The Real Story Behind the Coffee You Drink Every Day
Editor’s Note: If you’ve been following the W&D Insta feed you may have noticed an uptick in coffee posts over the last few months. I’m very excited to be partnering with Nespresso to share their product (which quite frankly, has been a godsend. Not sure how anyone survives with children caffeine-free) and experience some amazing opportunities (Cannes!). Life happens, and I found myself unable to attend Nespresso’s Country of Origin trip this past November. Thankfully, Stefani Ellenbecker (our Editorial Director) and Colleen Eversman (our in-house photographer 2nd Truth) were ready, willing and able to travel to Costa Rica and learn more about Nespresso’s sustainability practices, where the beans come from; truly the coffee’s journey from bean to cup. – Kate
I’ve always been a coffee person, ever since I can remember. It’s even hard for me to start my day without my first cup of joe, it’s sometimes what gets me out of bed. So when Kate asked if Colleen and I would represent Wit & Delight and join the Nespresso team down in Costa Rica for a lesson in sustainable coffee, we jumped at the opportunity. Colleen had been assigned the task of lead photographer on the trip, taking images for everyone as well as Nespresso, while I would report the story. I had never been to Costa Rica, or the rainforest for that matter, and couldn’t wait to see what kind of adventures were about to unfold.
We’ve been drinking Nespresso at the studio for some time now and I’ve always considered it to be tasty and flavorful, but beyond that, I wasn’t too familiar with the ins and outs of the business side of the brand outside of an aesthetic perspective. I knew the theme of this trip was “sustainable coffee” but what does that really even mean? I thought on the flight down to the jungle.
When we first arrived down in Costa Rica, Colleen and I were greeted by warmer weather. And let me tell you, I will take 79° humid weather over an 18° snow-filled tundra any day.
The next day we were off into the rainy jungle to visit our first coffee farm, El Guapinol, with our new group of friends that were also there to learn about sustainable coffee. This trip was part of Nespresso’s first influencer initiative and Colleen and I were the only non-influencers asked to join in lieu of Kate. We were so curious to see what these “Insta celebs” would be like in real life. We giggled about how this trip would go all the way there. This was the lineup of influencers we were to expect: Will Darbyshire, Lou Archell, Laura Jackson, Alice Levine, Robert & Christina Martinez, and Matthew Zorpas. Spoiler alert: everyone ended up being amazing. It’s interesting how spending 10-12 hour days together paired with backpacking through a slippery rainforest and stepping in several piles of hot fire ants forges deep and meaningful friendships in such a short amount of time. Catch up on our coffee creation journey and follow our future adventures on Instagram here #NespressoTastemakers.
Everyone on our trip was so great, but within 17 minutes into our first day, Colleen and I made fast friends with two British gals named Alice and Laura with whom we spent most of our time with. Definitely two of the most sharp-witted, funny and entertaining women I have ever met. We shared a van with them during our travels to and from each coffee farm and they had Colleen and I laughing to no end as they poked fun at my Minnesotan accent, while I spent my time trying to emulate theirs. On the second day, Alice out of nowhere blurts out, “I figured it out!” “What I said?” “Have you ever watched Making a Murderer?” She exclaimed. “Yes,” I replied. “That show is so messed up, but addicting!” And then she continued to tell me that’s exactly what my accent reminded her of. “What?!! … GREAT!” I said. “Thanks, Alice,” I laughed. “I am going to go crawl into a hole and die now.” Although Manitowoc, Wisconsin (home of Making a Murderer) is only a mere 4 and a half hours away from me, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather not sound like. This was the type of humor we were dealing with on this whole trip, full-on honest hilarity. The best kind of humor, of course.
When we arrived at our first farm, I was glad I wore my hiking boots because there was some seriously muddy terrain, not to mention it was pouring rain. But it was ok, we were all excited to venture into the rainforest.
The first thing I noticed (outside of seeing the jungle for the first time!) was the beautiful coffee trees. Did you know that the coffee you drink every day comes from trees that look like this?! I did not. These cherry trees (where coffee beans actually live inside each cherry) were pretty magical.
On this first farm, I learned a tremendous amount about the step-by-step journey that coffee takes throughout the creation process, and the innate details of how the coffee travels from tree – to bean – to cup. Which actually reminded me so much of my recent trip to Sonoma where I learned the in-depth process of how wine is made, and how grape vines are carefully cared for, protected, nourished and finally, harvested. The same amount of love and care goes into creating premium coffee.
Here are few things I didn’t know about Nespresso coffee before my trip:
- Nespresso only purchases coffee beans and works with Nespresso AAA farms (more on this in a second)
- There are currently over 3,500 farmers that are part of the AAA program in Costa Rica
- During harvest, the workers only pick the red cherries on the coffee plants (which are said to be the highest quality) and leave the green cherries to ripen
- There is a special way to pick these berries that will not damage the tree and the future fruit it may bear
- Coffee harvesting is mostly done by families and outside workers that come in for harvest season
- Coffee cherries that sink in water are first-grade quality coffee, while cherries that float are defective
- In Nespresso coffee, 99% of the cherries are red and only 1% are green
- Nespresso pays their growers a higher premium for a better quality of coffee
- No other place has coffee with the molasses, clarity, and acidity that is found in Costa Rica
One of the main learnings about Nespresso that I found inspiring and memorable is that Nespresso’s unique coffee sourcing program works directly with farmers to increase the quality of the coffee while improving the sustainability practices on the farms, which in turn increases the farmers’ livelihoods. They call this the Nespresso AAA program.
