s coffee expertise and quality criteria with the sustainable-farming expertise of the Rainforest Alliance. In the process of supplying quality beans for the Nespresso capsules, how many hands do the beans pass through, what checks are in place and how do the farmers benefit? This was my journey to the heart of Central America in search of some answers.
Juan Diego Roman, Nespresso’s Green Coffee Project Manager, explained how the AAA Sustainable Quality Program supplies farmers with knowledge and technical assistance to help them grow plants that can produce beans good enough for the final product. Volcafe, one of the world’s largest coffee sourcing companies for green coffee, provides stringent quality checks before processing the coffee cherries to extract the beans.
After our introduction to the world of AAA farms, we were put to work picking coffee cherries… and that was when the skies opened for a torrential downpour. Despite the rain, it was a whole lot of fun – picking the fruit was definitely much more enjoyable in the cool downpour than under the baking sun!
Costa Rica is home to many volcanic mountains, which is one of the reasons why it’s the perfect spot for growing some of the best coffee plants. The mix of volcanic, nutrient-rich soil and the altitude provide ideal conditions.
Once the cherries are transported to Volcafe’s collection point, the first of many checks is undertaken. A sample batch of a certain volume is gathered, then placed in water to see what percentage floats to the top – floating cherries are of bad quality. This way, an estimate of the good proportion of the fruit can be identified, and the farmer is paid accordingly. The fruit is then transported to wet mills where the green coffee beans are extracted from the cherries.
The cherries are plump, and a beautiful, vibrant red. Only those of a certain size and weight are selected.
Within a few hours, freshly picked cherries from the AAA farms are processed into beans to be shipped halfway across the world. The processing takes place inside a greenhouse about the size of three football pitches. The beans continue to be dried there after being sunned.
Don Edgar and his family, who own one of the farms under the AAA Sustainable Quality Program, have been working with Nespresso for years, and have managed to succeed in an otherwise challenging industry. Walking around his little oasis was a pleasure – his farm had fruit trees galore, ranging from grapefruit to sweet lime. I left Costa Rica with a newfound appreciation of my morning brew.