Coffee & Connection: Stories from Starbucks Origin Experience 2024 in Costa Rica

SAN JOSÉ, COSTA RICA – Hacienda Alsacia is Starbucks first and only coffee farm. But it’s more than that – it’s a working farm, visitor center, farmer support center and research and development hub focused on the sustainability of coffee. A special place that tells the story of coffee, from bean to cup. 

Since the program known as Origin Experience started in 2010, more than 4,000 partners have been immersed in the bean-to-cup coffee journey in Costa Rica, Indonesia and Rwanda. More than 1,000 partners will participate globally this harvest season, chosen at random from a pool of eligible partners who have earned their black aprons through the Coffee Master program. They learn about the “first 10 feet” of coffee’s journey at the farm, and then take that experience back to the “last 10 feet” in the stores to share with customers and fellow partners.  

Time spent in these coffee-producing places has proven to be transformative for the hundreds of Starbucks partners from across the company who’ve been through Origin Experience, said Calvin Blanchette, director of global coffee education and experiences. “We take partners on a journey to understand each step. They see coffee trees and learn about the care that goes into producing the red coffee cherries that will eventually become green (unroasted) coffee beans. They meet the people all along the supply chain – the farmers, the exporters, the agronomists, the quality specialists, the suppliers – who do all the work to ensure coffee quality in our stores every day.”  

Blanchette estimates he has led groups of partners on more than 30 origin trips over the years. “Every time we’ve done it, I see partners emotionally changed from the experience,” he said. “Coffee connects people.” 

Here are the stories of three partners who took part in Origin Experience at Hacienda Alsacia during this season’s harvest.  

The first 10 feet 

Los Angeles store manager Rosa L. had a very personal reason for wanting to go on an Origin Experience trip – her grandfather was a coffee farmer in Oaxaca, Mexico.  

“When I went to Mexico last summer, I talked to my uncles and told them I was applying to go to Costa Rica for the Origin Experience,” Rosa said. “And they said, ‘Oh, your grandpa would be so proud.’” 

While at Origin Experience, partners are not only observers – they also spend time in the coffee fields harvesting ripe coffee cherries and planting trees. Victor Trejos, who has served as Hacienda Alsacia’s general manager since Starbucks first purchased the property in 2013, said that work on the farm helps connect partners to the realities of what it takes to serve a single cup of coffee.  

“For our partners, they realize that we need to harvest coffee cherry by cherry,” Trejos said. “It’s manual work, and it takes many hands.” 

Rosa thought of her grandfather when she picked coffee for the first time, filling the bottom of the basket with deep red cherries. “It was very emotional,” she said. “I thought back to my mom telling me stories about how her dad would pick cherries on coffee trees and would go and sell his coffee.” 

Another important moment in the experience comes when partners each plant a tree. Here, Trejos tells them about his own upbringing in a farming family. The plot, named Esperanza, means “hope” in Spanish. It is also the name of his mother. “I am trying to show them all the faith, hope and love that a farmer puts into the land,” Trejos said. “Every time a farmer plants a tree, they are thinking about the future.” 

When it was Rosa’s turn to plant a tree and fill out a marker, she inscribed the names of her family and the town in Oaxaca where they originated. 

“For the tree, I wanted to dedicate it to my family because my sisters, my mom, and my dad are the biggest influences in my life,” she said. “I also wanted to dedicate it to my grandpa … I didn't get to say goodbye before he passed away. And so it was emotional to be able to dedicate something that he was so passionate about, and to see it in me.”  

Reflecting on her experience, Rosa said, “When I think of all the work that goes into coffee – from a farmer and through all the hands in its journey to get to us at the store level – Origin Experience adds more value to what we do.”  

The last 10 feet

Man with beard and brown shirt standing with one hand on hip in front of rolling green hills.

When store manager Cam G. left his hometown of Ottawa, Ontario for Costa Rica, it was snowing. Arriving in San José took a bit of adjustment. “When I first walked up to the visitor center, and even when I got off the plane, it was unbelievable to be in a different place, to land here and have this opportunity,” he said. 

But one thing that stayed the same was his curiosity about people, to know their stories and to learn their names. Just as he does at his store back home.  

“I've been asking for names,” Cam said. “Names always relate back to what we do every day in the stores, every customer, every cup. Every customer has a name and every partner wears a name tag.” 

Learning names at Hacienda Alsacia – fellow partners who work in a vastly different setting – has brought the experience full circle.  

“Meeting all these people, having touched their work and learned their names and their story, it brings me to behind the counter, it brings me to that last step, that last 10 feet, where I'm handing off that drink to a customer,” Cam said. “And this experience now links this first 10 feet here with that last single foot of interacting with the customer. I know how long the coffee journey takes, I know how many people are involved, and what it means across the world.” 

The next 50 years

Smiling woman in ball cap posing next to a small coffee tree.

Charlene A., a barista trainer from Naples, Florida, said learning about Starbucks commitment to ensuring the future of coffee for all was an important part of her Origin Experience. 

“Over the next five decades we have a lot of challenges,” said Trejos. “The climate is changing, and we have to work to continue to address this. We are thinking about productivity, but we are also at the same time thinking about carbon emissions from fertilizer and pulp waste, we are thinking about new technology. It’s not just one thing, it’s the small details to try to get to our goal.” 

Smiling man in ball cap prepares a small coffee tree for planting.

“It is phenomenal how Starbucks is looking 50 years in the future,” Charlene said. “Most people don't look past the day, or the week. Victor is looking toward the future and taking care of not just himself, his own family, but everyone that's in the process of making the coffee.”   

Charlene said she’s grateful she had the opportunity to come to Hacienda Alsacia as part of Origin Experience. 

“Actually, I'm very humbled. I feel very fortunate, very blessed, to be a part of Starbucks.” Charlene said. “And Starbucks cares enough about me, to allow me to experience this. Not a lot of companies do that.”

Close up of coffee tree branches full of ripe red cherries.
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