We met our two guides and translator in the village of San Miguel. After hearing Alberto and Lesbia gush with pride about their village, we trekked out of town. Our feet dragged through powdery dirt and two dogs (whom we later found out live at Lesbia's house) followed us. The road inclined up and up and Lesbia pointed out various landscape details on the way--baby coffee plants, avacado trees, orange trees in the distance. The dogs bounded through empty fields and the sun beat down on us as we winded through the roads to reach Lesbia's father-in-law's land. She explained that her land is over an hour's walk away--much too far for our group to reach in a day, but amazing to think of the walk she makes regularly. While walking to the field, Lesbia told us about the co-op that her fields are in--As Green as it Gets. The story goes: Many of the local people are very untrustworthy of "westerners" coming in and trying to start a business with them, because they have all been exploited in the past. A man came and wanted to start a co-op of coffee growers to cut out the middlemen in the coffee export business and get more money to the locals. Though he talked to many farmers, only one man--Alberto--took him up on his offer. Alberto thought that he was being asked to pick coffee, but to his surprise, the man set him up with his own land and taught him how to grow and harvest coffee plants. After the locals saw that Alberto was being very successful, and treated fairly, they scrambled to sign up. There are now 29 families involved, and four women own their own fields. The coffee is harvested and shipped to the states as green beans (not yet roasted). The company then sells the coffee directly out of their warehouse in Minnesota. The profits go directly back to the farmers.
|The friendly dogs that followed us|
We reached the land and Alberto showed us how to pick the berries: grab the red berries, and the darker the better. Many of us had baskets strapped onto our waists and we twisted through the plants, grabbing whatever red berries we could find. Lesbia told us how many coffee pickers work in the fields for 10-12 hours a day picking coffee berries and only make 50 Quetzals a day, which is about 12 dollars. Though we only picked for about 20 minutes, our group was tired from the long walk up and reaching high into the plants for ripe berries. I can't imagine doing this all day every day.
After gathering our berries into one large basket that Alberto carried, we headed back down to the village to Lesbia's house to watch the rest of the steps involved in making coffee. Her house is a small collection of rooms formed from concrete bricks. She told us that 25 people live in this small space. Her family was busy dying sawdust to make carpets for holy week as we packed into the tiny space. A little girl shyly told me her name was Emily. "Me llamo Emily, too!" I said, and she just smiled at me. Alberto weighed our beans--10 pounds--and showed us how to de-pulp them. He poured the bag into a funnel attached to a stationary bike. When pedaled, the machine sends the berries through the funnel, taking the berries off of one side and shooting the beans onto the other. In just a few minutes, our 10 pounds of beans were there. The drying process takes days, so we could not roast the beans we had just picked, but Lesbia showed us the beans we were going to roast. We tried de-husking some of them, just taking off the outer layer of the beans, and seeing the green coffee beans remain. Lesbia took us into her kitchen and poured the beans over a fire on a tortilla maker. The large clay surface heats evenly, so the beans can get a more consistent roast. We all helped her stir the beans until they had a even, dark roast and the kitchen was packed with the aroma of fresh coffee. Lesbia put the beans on a large rock and we ground it with a sort of stone rolling pin. She helped us finish grinding the beans and then made us a strong pot of coffee to try. It was smooth and sweet--easily the best coffee I've ever had. We all loaded our arms with bags of coffee and fondly exchanged good-byes with Lesbia and Alberto. Despite the language barrier, I think we made a great connection with Lesbia and her family. Across countries, coffee brings us together.
|Lesbia's son helping feed through the beans|
|Lesbia showing us how to roast the beans|
|From the berry to the cup--delicious coffee|