Buenas tardes!

I have a lot to catch you all up on as I haven’t written for a few weeks now, but I’m back to provoke more envy in your life with my journey through Guatemala viagra generika schweiz.

Lake Atitlán.

All of us in the WiFi Tribe rented out a lakefront villa for an extended weekend at Lake Atitlán, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. What makes this lake so beautiful isn’t just the crisp blue body of water, but the majestic canvas that encloses the lake. Lake Atitlán sits in the shadow of three different volcanoes that encircle the lake; most prominently is Volcán San Pedro. Being at the base of multiple volcanoes does pose a logistical obstacle for the region, in that you can’t build a road to encircle the lake. As a result though, each town along the lake operates more like an island town and the only way to commute between towns is via boat taxis. Taxis pass by every couple of minutes, and all you have to do is wave a flag from the dock, and they’ll pick you up right from where you’re staying and take you to the town of your choice.

When we first got to our villa, I was instantly struck by the beauty of volcanoes that were directly in front of us, and the luscious green hills that fill in the gaps of the mountain peaks. But what I didn’t know was that this was just start.

I got up early the next morning at 5am to see the sunrise and that’s when I saw it: for only about a 5 minute period, the mesmerizing pink sunrise turned to a shade of purple and it felt like I was for a moment living on another planet. I don’t have proper words for describing the experience, but the best I can come up with was it was rejuvenatingly majestic.

I told you I was going to make you envious.

The beautiful mornings do come at a cost however, as there were almost daily storms in the late afternoon. The power grid is quite fragile where we were staying, and as soon as the storm hit, we would lose power for sometimes hours at a time. We learned to play card games around candle light, or to resort to games that don’t require much light (Mafia quickly became a house favorite).

On our final day at Atitlán, I finally put on my first Skillshare for the Tribe, where I had everyone try two different cups of coffee: one that was grown in Antigua, and the other was in the northwestern region of Huehuetenango. It wasn’t my optimal coffee tasting selection, because I wanted to find a local low quality alternative to contrast with the premium quality coffee I was presenting, but I just couldn’t find any! Even in the lower quality coffee that gets mass produced locally is still roasted with care. I then proceeded to explain why this coffee tastes different than the coffee most of have been raised up on (I’m looking at you, Starbucks); how the local environment affects the flavor profile of the beans, and what actually happens when you roast coffee to a dark roast (Yes, I’m still looking at you, Starbucks). I then talked about the harsh conditions that many coffee farmers find themselves in, and why ultimately the more educated we become as consumers of coffee, the more we can shift the bargaining power back to coffee farmers to have more control in shaping their future.  

De La Gente

Speaking of coffee, by beautiful serendipity I met Evie Smith, a PhD student from UC Davis. She is studying coffee from an agricultural perspective and is focusing on what production limitations farmers in Guatemala are presently experiencing. Her research has brought her to collaborate with organizations like Anacafe and Caravela to explore how these issues could be effectively addressed. She referred me to an organization called “De La Gente” that works with coffee farming cooperatives in Guatemala to increase the economic opportunities and improve the quality of life for coffee farmers and their families.

When Being a Middleman is a Good Thing

Most coffee around the world is grown on tiny family farms. This is especially true in Guatemala in that approximately 98% of farms produce produce 200 bags or less of green coffee per year. Each bag weighs approximately 150 lb. which means they produce around 30,000 lb. per year. On average, green coffee (unroasted coffee) has been selling on the commodities market for around $1.05 for the past 6 months, and thus means the average farm is only bringing in $30k of total revenue, excluding all the production costs.

Photo credit: DLGcoffee.org

These farms are so small, that it is difficult to find buyers in these small quantities, and as a result, many farming communities pool their resources together and create a cooperative. With this cooperative, they can buy a coffee milling machine and reduce the cost of converting coffee cherries into the exportable green coffee beans, and also attract more buyers with larger order quantities.

While these cooperatives exponentially increase the capacity of a given farm, many of these cooperatives are themselves still very small, as many are simply a tiny village in a remote region of the country that all are farming coffee, and they just created a cooperative together. They may have over 100,000 lb. of coffee to sell, but they may still run into the same problem of not having connections to markets.

This is where De La Gente comes in.

De La Gente is the middleman between these tiny cooperatives and the larger markets. They not only find connections to coffee buyers for these cooperatives, but they also provide educational resources back to the farms so that they can increase the quantity and quality of the farms. Maybe even more importantly, they provide small loans at subsidized interest rates that allow the farmers to leverage their farming capacity. And finally, they facilitate coffee tours to generate additional revenue for farmers.

In the Field With Juan Carlos

The coffee tours take place in a town next to Antigua called San Miguel Escobar, which sits at the foot of Volcan de Agua. So  when we all returned from Atitlán, Christian Naths and I ventured over to check out one of these tours.

We got to visit the farm of Juan Carlos, who is part of the cooperative “Cafe Artesanal San Miguel Entre Volcanes de Antigua”, that works with De La Gente. He talked about how he grew up working on a coffee farm as a child, starting at the age of 8, and then he was able to buy his own small farm 20 years ago. He has slowly been buying more and more farmland over the years as his farm continues to stretch up the side of the fertile volcanic fields. That upward expansion to higher climate is valuable for Juan Carlos because the higher elevation his coffee is grown at, the higher quality coffee beans he produces.

