The Coffee in Your Cup

Written by Shannon Elder, 2016 Peru+Bolivia: Explorations at Altitude

You drink coffee. Or the person sitting next to you in the cafe does. Maybe it’s a morning ritual, maybe it accompanies your dessert, maybe you’re in college and it’s essential to your sanity.

You buy bags of it at the store. There are always bags at the store. There’s a huge selection: different roasts, different beans, different regions. It doesn’t matter what time of year, what season. You talk to your barista about which single origin tastes like what. You select a type at the counter of the coffee shop, and sip on your freshly brewed roast.

That’s where it usually ceases.

We don’t often take time in our hectic, fast-paced lives (lives that are often fuelled by our intake of caffeine) to realize how much has happened for those beans to reach you. To reach your cup.

The workers at farms around the world who have harvest quotas during peak harvest, like those in Bolivia, must reach an ideal amount of 80 to 100 kilos per day, six days a week. They traverse fields picking only the perfectly ripened fruits, carrying them in baskets along the way. They pour the harvest into a machine to crush the fruits and separate the beans from the shell, then go back through by hand to finish what the machinery missed. The beans ferment overnight in a giant bathtub, then are washed and laid to dry, where the meticulous work of sorting begins to make sure each bean is in perfect condition, without any stems or leftover pieces.

Once all of that happens, it’s bagged and sent to roasting companies internationally. But even that is not so simple, as each coffee farm must search for buyers and begin the process of selling the product. Sometimes the year isn’t as productive as others. Sometimes weather or bugs can ruin the crop. Sometimes there aren’t people to buy it. They build a company up from nothing.

There is a lot that goes into the mug you enjoy with your breakfast – a lot of effort, and a lot of passion. That’s what I found here in Chojlla, Bolivia at the Cafe Takesi coffee farm: dedicated people who want coffee drinkers to know about all of the work that happens before it even reaches the grinder, in hopes that they will realize just how special it really is.