Passion for Coffee, a very special trip to Guatemala

Mar 18, 2009
Mery Santos is VP of Sales for the Identabrew brand, part of the Superior Imaging Group out of Seattle, Wa. She was part of a women's coffee tour to Guatemalan early this year. Mery was born in Venezuela and was a member of the BUNN International team until 2003.

Passion for Coffee was an exciting, stimulating and educational 8 days in Guatemala visiting coffee plantations.

In January 2009, I joined a group of 13 terrific women on a trip to origin. Some of us had an extensive coffee background and others had no knowledge at all, but we shared a simple curiosity to learn what is behind our daily cup of coffee.

As we began our journey, it was very clear to me that what I considered a small decision on my part to join the group would end with a profound impact on my professional and personal life. I have visited Guatemala many times in the past 10 years, but this time was different. Perhaps the fact that I felt welcomed and safe may have something to do with it, but I concluded that Mireya Jones from Jones Coffee was the person responsible for making this trip so special for everyone. The ability to integrate the Mayan culture, the coffee culture that dates backs to the mid 1800s and the modern Guatemala can only be accomplished by a person that is proud of being a Guatemalan, proud of her heritages and a pillar of the international coffee community. She was an inspiration during the trip and continues to be an inspiration to us in our daily lives.

At the start of the trip, we stayed in Guatemala city, visited the Textile Museum, a local Roasting Facility owned by a women, had lunch at ANACAFE (The Guatemalan Coffee Association), and visited some coffee shops. We ended the day with an spectacular dinner at the El Portal del Angel steak house complete with a beautiful view of city sky lights, great food and for meat lovers, the name of the place says it all, a Steak for Angels. This was only the beginning.
We met remarkable and amazing women on this trip. Olga Hazard , from Finca Los Andes, comes to mind. Olga is a third generation of coffee producers and an English descendant. Olga, along with her sister, owns operates and manages the Finca. She is a strong supporter of placing women in leadership roles, traditionally assigned to men at the Finca. Los Andes is one of the few places in the world where coffee and tea grow side by side, and quite possibly the only place in Guatemala. Los Andes is also a private nature reserve and one of the forests dedicated to the protection of the Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. Although we didnt have the opportunity to see a Quetzal, the nature and beauty of Los Andes captivated my heart.

In the middle of our trip, we traveled from Lake Atitlan to Chichicastenango. By now, we learned that a 60+ mile distance can be a 2 to 3 hour trip. Chichi,?? is short for Chichicastenango, the way locals refer to this spiritual place. There we had a rustic lodging experience none of us will forget anytime soon. We stayed at the Mayan Inn where there was no heating system in the rooms other than a wood fire place (it got to be 31F that night and I will quote one of our ladies comments: We froze our buns!) Each room had its own "butler, who would come to your room to start the fire and keep it going through the night. The only trick was trying to call him, since the rooms had no phones! Chichi is known for its Thursday and Sunday market days. It is also the only place where Christianity and the Mayan religion meet and it is practiced in the same church. As an outsider, you could appreciate and understand the Guatemalan culture and the ability to maintain the Mayan traditions for centuries.

Our trip ended with 2 days at Finca Pastores, owned and managed by Hans Masch. Hans explained to us with very simple words the entire process from seed selection for planting new coffee plants, harvesting, wet milling, dry milling and finally selecting (by hand) the green beans for export. In terms of time, the average coffee drinker perhaps does not know the long process from seed to cup. It takes about 3 years for a healthy coffee plant to fully produce an average 5 pounds of cherries. Then it takes a minimum of another 8 months from harvesting season to produce 1 pound of roasted coffee that we purchase at our favorite local store. Amazingly, on the average 5 pounds of coffee cherries translates to 1 pound of roasted coffee. From seed to cup, a long and fascinating journey. I encourage anyone to visit any Origin country -- for those not in the coffee industry, we refer to Origin countries as any coffee producing country. It took me a long time to realize such an obvious concept.

Passion for Coffee was a trip that elevated my knowledge in coffee, fortified friendships and nourished new ones. It was a time to meditate, to respect and to value life. Tomorrow morning, when you indulge yourself on the aroma of that first, fresh brewed cup of coffee, take a moment to find a peaceful place, dream of the journey, the many hands that touched the beans and fully enjoy the coffee you are about to drink.

Last, if these humble words inspired you to take a trip to origin, please fell free to contact me for suggestions and tips, I might even plan a trip soon to share my Passion for Coffee.

Email Mery at mailto:msantos@Identabrew.com

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