High altitude coffee is sometimes considered “Hard Bean” coffee, this is due to the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere along with the lower average temperature slows down the production process of the coffee cherries. The slower production allows the coffee trees to produce more complex sugars within the coffee beans, which results in a more vibrant flavor profile to later be extracted.

Early stage production of coffee cherries for next harvest.

The reason why slower is better for coffee is like imagining taking an exam: If you’re on a tight time limit, you’ll rush the questions and go for the first answer that comes to mind. But if you were given an extension on the exam, you can go back and formulate more thoughtful rationales for your answers, and eliminate options that are observably incorrect. Coffee cherry development is the same way in that you can get to harvest quickly and efficiently, but the compounds that built up that cherry were only the simplest ones to comprise; time is needed to develop higher quality results.

Juan Carlos’ farm expansion is the result of years of hard work to producing high quality coffee, but also due to the micro loans from De La Gente that have allowed Juan Carlos to purchase land at a low interest rate of 3%. Loans of equal size outside of De La Gente generally cost over 20% annual interest.

The Fight Against Coffee Leaf Rust

The yellow spots are early signs of Coffee Leaf Rust

These loans however, aren’t just for purchasing more farm land, but these loans are also used to purchase fertilizers and other resources to aid the production of the coffee trees. One of the things Juan Carlos showed us was a coffee tree that had leaves with these yellow spots on it. These yellow spots are a disease called “Coffee Leaf Rust” (or more specifically, Hemileia Vastatrix), it’s a devastating disease that corrodes the leaves of the coffee tree, and causes the leaves to fall prematurely. Since the leaves are the main source of photosynthesis, it destroys the production of the coffee cherries. In my talks with Evie, she told me how Guatemala was devastated by this disease for a period of years from 2008 to 2013. The peak of this crisis was in 2012, when it was estimated that 70% of coffee trees had the fungus, which resulted in an estimated 15%-20% overall reduction in coffee output nationwide. For smaller farmers however, that number was closer to 80%.

There presently isn’t a cure for Coffee Leaf Rust, but the use of fungicides can shield coffee trees from the spread of the disease. The problem that remains is that fungicides can be prohibitively expensive for small farmers that don’t generate enough profit to invest in fungicides. This is why purchasing on credit with low interest rate becomes a much more sustainable option.

Credit also becomes useful as a form of income smoothing as well for small farms. During the years of the Coffee Leaf Rust crisis, many small farms ended up at a net loss for the year, and thus the loans became a way for the families to float through the bad harvest at a minimal expense.

Coffee Pricing

Being able to get low cost loans and access to better production opportunities is one half of the process of making a living, but all this in preparation for the final sale of coffee and the price that is generated. De La Gente helps the farmers to increase the quality of their coffee, so that they can generate a higher price to sell directly to coffee roasters internationally. De La Gente has been practicing a hybrid model that somewhat resembles aspects of Fair Trade in that they lock in a price for the coffee each year, but also give the farmers to flexibility to sell independently as well.

Since De La Gente has an active engagement with these farms, they assure that the coffee that is being sold to the roasters are premium quality. Anything that is below that standard can be lumped together and sold in the general market, or on the other extreme, as in Juan Carlos’ case, he had a batch of premium quality coffee that ranked in the top 5 of independent coffee batches in Guatemala. Through his connections with De La Gente, he can find buyers who are willing to pay a premium to get this superior coffee.

De La Gente reports that on average, coffee farmers working with them earn 30% more than if they operated independently.

Enjoy a cup of Impact

At the end of the tour, we got roast fresh coffee over a wood fire stove, and then got to grind up the coffee by hand with a stone roller as we would crush the beans repeatedly until we got the grain size to be consistent. Juan Carlos’ wife then took our coffee and brewed the coffee in a huge pot and manually removed the coffee with a simple strainer, so our coffee was very strong and much of the silt was sitting at the bottom, which was kind of a cross between cowboy coffee and Turkish coffee.

After the tour, Juan Carlos gave each of us a bag of his coffee, and in my honest opinion, it was by far the best coffee I had in all of Guatemala. Antigua is known for having great chocolatey and fruity notes, but this coffee was bright in acidity with these beautiful notes lemongrass while still having the typical Antiguan fruity body of red grapes.

While De La Gente primarily sells wholesale to independent coffee roasters, they do operate their own roastery as well and ship internationally at a bargain price. You can get a monthly or bimonthly 12oz bags of coffee for $16 including shipping. You can get subscriptions that are region specific, or have a rotation that you get to try coffee from all the cooperatives that De La Gente works with, and each region will provide different flavor characteristics. https://www.dlgcoffee.org/shop/i-love-antigua-coffee-club

What’s next

After a memorable month in Guatemala, I just arrived in Medellin, Colombia, where I’m planning on being here for the next two months. Now that I’m more acclimated with the pace of things, I’ll be spending a lot more time out in the field and finding more stories to share. More updates sure to come!