Culture Shines at Origin

Mar 6, 2013|

The BUNN social media team consisting of Brandi Cooke and myself, had the privilege to travel to origin earlier this month.  We joined members and volunteers from the International Womens Coffee Alliance (IWCA) to take a cultural-coffee tour of Guatemala prior to the IWCAs International Convention being held in Guatemala City.  The coffee you drink takes quite a journey from seed to cup, and each step of the journey builds on the previous step.  It is important to experience origin in order to gain a deeper understanding of this journey and the challenges producers face.  BUNN proudly supports sustainable and educational efforts at origin because we believe that without the beans there would be no need for the brewers.




Upon arriving into Guatemala our guide, Mireya Jones, a fourth generation Guatemalan coffee farmer, stressed that to truly understand the coffee industry one must understand the culture.  Over the course of 6 days we traveled the Southwest region of the country to observe this Guatemalan culture that shapes its coffee industry.  

Our exploration started on February 2nd at the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigena.   This museum displayed the beautiful textiles that are prominent throughout the country.   Textiles are very important to Guatemalans as they convey an individuals heritage, worldview and most of all identify the community and region in which they live.  Weaving is considered an art form, and individuals within the community, mostly women, spend hours weaving colorful intricate patterns and designs.


We saw these regional textiles on our first stop in the mountain town of Chichicastenango (Chichi), situated high in the mountains at 6,500 feet above sea level.    In this small mountain town we immersed ourselves in the culture by attending church, shopping in the open-air market, and walking through the cemeteries to see how they celebrate the lives of those who have passed.   Guatemala has a very religious culture and that was very apparent during Sunday morning mass. The standing- room-only church was packed with worshiping villagers.  In Guatemala, many individuals practice Christianity and Mayan religion, and in many cases these two religions blend together.   In the Chichicastenango church, traditional Christian icons like the cross adorned the walls, but Mayan alters with sacrificial candles were also present. After church we explored the crowded open-air market where villagers buy, sell, and barter goods including hand woven textiles, blankets, woodworking, pottery, jewelry, produce, meat, fish, flowers, and more.  

From Chichi we ventured to our next stop - Lake Atitlan. Nestled between three volcanoes at 5,000 feetabove sea level, the soil is very sandy and perfect for growing coffee.    We toured this area by lancha (boat) visiting the towns of Panajachel, Santiago and San Juan.   Areas in Guatemala can experience intense downpours during the rainy season with accumulations over 200 inches.   This can cause flooding that washes out the roads.  In Santiago a torrential downpour had destroyed the main road and workers were hand-chiseling stones to rebuild it.   While in Santiago, we encountered more of the Mayan religion by visiting a shaman.  This shaman oversaw Maximon (pronounced "Mashimon"), thepatron saint of all things bad (specifically drinking and gambling).   Guatemalans pray to this saint to ask for forgiveness of all the bad things they have done.

We traveled on to San Juan for our first introduction of coffee at origin by visiting a coffee co-operative, often referred to as a co-op.    A co-op is a facility where small coffee farmers bring their coffee cherries to be weighed, washed, pulped, fermented, rinsed, dried, and bagged.     After this process the green coffee beans will be exported and sold to a roaster.  Following this brief introduction we journeyed to a finca, or coffee farm, just on the outside of the city of Antigua.


Finca Pastores is located in the Antigua coffeegrowing region of Guatemala situated at 5,000-5,500 feet above sea level.     We toured the finca to see the elaborate journey coffee takes from cherry to green bean. We started at the coffee bush saplings where we learned that each Arabica start is grafted with a Robusta root.  They graft together these two coffee plant species to strengthen the Arabica plant, as it is more delicate and easily susceptible to the elements such as disease pests, temperature variation and rough handling. 


After learning about the delicate process of starting an Arabica coffee plant from seed, we had the chance to pick coffee cherries in a friendly competition with professional coffee pickers.  In 15 minutes the 5 coffee professionals picked 87 pounds of coffee cherries, while the 12 newbies only managed 68 pounds!  We collectively picked enough cherries to amount to almost 20 - 8lb bags of roasted coffee.  We then, no pun intended, had a deeper dive into the wet process similar to what we experienced at the co-op in San Juan.  During this process, waste items are also produced.  Finca Pastores finds a purpose for all elements.  For instance, the fruit that is stripped from the seed is composted and mixed in with the soil.   That soil is then used to grow the new grafted saplings.   The parchment skin that flakes from the coffee seed is collected and sold as kindling.  We also learned there are 6 levels of sorting to separate the highest quality coffee.  Once it has dried the coffee is hand sorted to look for imperfections.    These hand-sorting positions are held by women and are highly sought after due to higher pay scale and less strenuous working conditions.  They are often handed down from generation to generation within a family.  


Overall, this trip opened our eyes to see how entwined the culture is with the coffee industry.  Coffee is a vital crop to the sustainability of the Guatemalan people.  It is the number one source of employment for the country, with 20 out of 22 states producing coffee.  


We invite you to view our Flickr gallery of our journey to origin!   Stay tuned for additional posts about the rust outbreak in Guatemala, and an educational snapshot of the coffee regions in Guatemala.


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