During our search for coffee farms to represent in Costa Rica, Anna and I made a trip to West Valley which is one of the coffee growing regions in Costa Rica. We had set up an appointment to meet with a farmer who’s coffee we were interested in after having the chance to cup (definition: a consistent methodology for evaluating a coffee's quality) one of his coffees.
We met on the outskirts of town and followed his car back to his home, where we were invited in for a cup of coffee before the farm visit. After pulling up to a mansion in the middle of renovations we quickly realized that this farmer was living a very “comfortable” life off of his coffee business. This stood out quickly considering the majority of coffee farmers across the world barely make enough to live on. Trying to proceed without judgments, we went inside as he began to give us a tour of his home. He introduced us to his wife and newborn baby before instructing her to make his guests some coffee.
After sitting down he began speaking about how he doesn't even like coffee, and how he drenches his cup in milk and sugar to mask the taste- all while barking orders to his wife about the “correct way” to use a chorreador (a popular brewing device used for over two hundred years in Costa Rica). She then explained to all of us how she was born and raised here in Costa Rica by coffee farmers, and had been brewing coffee this way since she was a child. Joe* quickly insisted that she knew nothing about coffee and neither did her father, and continued to put them down about the quality and knowledge of their crops during our entire visit. Anna and I quickly felt uncomfortable with his behavior towards his wife, along with countless other statements about the coffee industry- all while bragging about his success even though he knew nothing about the plants themselves.
After our first conversation alone it was clear that we would not be representing his coffee, however we went along on the drive up to his farm to understand more about his practices. His lovely wife joined us for the ride, and as we drove up the mountain he pointed out every other farm passing by, critically critiquing each one about why his coffee was better than theirs. His wife defended the farmers while explaining how everyone is simply trying to make a living for their family.
After a very long ride up the mountain we finally made it. A beautiful farm indeed with top of the line equipment that many farmers are never fortunate enough to have. Prior to showing us around he phoned one of his workers who was at the bottom of the property working, demanding that he walk up to show his guests around the farm. We insisted that he did not need to, that we had seen enough, but instead he called him once again but this time yelling to come faster because we were getting angry. Clearly not knowing that we understood his demands in Spanish, he insisted that he was close by and really wanted to show us around.
While uncomfortably waiting for the farmers arrival, I asked Joe* where his coffee pickers lived to get a further insight about his operation. He quickly replied “in some shitty house down the road!” He went on to say that if his pickers were ever to bring him any green cherries (pictured below) then they were immediately fired. The specialty coffee world is known for using only deep red cherries considering they’ve had more time on the tree to develop sweetness, however it is almost inevitable to filter out every single one during the picking process. Anna asked, “Do you not realize that these pickers only have a few months to work to support their families for the rest of the year? Where are they supposed to go after you fire them?” He replied, “That’s not my problem! Next time they should think before bringing me any green cherries!” (Below you can note the difference between fully ripe cherries and then cherries that have not had enough time on the tree to develop)
Eventually an elderly, hunched back man approached us after making his way all the way up the mountain. We felt horrible considering he was clearly exhausted and overworked. Joe* went on to say how this man was responsible for all his success in the industry- how without him he would have nothing… We then learned that this man lived in a small room attached the processing mill, all while working 7 days a week. Interesting how only one of these men lives in a mansion while sailing around the world during off season.
After driving away, Anna and I could barely believe what we just witnessed. How could someone treat others this way? How was he allowed to get away with this? How could one treat their spouse with such disrespect? How was he able to take full credit for coffee he clearly did not contribute to? After all he doesn't even like the taste! Unanswered questions filled our heads until we realized: this is exactly why we do what we do.
If going off of taste and cupping scores alone, we would have most likely purchased Joe’s* coffee. By purchasing his coffee, along with countless other companies who purchase from him every season, we would have been unconsciously supporting his practices described above. It is easy to simply purchase a green coffee online, roast it, and sell it to your customers... companies all across the world do this every day. However as they continue to support unethical practices, producers continue underpay their workers and continue to make more profit while others suffer.
REMEMBER... Just because you see photos of the farm / farmer on a companies website does NOT necessarily confirm ethical practices OR proof of even visiting the farm themselves. In fact, we’ve seen both instances from coffee buyers with the man described above. Even if you decide not to purchase our coffee, we ask that you listen to your heart and ask yourself why some roasted coffee cost so little, and who had to be taken advantage of to get it at this price point?
*Farmers name changed for privacy