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Coffee and Spring Break

September 9, 2015

About Me 

Rachel is a fourth year Chemical Engineering student from Westchester, NY. She is currently on co-op at Entrega Biosciences and is interested in the biotechnology and medical device fields. On campus, Rachel is involved with the Husky Ambassadors Program, LEAD 360, the University Scholars Program, the Society of Women Engineers, the Connections Engineering program, and on campus research. Rachel has thoroughly enjoyed her time in Boston thus far and hopes to pursue graduate studies in the biotech field.

Coffee and Spring Break

Coffee: a beverage that many college students would consider their lifeline. Traveling to Costa Rica with some of your closest friends: an opportunity that few could turn down. Combining the two? Sounds like a match made in academic heaven.

Alternative spring break programs, by far, are some of the most rewarding opportunities that students have access to at Northeastern. In the spring of 2014, I was lucky enough to be asked to co-lead a trip to Costa Rica of 12 University Scholars and our program director to partner with RAW tours and volunteer our time to a cause that many of us hold dear. RAW tours, or Raising Awareness Worldwide, is a not-for-profit organization created with the mission of providing meaningful and intentional experiences for groups from around the world by organizing service projects while allowing these groups to immerse themselves in the Costa Rican communities that they are working with. Our trip centered on coffee and the millions of lives that it impacts, from plant to cup.

Our trip organizer and the founder of RAW tours, Kattya, was one of the most kind-hearted, strong, and giving women I have ever had the pleasure of working with. She had us on the ground moving from the second we stepped off the plane. We landed in San Jose and had to drive to a town closer to the village we were working with. The first day that Kattya took us up the mountain in the Tarrazu region, known for its bountiful coffee exports, we were awestruck. Amazed by the panoramic views, by the abundance of greenery, and by the isolation of the village we had the honor of working with for six days. Every morning we drove up to a plateau on the mountain where the village sat and were cooked a breakfast of rice, beans, fried plantains, eggs, fresh fruit juice, and, of course, coffee. We spent time each day teaching English to the children in the local, one room schoolhouse, painting their dining area, and learning about a different aspect of the coffee process. We got to pick coffee beans, follow those beans through the weighing process, visit both a coop coffee roaster and a private roaster, and ask plenty of questions. It astounded both me and my peers just how many hands and lives the coffee we drink, sometimes for only $1, touches as it travels from sources like Costa Rica, Brazil, and Ethiopia to our local coffee roasters and brewers.

We learned about coffee itself, too. Light roasts maintain more of the bean’s natural flavors, and thus darker roasts are usually made with a poorer quality bean. Many companies are now converting over to fair trade practices, for these practices produce both better quality coffee and happier business partners. As an engineer, it was incredible to see the amount of coordination and planning that goes into a harvesting season, a roasting site, and the packaging for coffee to be shipped while maintaining its freshness and taste. As an avid coffee drinker, this trip opened my eyes to the market in which I was and am a consumer and has made me more aware of my spending habits. This trip peaked my interest in cold brewed, locally roasted coffees, for cold brewing maintains more of the coffee bean’s natural flavor. Being cognizant of how my actions, both physical and monetary, affect others around the globe is an awareness that I tangibly attribute to this trip, along with the many friends that I made during our travels.