Black Honey

Café Rivense del Chirripo

1. No Poverty 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 14. Life Below Water 15. Life on Land

Overview

Café Rivense is a sustainable coffee producing family, focused on traceability and quality. Incorporating new process and good environmental practices, the Urena family follows a direct trade model that allows the family to have more control over the operations. This positively impacts coffee producers in the region. By having more control, Café Rivense has been able to develop their coffee processing method called 'Black Honey', which creates a high quality, low environmental impact product.

Author

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

School

York University- Schulich School of Business

York University- Schulich School of Business

Professor

Charles Cho

Charles Cho

Innovation

Micro-mills in Costa Rica are small, independently owned and operated coffee processing facilities [1]. Compared to mega-mills, most often owned by co-operatives, micro-mills give farmers the ability to produce quality coffee beans and make a true living wage [2]. What Café Rivense does is twofold. First, they are a coffee plantation that focuses on high-altitude, quality coffee production. Second, Café Rivense is a micro-mill, which means for many farmers in the region, they can help get beans directly to coffee roasters all over North America for a living wage. Café Rivense encourages farmers to produce quality over quantity; Luis Urena of Café Rivense explained that when his father sought to innovate his farm, he realized there was a market for high quality coffee beans. “My father wanted to tell a story. When he originally started operating in the coffee business, he knew there were people that wanted to know the story of their cup of coffee. You just do not get that with co-operative coffee” explained Luis Urena.

Now, farmers from the region will bring coffee beans to Café Rivense for processing, continuously encouraging farmers to focus on quality. These quality beans are processed at Café Rivense and sold directly to roasters in North America, providing economic development and influencing well-being. Additionally, Café Rivense has invested a lot of energy in developing the drying process, which they call ‘Black Honey’, a method that allows the bean to dry while still in contact with a percentage of the fruity parts of the coffee cherry. This method is not water intensive, uses the power of the sun to dry and creates a higher quality coffee. Café Rivense also follows strict guidelines set out by the Ministry of Agriculture in Costa Rica call the ‘Ecological Blue Flag’ to ensure that the operations are environmentally sustainable and do not damage the surrounding biodiversity [3]

Black Honey

Inspiration

For four generations there has been some form of coffee plantation on the Urena farm. Like many families in Costa Rica, the production of coffee has been in the family for a long time, but often integrated with other plant crops. “My father started his life with cattle, most likely because it was the main agricultural product in the area, and he and his brother were in it together, it’s just what people did” explained Luis Urena. However, because of the topography of Costa Rica, many cattle often die due to falling off cliffs. Luis spoke of a year when he was just a young boy in which many cattle died and the family was close to being broke “My father became very ill taking care of the cattle, he wasted his back and the toll of the hard work was being paid”. Eventually Luis’ uncle and father split and in order to support the family of five children, Luis’ father started to plant more coffee plants and work with the co-ops in the region.

When seeking business from co-op’s in Costa Rica, Luis explained that his father was confronted with many issues. Co-ops operate like any other large business, and there are prevalent issues with transparency, traceability, quality and price [4]. Eventually the family operation started to visit micro-mills across Costa Rica and adopted the model of production. The co-ops and the mega-mills had been exploiting farmers for decades, which compromised quality for quantity, driving farmers to go to extreme limits to produce. By adopting a sustainable, scalable operation Café Rivense is able to work with quality driven farmers and take matters into their own hands.

Overall impact

When you visit Café Rivense, you really get the sense that this is a family run operation. Everyone is involved, and every family member is proud of their business. Luis, whom is the youngest of the Urena sons, is currently studying medicine in San Jose. Every summer holiday he returns to Café Rivense to help with the harvest and production. This is true for his brother Esteban who is extremely committed to continuing the coffee business well into the future. During the visit, even Luis’ little sister took pride in running through the making of cappuccino and the traditional coffee brewing process. Although the family is well established now, Luis explains it was not always easy “moving away from the co-ops is hard and not secure. It took a lot of financial investment and time. But now the risk has rewarded us, and we are now able to start planning the next 15 years.”

Café Rivense is now known throughout the community. The family started off with just a few producers in the area, but through word of mouth about the high pay for high quality, more people started coming which eventually has a snowball effect. “This year we were able to speak with more producers from the area that came looking for a better coffee price and so we did” said Luis when speaking about the connections with the community. The family is hoping to be able to share their success with everyone and strives everyday to give back as much as possible.

Business benefit

The point Luis’ father made about telling a story with coffee holds true for benefiting the business. Roasters from Taiwan, California, Illinois, Japan, Norway, Hong Kong and Canada enjoy buying directly from Café Rivense. Building relationships is key to their success, but also to their roasters. Café Rivense makes sure that roasters know which farms the coffee came from, and because they are a small family run operation, they are able to tell their story. This would not be the case at co-ops. “At co-ops, all the crop regardless of the quality goes to the same place and is mixed together. It is impossible to tell roasters where their coffee comes from in this model” said Luis when explaining the co-op model versus their direct trade model. “When roasters come, they want to be able to look at the whole process of their beans.”

The overall objective of direct trade is to eliminate the power imbalances that exist in traditional supply chains. Poor information exchange on quality requirements can lead to farmers getting a lower price than they deserve – this builds distrust towards intermediaries in the supply chain and can induce farmers to tamper with the sacks or to augment weight. To counter this, direct trade is an approach taken to build mutually beneficial and respectful relationships between businesses and producers, by fairly distributing benefits and involving producers in decision making processes [5] .

Social and environmental benefit

The benefits for society of Café Rivense are plentiful. As the Urena family becomes more established, they will be able to reward more local farmers with a good price for quality coffee. However, what is less apparent is the environmental benefits of the entire operations. A burning question upon arrival at any farm these days is whether the farm operates organically, and without fertilizers. Luis mentioned that fertilizers are used, but that the Ministry of Agriculture of has awarded the operations with the 'Ecological Blue Flag Award' which rewards a variety of different operations for their work to protect ecology and biodiversity [6]

The family is also very proud of their 'Black Honey' process which Luis explained "We thought, why do we have to take the honey out of cherry? Why not just skip it? And so we did that with half the crop, skipping the washing process . Then came, that it actually improved the coffee quality, and we reduced extremely the amount of water we used ." Café Rivense also preserves a primary forest that houses the main species of fora and fauna in the area, which also helps to protect important water sources.

Interview

Luis Urena, Miembro Activo

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Café Rivense del Chirripo

Café Rivense del Chirripo

Chirripo, San Jose, CR

Business Website: https://www.facebook.com/caferivensecr/

Year Founded: 2009

Number of Employees: 2 to 10

Café Rivense is a sustainable coffee producing family, focused on traceability and quality. Incorporating new process and good environmental practices, the family-owned operation follows a direct trade model allowing the family to support the local community, and focus on high quality coffee. With more control over their operations, the family has been able to focus on developing their 'Black Honey' process, which has a positive impact on the quality of their coffee, and the environment.