Costa Rica coffee origin trip inspires, transforms employees
The Starbucks Origin Experience takes partners (employees) from behind the counters of stores, corporate offices and roasting plants and brings them to work alongside farmers in coffee growing regions. The program offers a valuable perspective for people who have a passion for coffee, but may not have a connection to the distant places where coffee is grown. Starbucks store manager Natalie Williams traveled with a group of Starbucks partners to Costa Rica in January and this is her Origin Experience.
The 2016 Origin Experience trip to Costa Rica has transformed me. I will never see coffee or Starbucks the same again. Our Starbucks values came to life through the wonderful coffee and the amazing people I had the privilege of getting to know there.
My heart and mind experienced a whole new side of those roasty little beans we grind, brew, and serve every day. At Hacienda Alsacia, I experienced coffee trees and their fruit for the first time. Standing in front of the shiny, deep green leaves rustling in the wind, with thousands of bright red coffee cherries clustered along the branches, it took my breath away. I picked a beautiful red, cranberry-like coffee cherry off the tree and held it in my hand for a moment.
It smelled fresh and green, but slightly fruity, and I was so excited to finally taste this mysterious fruit that is removed from the beans during processing. This was a moment I had been looking forward to since I discovered coffee actually grew on trees. I popped it into my mouth and tried to memorize everything that was happening - the skin was a bit thicker and tougher than a cherry or cranberry, and the fruit wasn't very flavorful...but then suddenly, the two coffee beans inside the fruit, which are like the pit of the fruit, split apart in my mouth and I was stunned.
I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I'd never thought about that simple aspect of eating a coffee cherry before - that there are two beans inside each one and they aren't really connected to each other. I learned a simple but very personal lesson about coffee in that moment. There was so much I didn't know about the intricacies of coffee. This is now a part of my coffee journey and one of the stories I have to share with others.
Over the span of three days I experienced so much: picking coffee cherries and dropping them into a basket tied around my waist and the challenge of properly picking only the perfectly ripe cherries; scooping up huge, warm handfuls of milled coffee drying on the patio in the sun; inhaling the hay bale-like smell of the protective parchment that surrounds the green coffee beans before they are hulled; and feeling the weight of the rake as I helped with the process of rotating the beans as they dry.
How can I look at a cup of coffee the same after struggling in the hot sun to pick just a couple handfuls of coffee cherries that won't even amount to a tall cup of brewed coffee? After seeing the extremely high level of quality needed to even be considered by Starbucks, I am amazed by any "miracle bean" that makes it through the gauntlet of quality checks to make the cut. After meeting the Costa Rican families whose lives have been changed by Starbucks’ commitment to C.A.F.E. Practices and the humanity of its coffee buying standards, I can't wait to tell customers and friends about how our bag of coffee is changing the lives of farmers devastated by the coffee leaf rust and so much more.
While I expected to experience and learn about coffee on the Origin Experience, I didn't expect the amazing partner interactions and the human connection dimension of the trip. Initially, I was a little intimidated by the level of expertise and important positions that some of these partners held in our company. Okay, I was terrified. What if I said something stupid? These people were legends, and some of the greatest coffee experts in the world. But every single partner I met was disarmingly warm and genuine, and they made me forget those feelings almost immediately. Sometimes I didn't even realize who I was sharing a coffee tasting story with, or my most embarrassing moment with, until the next day.
I had hoped that I worked for a genuine company that is true to its idealistic mission statement, but these partners, and their commitment to all our partners, our coffee, and our customers surpassed all my expectations. I returned with lifelong relationships that are continuing to shape who I am and who I want to become. I am a better person because of this company and its people.
Store Manager and Coffee Master