I just spent 9 days in Guatemala as part of a Cooperative Coffees team in the CRS Cafe Livelihood Project. This is a three year project which aims to improve production practices (organic and shade farming), increase productivity and yields and increase quality. We are working with groups in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico.
This was Guatemala. I left Spokane at 5:30 in the morning. After 36 hours, touching down in 6 states, a steamy night in Miami, some great Cuban food and a large quanity of rum I made it to Guatemala City (my bag did not). From the airport, I headed straight to Transcafe offices to meet up with Bill, Tripp and Maty from Cooperative Coffees and Luis from CRS.
I made it just in time for the last part of a cupping. We got to use the excellent cupping lab there and see the operation of a major coffee exporter.
Then back to the car for the three hour ride to Lake Atitlan and San Lucas Toliman where we would meet up with the farmers and the rest of the group. Our group consisted of representatives from 5 different producer cooperatives, about 30 people in all. We visited 2 different farms (San Lucas Toliman and Santa Anita) and were bringing the producer groups together to share their knowledge with each other about the farming/production side of coffee. Our Cooperative Coffees team was there to look at local roasting operations and offer feedback and suggestions, to teach a cupping workshop with all of the producers and offer suggestions to improve quality. We also shared with the producers our experiences in cupping, roasting and marketing Guatemalan coffee.
We stayed in a great little hotel near the Lake in San Lucas Toliman. Bill, Caleb, Tripp and I shared a room where I demonstrated my ability to snore loud enough to be heard three rooms away. I think that at some point during the second night, Tripp was considering smothering me with a pillow.
This is the roof where Tripp slept the third night.
Even though he slept only a few hours over three days, he was great.
We looked at the coffee farm and beneficio at San Lucas Toliman. Then we checked out their manual, wood-fired coffee roaster. Very hands-on, very artisan…oh, and did I mention 90 minutes per batch.
Did some workshops, drank some Gallo (the beer, not the wine), ate pupusas, took a boat ride, more workshops and then headed out to Santa Anita.
Santa Anita was founded in 1998 by a group of ex-combatants from the 36-year armed conflict in Guatemala. With a loan from the national government land fund (Fondo de Tierra) as part of the country’s peace accords signed in 1996, the group bought a farm in the municipality of Colomba, Quetzaltenango. The organization is Fair Trade Certified and its members’ farms are all certified organic. Cooperative Coffees purchases their annual production of one-half container. The group is currently working on a roasted coffee project for the local market.
Here we took part in workshops for starting coffee from seed, grafting (el injerto), making organic compost (bokashi) and worm compost, planting and the processing systems on the farm. We also toured their roastery and saw their grinding/packaging operation. They just received a truckload of new coffee plants. They are also starting a nursery operation where they can produce these on-site.
Minchu with a new coffee tree, ready to be planted in the afternoon.
lots of coffee plants, still green though
nursery operation and Minchu with his daughter
kids at Santa Anita (they took this picture!) and explaining el injerto
after the injerto demonstration (l)…..back in the day when the members of Santa Anita didn’t grow coffee.
Rigoberto from Santa Anita explaining the roasting process. Last day at Santa Anita.
Lots of cupping at the offices of Manos Campesinas. They have a great cupping lab, and sample roasting set up.
Maty, Caleb and I taught taste characteristics, flavor and aroma notes, and how they are affected by different roast levels. Then we explained how a formal cupping works. We split the group up into 3 smaller groups, so everyone could have a chance to participate in a cupping. Only a couple of the group members had ever been in a cupping.
Thanks to Benjamin and Miguel of Manos Campesinas.
Finally another day of workshops, meetings and summing up. By the end, I think, everybody learned alot about everything from seed to cup. This is a 3 year project, so this is just the beginning. I was a bit sad to have to leave.
It only took me 36 hours to get back to Spokane (including another night in Miami). I had hoped to make it home with at least 1 bottle of Cuban rum… but Miami was really hot.