After months of planning and waiting, my trip to Guatemala was finally here. I was actually going to visit a coffee farm! I know I am not the first person to visit a coffee farm, but I was excited to learn what happens, what the start of this process is really like.
I had an overnight flight, so I would arrive and be ready to start the day. The flight down to Guatemala was only four and a half hours, perfect length to sleep through. While on the flight down, I sat next to a man originally from Guatemala but now living in Chicago. Big deal, you sit next to people all the time on planes. Well, this was interesting because he was telling me about when he was a kid and would help harvest coffee for a family friend named Otto, which is our son’s name.
**What’s a German family doing in Guatemala, owning a coffee farm? In the late 1800’s, a lot of German people moved to Central America actually. The longer story can be for another blog post.**
Anyways, the sleep was great on the plane and I was in Guatemala. Made it through customs as I passed the green/red button test and was directed into the arrival lobby. Prior to getting outside, on each side of the lobby there were cafes, decorated for Christmas and happily greeting you trying to persuade you sit in their space. Obviously, I went to the one with the loudest music. This is where I sat to enjoy my first cup of local coffee. Relaxed for a little bit then went outside to find my ride. When you walked outside you are greeted by all the families waiting to pick someone up, cab drivers trying to give you a ride and people selling small gifts to greet family members with. I got picked up and was on my way to Antigua.
Antigua is about an hour and a half outside of Guatemala City. We made it into Antigua and was met by a member of De La Gente (the team who works with the local farmers) to start the day. My first day was going to a farm right away. The farmers of the San Miguel Co-op have plots of land on the side of a dormant volcano, De Agua. We connected with Angel, who is a member of the San Miguel Co-op (you may recognize that name from one of our coffees). From the meeting point we walked to his farm plot of land. Majority of the farmers still do everything by foot and must walk between 30-90 minutes to get to their plot of land. Some have horses and only a few have trucks.
To get to Angel’s plot, we walked nearly 40 minutes up a dirt path. Once we arrived, we were shown the differences among the coffee varieties. There are different varieties of coffee beans just like there are various types of hops used for craft beer. We were also shown what to look for when harvesting the coffee cherries. Red meant ripe and ready for harvesting. After we were shown what to do, we were off on our own to harvest some beans. Harvesting beans was quite relaxing, you got into a rhythm and just went.
Mixed into his field were other plants. More than 95% of coffee in Guatemala is shade grown and in this specific area, avocado trees are what was mixed into the field to provide shade. There were also some flowering plants mixed in. Besides coffee plants, Angel had corn and black beans very close by. Depending on the variety, some coffee plants can produce cherries for nearly fifty years. So crops are not rotated like we think of in the Midwest.
After harvesting the beans, we placed them into a larger bag and took them down to be processed. Processing must be started the same day that the beans are harvested.
I’ll go into the processing on the next blog.