The pillars of the AAA program are quality, sustainability, and productivity. The Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program also encourages women farmers and promotes education for women. I also found it inspiring that the AAA program offers workshops, agricultural assistance, services + materials, community development, follow-up sustainability for the farmers, quality control and traceability. And because Nespresso is promoting sustainability and the longevity of their program they offer their farmers a premium each year for complying with the AAA standards. This program is ensuring high-quality, premium coffee, but most importantly, it’s supporting the farmers of Costa Rica that come from several generations of coffee farming families. These people have been making coffee creation their livelihood for several hundred years and if their farms are not successful they are forced to find work in the inner cities.
On the first day, we were taken to a Nespresso AAA farm and afterward, we were taken to a non-AAA farm. There was a night and day difference. The non-AAA farm was nothing like the Nespresso farm, it had far less bountiful coffee plants, the soil was unprotected, none of the cherries were ripe and there was a ton of noticeable, unattended disease that lined the leaves of the coffee trees from pests. It was a sad sight to see and I now know what it means to be an AAA farm and why it’s so important for the longevity of the farm and the future of coffee production.
On the second day, we went to two farms, one of them being the AAA Farm of Edgar Fernandez. His large family farm was a truly magical experience. Within this green and abundant Central American forest lived a vast array of fruit trees covered with sweet lemons and over-sized grapefruits, we also saw and tasted red and green wild peppers, explored their lush vegetative gardens, and smiled in amazement at a flower-filled butterfly patch. Sounds like heaven right? This farm was unique in that they variegate their farm with fruit trees and a wide array of vegetables, which in turn, promotes shade + enhances the soil of their coffee plants. This also positively affects the overall biomatter of the soil on the farm, creating a more sustainable farm, while allowing the family to eat off their land. This farm opened my eyes and showed me the way people are truly meant to live – which is off the land. This process also reminded me of the circle of life and how closely connected everything is, which is intrinsically evident when we tune-in and listen.
Another part of the trip that I really enjoyed was visiting the 128-year-old Volcafe coffee mill where the coffee beans are processed after harvest. Here, I learned a lot about Nespresso’s coffee processing protocol that surprised me.
I was amazed that there are over a dozen different checkpoints at the mill that monitor the coffee quality while it is being processed and making its way to your cup. This means that every hour they are checking the coffee bean’s color, moisture, quality and sorting out any defective beans so they do not make it into your cup. The number of checkpoints at the mill really blew my mind. Everything was accounted for and documented. This process was extremely thorough, concise and thought out. Nespresso also does not use one drop of oil when drying their coffee beans, they only use all-natural, wood-fired ovens. Overall, it seems Nespresso has made the coffee making the process better, stricter, cleaner and more efficient.
Do you love coffee as much as I do? As an avid coffee drinker, have you ever wondered what makes a great cup of coffee? I asked expert Juan Diego, the green coffee manager of Central America with Nespresso, and he said the three main qualities to look for are body, acidity, and aroma.
Body: is an attempt to measure a certain aspect of the coffee’s taste. The body should taste balanced and not too sweet, sharp, bitter or acidic.
Acidity: can be spotted if the coffee tastes too dull, dry or sour. The average PH of black coffee is around 5. A PH of 7 is neutral and anything under a PH of 5 leaning toward more acidic. You should look for a balanced acidity in your coffee. Not too dull/neutral yet not too acidic.
Aroma: surprisingly, you can tell a lot about coffee by the way it smells. Ask yourself, does it smell fresh and pleasing? The aroma can also give away a wealth of information as to how the coffee beans were roasted. Some characteristic can only be detected through tasting, but the way coffee smells is usually a direct reflection of how it will taste.
Here, Alice and I test the coffee to see if we can tell the difference between premium and conventional grade coffee.
This trip was such a success in many soulful ways, unexpectedly, I made some amazing friends and learned more about what really goes into the coffee I consume every single day. The people of Costa Rica are remarkably kind and I love how coffee farming is such a family business. The thought of supporting something they do makes me happy. The amount of love and care that goes into each cup of Nespresso coffee is unbelievable. I was blown away by how much intention, thought and hard work they put into their craft and also into their coffee farms. I was enamored to learn the true meaning of sustainable coffee in Costa Rica during harvest season this year.
I’ve always loved coffee but now hold a new level of respect and admiration for the farmers and the levels of compliance they adhere to in order to ensure their producing top quality coffee. I also now directly relate buying premium Nespresso coffee to supporting and sustaining farmers’ livelihoods. A huge thank you to the Nespresso team for being great hosts and bringing Wit & Delight on this epic Country of Origin coffee journey into the Central American rainforest, we had a blast. While on the trip I heard rumblings that the next stop on the map may be Indonesia, where the AAA farms are predominantly run by women coffee makers. Wit & Delight is all about supporting women in work, and women everywhere for that matter, bon voyage, count us in!
Ed. note: This post was sponsored by Nespresso. The compensation received in exchange for placement on Wit & Delight is used to purchase props, hire a photographer, write/edit the blog post and support the larger team behind Wit & Delight.
While compensation was received in exchange for coverage, all thoughts and opinions are always my own. Sponsored posts like these allow for the development of additional dynamic content to be produced, unsponsored. Thank you for supporting our partners!
Stefani Ellenbecker is the Editorial Director at Wit & Delight. When she’s not feverishly editing or writing about style and interiors, she runs her bohemian shop Arden Trading Co. where she sells artisan-made home goods. She lives in Minneapolis with her fiancé Muhamed.