What was it like in Guatemala?

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This past February, we were able to send a few of our team members into the lush, vibrant land of Guatemala. This trip is the first of many in which team members are able to meet our direct trade partner farmers and their families while learning more about cultivating coffee. Our experience in this beautiful country cannot go undocumented. I would love to share with you the ins and outs of our trip. If you would like to support these farmers while enjoying the delicious coffee they have produced please buy some quickly, as we are almost out of this year’s crop! Now, I invite you to escape the cold, rainy Seattle and immerse yourself in Guatemala vicariously through me, Cait, barista/communications extraordinaire at Seattle Coffee Works.

It all began on February 12th. My first impression was influenced by vibrant colors, hardworking people, and massive volcanoes as a backdrop to the cobblestone roads and Spanish architecture. This city, San Pedro Huertas, is right outside of Antigua, and was a perfect stop for our first night in Guatemala. Our morning began with a trip to Oscar’s home; he had prepared breakfast for all of us and we prepared a delicious Geisha Hario pour over for him. The coffee was a sample from Panama, which Sebastian and Oscar received on their green coffee buying adventure just a few weeks prior. This was indeed the perfect first cup of coffee for our trip. We then drove to some partner farms in Huehuetenango. This was a gorgeous seven hour drive across the majestic countryside. The view was filled with winding roads, mountains galore, and sunny blue skies while we passed through small towns energized with simple living, peaceful people. While our big roaster, Ponch, was speaking Spanish to the driver for hours up front, those of us in back spent this time talking about our company. This trip is going to initiate innovative changes at SCW and all of us are extremely excited!

We finally made it to Huehuetenango. No time for rest! We worked for three days on the farms, in the mountains, and on the patios with the farm workers who make it look easy; it’s not. Trust me. The farmers we worked for, Jorge Recinos from Finca Nueva Armenia and Aurelio Villatoro from Finca La Esperanza, are absolutely the most joyous, open, loving people I have met. We are proud to call these men our partners. They put in hard work with a smile and treat all the men who work for them with care. This is important for us when looking for farms to partner with as this is how we treat our team members in the cafes in Seattle.

Our first day on the farm, Finca Nueva Armenia, was one of the most difficult days of the trip. We spent six hours up in the hills sawing down dying trees and pruning the tops of all the rest. This sounds easy, but try it on a 60 degree incline all day and you find yourself taking more time to keep balance on the steep mountain than the actual job. We had five of us “gringos” and we only did 20% of the work. The other four men who do this every day did the remaining 80%. They are quick, agile, hard workers, who deserve a lot of credit for what they do on those mountains. This hard day of work was celebrated over an early dinner with Jorge and his mother, Noemí Recinos, who made us the best mole I have ever had. So delicioso!

While still on the farm in Finca Nueva Armenia we spent the next day on the patios. This was a very different type of work, yet just as difficult. With the sun beating down on us we were spreading out beans, using a wheelbarrow and shovels to get the beans out on the patios, bagging beans, participating in the washing process, and collecting the beans on raised beds. We learned, first hand, the importance and rigor of the work that is necessary once the bean is picked.

Our third, and last, day on a farm began with a two hour drive to Finca La Esperanza to visit the farm of our friend, Aurelio, and his family. This drive consisted of a dirt road and dangerously steep inclines. We were packed like sardines in the back of a pick-up truck, holding on for dear life, and trying not to panic when we got a glimpse of the cliffs right next to us. This farm was nestled between two mountains with a family of seven brothers co-owning. The drying patios were on top of all the family’s homes, a community unlike one I have ever seen. They all pitch in, are extremely hard workers, and have such a high value on family cohesiveness. We spent our morning and afternoon doing patio work again, learning more about the pulping process as we had to manually separate and push beans through the machinery. Aurelio then took us on a hike in the mountains to show us the highest section of the farm which was 1750m (~6000ft) above sea level. What a beautiful hike with an incredible view. We had dinner with Aurelio’s wonderful family where conversation was sparked with joy and laughter. The Villatoro family is one of the most hospitable, endearing families I have met.

We then drove back to San Pedro Las Huertas the following day; seven hours of beautiful mountain and volcano views once again. Our final day in Guatemala we spent in Antigua exploring the city. A few samples Aurelio gave us were still in parchment, so we needed to go to the local tostador (roaster) to have him hull the beans. When coffee is fully dried it still has a layer of parchment on it; this is usually a cream colored, thick tissue paper textured layer around the green bean. You use a huller to get this layer off and finally get to the green bean, ready to be roasted. This was another learning experience where we saw how to use a coffee huller, and watch the roasters technique. We also stopped into local cafes, Refuge and Tretto, where I had a fantastic macchiato and we all shared many pour over coffees. If you make it to Antigua, make sure you stop in these cafes.

We are all successfully tired out, exceptionally more educated about the process of farming coffee, and well aware of how difficult this work truly is. The type of work we did the past week has drained us completely, and to think these men work this hard every day is absolutely humbling and inspiring. We are all so excited to share the enlightenment of this trip with our friends in Seattle. We can now make delicious coffee while remembering the faces behind these beans. Like our mantra of the trip, “every bean counts”, we have learned every step, every farm, every experience and every individual along the way counts.