Day 2 in Guatemala was the day on the farm. We started out with a breakfast and we were on our way.
We wanted the experience of riding on a chicken bus, which is the public transportation around Guatemala. The best way to describe a chicken bus is to think of a used school bus that has been personalized and tricked out. The inside remains the same, while the custom paint and designs outside made each one unique. It almost seemed to be the flashier and louder the better. We walk a few blocks from the hostel to the bus stop. Above the front window is the city of the bus’s destination but you first noticed a younger guy yelling out the front door of the final destination. You had to give him a wave to acknowledge for the bus to slow down so you can quickly get on. Thanks to google maps working when not connected to wifi, we hopped off about 15 minutes later and we we’re the office of De La Gente, the organization we work with for our San Miguel coffee.
After catching up with and meeting everyone at the office, it was time to head to the farm. We walked to the city center and met with Eduardo. Eduardo is who’s place I stayed with last year when visiting Guatemala. Great to see him again and off we were to the field. This small suburb to Antigua is on the base of a volcano, you’re up the whole way to the field. We make our way through a couple side streets, come to the end of the road and start up a dirt path. Along the way up to the co-ops field, we pass several other coffee and or vegetable fields. These other fields were owned by other people in their neighborhood and surrounding areas. But there were hardly any fences separating each person’s plot of land. Each plot may have been separated by a row of trees or just a small dirt path. If we weren’t with Eduardo, Danilo or others who know the area, you could easily get turned around. We make it up to the coffee plot.
While in the coffee field, Eduardo showed and explained a great deal to us. (This may not be how the conversation went but rather a dump of what I took notes on and remember from pictures) We talked through and learned about the different varietals of coffee. You can tell the difference by looking at the plant itself, size of the plant, size/shape of the leaves. A baby coffee plant looks like a butterfly with two wing shaped leaves budding from the stalk and is called a “mariposa” which translates to butterfly. A cuarde, is 33 meters by 33 meters and can roughly hold 175 coffee plants. When a coffee field is within its first few years of growth, the farmers plant vegetables (corn or beans mainly) between the rows of coffee. Beans and corn are either sold or used for food themselves. It generally takes 3-4 years before new plants are producing quality coffee cherries which hold the beans (seeds) we all enjoy.
We got to pick some coffee cherries and enjoy the views. While picking some cherries it was hard not to stare off at the surrounding landscape. The weather was perfect and there were some clouds rolling through. After a little bit, it was time to head to Eduardo’s house to learn about processing the coffee and enjoy some lunch.
We got back to Eduardo’s house and were greeted by his wife Francisca. This is where I stayed last year when visiting, it was great to be back to. We walked through to the patio to where Eduardo has his processing machines set up. There was his older one and the newer one side by side to show us, what it used to take. The older one was actually a pedal bike connected by chain to a grooved stone below a funnel. You would dump the freshly picked coffee cherries into the funnel. As you pedal, turning the grooved stone, cherries would fall through and the beans pressed out of the cherry and shot out of the front funnel. This was quite a workout and Eduardo told us it would take him nearly an hour to separate 100lbs. (which is what an experience farmed could picker in a day) Next, we got to see how technology has helped and sped things up. By a flip of a switch, the machine is running and separating coffee! He says this machine can roughly process 100lbs in about ten minutes. What a time saver!
Right next to this are his new drying beds. A drying bed is where the beans dry after being separated from the cherry. Drying beds are wooden boxes with a screen bottom to allow airflow to help dry quicker and evenly. At this phase coffee is called parchment coffee, due to the color of a parchment paper like case the bean is in. Going through a dry mill is where this case is removed.
After absorbing everything so far, it was time for a coffee break! Francisca was going to show us how coffee used to be roasted and brewed. The main take way for roasting and brewing, keep it simple. The outdoor stove was used to roast the coffee. Francisca placed a clay plate over the fire and poured a small amount of coffee beans onto the plate. We had to keep stirring and moving on the plate so they would not get burnt. Get it to our desired roast and now time to grind. – (Cool thing to point out, all the wood used for their stove, was prune from their coffee plants. Being resourceful!) – Now to grind, she used a square piece of lava rock and held a rock rolling pin. Placing the coffee on the squared off piece and grinding the coffee until it gets small enough for us to brew with. Once we got it ground, all Francisca did was pour the ground into a boiling pot of water. After a couple minutes, just poured the boiling coffee water through a filter and bam – fresh coffee!
The timing was perfect as it was time for a lunch break. We were treated with a home cooked meal from Francisca. Fresh coffee along with a deliciously cooked meal, it hit the spot!
After having lunch and relaxing for a minute it was time to say goodbye to Eduardo and Francisca. We were on our way to meet Gabriel for an afternoon at the dry mill and roaster.
We met with Gabriel and headed to the dry mill. This is where the beans are milled to remove the parchment like case. As well, as removing the beans from the cherry in a natural processed coffee. The mill looked like a giant kitchen appliance, a funnel on top where beans were gravity fed into the mill. The beans are then forced to the front of this machine until they drop out of the front and into the catch bucket. Leaving you with the green unroasted coffee. Green coffee is what is delivered to us to roast for you. We processed one bag of coffee and we were on our way to the roaster. This process is time consuming. We didn’t fly through the coffee milling.
We didn’t roast any coffee but got to see their operation. They have two roasters in which they roast coffee for local organizations and businesses.
On our way back to the office, we stopped at Gabriel’s home where he showed us the first batch of natural processed coffee. This was really cool to see as it could potentially be our San Miguel coffee! Gabriel had the cherries drying on his roof.
Our time was wrapped up, we headed back to the office to say our goodbyes and off to take the chicken bus back to the hotel and grab some dinner.