Serving with the Heart

4,000 miles from Scranton, Francisco Mena found the time to sit down with us here at ECR and give us his unique perspective on the coffee industry, Covid-19 and coming together.

Francisco, so good to see you (even if its over video chat), let’s talk first abit about Costa Rica, and how industries there are feeling the impact.

Costa Rica is very small country, only 52000 sq kilometers. It’s very based on agriculture, bananas and pineapples, as well as melons. Coffee is also a major export crop. Tourism has been highly impacted. We’re also big in service in technology and medical. But mostly service and tourism. All flights have been cancelled. The borders have been closed. Perishable markets have been impacted as well. Their crops cannot be shipped.

How do these kinds of impacts translate to the coffee industry, specifically?

 In the case of coffee we are fortunate because of the nature of the cop. Its stays in its raw form a long time before it is roasted. It’s unlike a fruit or vegetable that has a much shorter fresh life. With regard to coffee in CR the big and medium roasters are advancing shipments because of an increased demand form supermarkets. June and July shipments are being pushed to April and May. Its very interesting because of supermarkets not only in CR but worldwide. The first wave of shoppers took a lot from store shelves in preparation. So we’re seeing a higher than average demand for coffee. The small roasters and retailers, however, are going through tougher times. They’re closing their doors for now and laying off a lot of people. CR coffee is specialty, so it’s in high demand. Export ships are are still working well. We have our own dry mill, and that is in full force. We’ve been shipping regularly, faster than normal even, and that’s due to the advanced shipments we’re putting out to deal with increased demand. Right now.

We get our crop of Don Mayo from the Tarrazu region, can you speak to how that region is doing right now?

Tarrazu: The biggest region in CR, the micro-mill revolution has made a big impact there. Over 50 micro-mills. Lots of positive impact on families. Our partner, Don Mayo has been growing their operation for the last 12 years. They still have the capability to produce beautiful coffees. It’s afforded a stewardship of education to a lot of the locals. It’s a region that has been growing in production and micro mills. 40% of production in CR comes from Tarrazu, it has great conditions geographically and topographically. These natural conditions are what make Tarrazu coffees so sought after.

What are you hearing from the smaller roasters you work with?

I think we find many different situations happening everywhere. Europe, Asia, USA. We’ve had many conversations in regards with what to do with the volume changes. We’re advancing shipments to Asia. Europe has postponed and even cut 5-10% of their normal contracts. The US is similar in that they’ve also cut part of their contracts. We’re working with roasters to postpone shipments to line up with when they’ll open again. Some are advancing their shipments to hopefully stay ahead of a potential rush in orders in the industry later this year. We are developing a mitigation plan to ship earlier and later without affecting cashflow. It’s a matter of understating the situation and adapting in order to leave our collaborations as unaffected by supply chain issues as possible.

Let’s rewind a few months. What was life like for you and your staff back then?

You know, it wasn’t very the different. Our staff is composed of a QC lab, management offices , an accounting department and a dry mill. It’s not a big staff. Like I described, we are seeing an increase . What we missed was in the last two weeks of March, we normally have a lot of visitors. We did not see that this year. We made established protocols. Like one cup per cupper.

What was the harvest like this year?

I’ve been going to the farm to see the end of the harvest. Talking to the workers from a distance. Up until today our business itself hasn’t seen much of an impact, but we will see what happens in the next few weeks. Hopefully I will not be forced to lay anyone off. I just pray that I’m not enforced to send anyone home or even drop anyone to part time. We still want to open new markets, Asia is growing. We are going strong there. We are waiting for the curve to go down around the world. We understand everyone is going to be impacted one way or the other. Closing down shops, delaying shipments. But we pray that we can get back to normal as soon as possible. Corona is the virus our generation never thought it would encounter. It’s something that is putting our soul and spirit in a place to rethink our purpose and mission in life. We are realizing now that we serve with the heart. We look forward to the healing and refreshing of the world and our spirit. We hope to come back as men and women who want to share more.

What about the migrant workers, are/were there any in your employ? What has life like been for that sect of the population there?

There are two types of workers, the harvesters and the permanent workers. With the permanent workers, we have no problems because they live here. Its 7 – 8 workers that live on the farm. The pickers do leave and go back to their home countries like Nicaragua and Panama. The others shift industries, to banana fields and melons and sugar cane. Like I said the shipments of fruits and vegetables are going poorly. Pickers, we hope and pray that by November and December everything is back to normal. We think and believe that by September and October that the curve can flatten to a point where we can get back to normal.

What thoughts do you have on communication, with events like World of Coffee and the SCA Expo being changed?

Just like our relationship with ECR. We’ve been able to cultivate long term relationships. When it comes to the cancellations of these meetings we’re still reaching out to friends. After 13 years of establishing beautiful relationships, the impact is mitigated by all of the technology we can communicate with. We are blessed to have these beautiful relationships with companies like ECR and with the micro mills and workers.

Closing words?

In the end, cultivate your relationships. I tell people the consistency and quality is the fertilization for the cultivation of these relationships. That’s where you have a solid foundation, that takes years. Passion, dedication and hard work. Understanding roasters, cuppers, producers. We were meant to serve this way, that’s why we’re here. We need to continue this work in a good sense. Building these beautiful relationships in the US, Asia and Europe.

Its been months since Covid-19 showed up, but people like you and me, and Francisco are all trying to see the lighter side of a dark situation. Now is a time to make sure the roots of your relationships are getting enough water and metaphorical sunlight. Keep reaching out, though we are separate, we are not alone.

Thanks for reading, be sure to check out Exclusive Coffees here.

Stay safe and healthy,

-Erich Hunisch