Stanford MBA Students Go From Seed to Shelf in Guatemala

Stanford From Seed to ShelfWhat a start! Just arrived in Guatemala City for what is sure to be an incredible trip. We are a group of 12 Stanford MBA students who will be spending the week here learning all that we can about the coffee industry – tracing the bean all the way back to its origin. Our next nine days are packed to the brim with everything coffee. We are meeting with some of the biggest exporters and buyers in the country, visiting U.S. agriculture development officials, living with ex-guerrilla small-scale farmers in the midst of the harvest season and speaking with farmers who have recently decided to drop their Fair Trade certification. (We’ll also be climbing volcanoes and kayaking around high-altitude lakes but that’s just for fun).

The idea is to get as many sides to the story as possible and really understand the economics and impact of this global commodity. How has this drink come to represent the second most exported good in the world (only behind oil) and how does our daily caffeine fix link up with the livelihoods of tens of millions of farmers around the world? Who is benefiting and who is being left behind along the value chain? And of course, what makes the perfect cup?!

What makes the perfect cup of coffee?

We had an exciting pre-trip excursion in the Bay Area this week starting with a coffee cupping and tour at Blue Bottle Coffee, a fast growing high-end roaster and chain of boutique cafes. They took us through the process of how they select their beans, the elements of roasting fresh coffee and what it takes to build a brand as one of the finest coffee shops in the country. In the back of their warehouse we even caught sight of a bag of green (unroasted) coffee from La Voz, a finca that we will be spending time at later this week!

Our next stop was at the Fair Trade USA HQ where we met with their coffee supply chain specialist. The Fair Trade certification requires that farmers receive a minimum of $1.40/lb of coffee they produce (which seems pretty reasonable given retail prices of $10-18/lb). Looking forward to hearing from farmers on the ground here about their perspective on Fair Trade soon.

Stanford MBA students at Fair Trade USA

I have been in Guatemala for two hours now and have already had my first two cups. At this rate, I am on course for 216 coffees over the next nine days. I will let you know how that goes…

David Berkal
Guatemala From Seed to Shelf Facilitator

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