Cafe, S’il Vous Plaît – Cultivating Coffee in Guatemala

(Yes, the title is in the wrong language, but it sounded pretty)

Eduardo, somewhat of a rugged teddy bear figure, and Mercedes, a cowboy hat-wearing peanut and coffee farming master, gave us the quintessential coffee rundown of our partner, As Green As It Gets. After a tipico lunch prepared by Eduardo’s wife, Francisca, our group was fueled enough to hit the fields. The two men took us through the experimental plot, pointing out AGAIG’s attempts at cultivating crops unfamiliar to the region like radishes and rhubarb, and more technical experiments like a tilapia-pond-pig-pen-natural-methane-generating-machine (sounds crazy, right?).

The latter half of the tour focused on the most coveted of crops—coffee. In the most patient and knowledgeable manner, Eduardo and Mercedes took us through everything from coffee types to harvest seasons to cultivating steps. By the time they finished their lesson, we could’ve farmed our own cuerda of coffee, having all the necessary tools minus the raw experience.

When droplets of rain foreshadowed a rain storm, we hurried back to Eduardo’s place for the rest of the lesson- preparing the coffee for sale. With his wife by his side, Eduardo explained the drying, husking, triadoring, roasting and grinding processes, all the necessary steps to sell a complete bag of coffee.

The cap of the tour was the roasting, which Eduardo and Francisca did right in front of us on their little comal in their little kitchen. As the beans roasted upon the fire, the kitchen filled with the purest aroma of hot, freshly roasted coffee. A heavenly sensation to say the least. To top it all off, they ground the newly roasted beans right there in front of us, threw on some water to boil, and tossed in the grinds. After the kettle whistled its completion, they poured a round or two for everyone. We sat around enjoying each other’s company with coffee in hand, the perfect way to end a perfect afternoon in the beautiful Guatemalan countryside. As if we hadn’t been spoiled enough, Eduardo and Mercedes sent us each home with a complimentary bag of coffee prepared by themselves so that we could carry on the memory of a truly unique experience!

Operation Groundswell backpacker, Sarah, roasts coffee beans on the comal in Guatemala

Sarah roasts coffee beans on the comal like a pro. We see coffee farming in her future.

Operation Groundswell and NGO-partner As Green As It Gets, pose with their freshly roasted coffee

The whole crew, Eduardo and family (left center) and Mercedes (right center) pose with their bag of freshly roasted coffee.

This is OGG’s third year working with As Green As It Gets. One of the coolest parts of AGAIG is that they’re always testing new techniques and seeking creative alternatives to do what they do best–help people help themselves. Whether it’s testing new crops in the experimental field plot or marketing new talents like peanut butter making, AGAIG never stops after one success. There’s always room to grow, potential for new opportunity, and new markets to uncover. Aside from innovative projects, AGAIG also does an amazing job working closely with its farmers and crafts men and women. The close relationship they maintain with the actual people keeps the cooperative from feeling too much like an organization and instead more like a friendship. It is their personalities that shine through the cooperative, making it what it truly is. The person-to-person contact is unique here, and I believe that it’s largely responsible for the magnitude of their success.