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Sintercafé: Returning to the Original Purpose

By Carolina Pichardo

Since 1987, Sintercafé has been one of the biggest and most celebrated annual events to take place in Central America. Utilizing Costa Rica’s beauty and warmth, not to mention its strong cultural connection with coffee, the event has surpassed its original purpose, which was to represent the quality of the country’s coffee. Currently, Sintercafé has become a prime location for many to reunite and develop some of the industry’s most sensitive issues.

With almost 500 attendees present, Sintercafé literally shook the course of the day with the beating of drums, dance and songs. The inauguration held a Costa Rican touch, with the performance of an all-female group and decorations that resembled an African jungle, in honor of the Eastern African Fine Coffee Association (EAFCA). Soon after, Grace Mena, president of Sintercafé, welcomed all those present and rejoiced on the prosperous activities within the industry. “Whatever we do, we must go forward,” she said, reflecting on recent events that have added a sense of urgency to the world of coffee. Roberto Tobar, the minister of Foreign Affairs, Francisco Murillo, executive director of the Costa Rican Coffee Institute (ICAFE), and Leslie Omari, chairman of the EAFCA, were also there to begin the celebrations.

The value of coffee and the dependence the country has on this commodity has always been beautifully demonstrated at Sintercafé. By recaping on the past, through the presentations and speakers, the issues discussed, and the use of art, the organization is able to delineate a route towards their future.

Recapping on the Future
One thing many agree on, is that Sintercafé has always been the place to meet and greet the head producers and executives. And despite the intimidation one may feel, the event has always been a soothing, quieting experience, and one that many seem to come to again and again.

There were many that presented, who were also sought after and esteemed among the industry. Jim Alling, president of Starbucks Coffee U.S., who served as the Keynote speaker, was one of those principal guests. His message and presentation, entitled Sustainable Coffee Buying, Our Experience, resonated very well among the overcrowded conference room. Alling not only offered those present an open invitation to join Starbucks in their prosperous future, but he also thanked the country’s producers for their support and participation. He added, “We’ll do it together. We’ll do it as we connect with people one cup at a time.” And although brief, his message evoked the general feel and perspective from those within the audience, from the producers and farm laborers alike.

The topics were varied, but interrelated as well. From that, which directly affected Costa Rica, to other locations as distant as Malawi or Rwanda, the speeches were geared to define coffee as a universal link. One of the most prominent companies from the country itself, Cafecoop, gave a presentation on their strong impact and development. The organization represents the country’s distinct coffee producers, all of which originate from the seven producing zones in Costa Rica. According to Victor Hugo Carranza Salazar, the general manager of one of the affiliated cooperatives, Coope Agri, coffee represents approximately 90% of Costa Rica’s exports, while 50% of the population maintains a direct relationship to the produce. He also mentioned four protocols, which serve as a guiding force within this corporation: not to fear change; what doesn’t change with time, will go with time; we are very important in the process of coffee, but invisible nonetheless; coffee is the means of attacking poverty. In following these recommendations, according to Salazar, the company has defined and determined success. The organization, EAFCA, also demonstrated their lineage with coffee, via the different countries involved in the project. The 10 representatives available described their vision, which was to improve the quality of life via the quality of coffee. The birth of the organization was due to the recognition that some of the activities were performed better when done together, rather than each individually trying to promote their regional product. Their goal is to put African back on the world of coffee’s agenda. Whether through Ethiopia’s flavorful, all-balanced batch or Kenya’s, fruity taste and aroma, Africa is has proven to be a strong component in the future of coffee.

There were two presentations surrounding the notion of auctions, which has been a sensitive issue heavily debated for some time now. If one were to follow the history pertaining to this format of coffee distribution, it seems to be the best method in converting the most concealed location into the most sought-after origin. However, the organizations involved in this process find themselves pulled towards different direction. It seems that because of coffee’s universal perception, this connection also serves as a division for those looking to unite the different countries involved. Ted Lingle, chief executive of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), moderated this intense discussion. With help of representatives from Cup of Excellence, Cosecha de Oro (Crop of Gold), and Coffee Quality Institution, which is responsible for the Q-Auction. Despite the course auctions have followed, there is still an optimistic overview that allows for more participants to understand this method as the only progressive method. All of the three corporations present, despite the different in name and approach, have the same goal, which is to unite the coffee front, and present to the consumer a product that acknowledges the labor and process of development. However, the attitudes of different coffee producing countries and the different arrangement of the auctions, makes it difficult to find a middle ground, and with other countries -- specifically those found within Latin America -- wanting to establish their own project. Although not ultimately resolved, the fact that talks continue shows that the future of coffee auctions is on a dependable, practical path. Always described as a familiar reunion, Sintercafé was reminiscent of one in that it offered a similar warmth and encouragement. It is the reason companies return to Costa Rica to attend the event, and the reason that its influence is a powerful, decisive factor in the future of coffee.

Tea & Coffee - April/May, 2006
Theta Ridge Coffee


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