We’re excited to write about our trip to Guatemalan coffee farms for the 2016 harvest. But first, we thought you might like to meet the team…
Who Gets to Go to the Farm?
It’s not often that baristas get to go on the coffee trail to visit the farms where coffee is grown. We believe it’s fundamental to the principles of Direct Trade that the people who serve coffee to customers get a chance to connect with our peers who grow and harvest coffee. Otherwise, how can we understand the challenges and issues facing coffee-growing communities? How can we carry that message and experience to customers?
Direct Trade is about Connecting Customers to Growers
Direct Trade is not about showering customers with a pastiche of coffees with long names and even longer lists of flavor notes. The real challenge is to offer our customers an “aha!” moment, to help you meet the people who grow your food and drink – people who have hopes, dreams, pride, and compassion. We want to provide our customers get a deeper and more equitable perspective on the origins of your coffee. So who should get to go to the farm? Your barista!
Meet Team Guatemala
The Seattle Coffee Works team who traveled to Guatemala got to know each other well. There’s nothing like jumping in the back of a pickup truck with 10 other people and your luggage, for almost two hours on a rough dirt road, to bring you closer together.
We may not be able to give you the thrill of riding on that road, with the sun setting over the mountain tops, and views clear to Mexico. But we can give you an idea of who is sitting next to you… clinging to the side of the truck bed, full of expectations about what lies ahead.
Dedication to Quality
Barista and Trainer Adam Saunders hails from Oxford, Mississippi. He got in to coffee during college because he wanted to work with friends. “I really like serving people and making people feel welcome in a place that may contain unfamiliar things. I like that Coffee Works is a place for everybody. What I wanted to learn from this trip is how people live, to see what they love, and to somehow bring that home and have it be projected in the way we work. I think what struck me most was how dedicated to quality work all of the producers and pickers are. It’s inspiring to witness how much everyone cares.”
Visualizing Seed to Cup
Our fearless friend and pro photographer Alan Alabastro was our eyes and ears on the trip, constantly observing and asking questions. Alan is a longtime Seattle resident with a healthy regard for excellent coffee. “I wanted to dive deep into the process of how coffee gets from a seed to the drink. It was hard work trudging up and down these crazy hills with my equipment, but it was so worth it!”
Your Dollar is Your Vote
Barista Bryan Norris has been crazy about coffee since his immersion into the SF Bay Area coffee scene 9 years ago. Fluent in Spanish, he often served as our translator. “Since my first visit to a finca (coffee farm) in 8th grade, I’ve been very conscious of the treatment of the finca’s employees and the land it rests on. I was struck by how Don Aurelio treats his farmers and pickers; they’re as much a part of his family as his own blood. I noticed that by bypassing the coyotes, Don Aurelio has been able to give his pickers a better livelihood, something that is worth every penny in my book. Our dollar is the real vote we have, a vote that can make a real difference. Vote for something you can feel good about.”
The Challenge of Logistics
Cassandra James handles our coffee subscriptions and loves shipping beautiful packages of freshly roasted coffee all over the world! She has been in coffee since 2008, beginning her career in Missoula, Montana. She put herself through filmmaking school working early morning barista shifts. She moved to Seattle and joined the Seattle Coffee Works team in 2015. She has always been curious about the people and origin of coffee, and when the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to origin landed in her lap she was grateful and humbled. “Traveling to Huehuetenango was an incredible experience. It is shocking how rudimentary the means of transportation in this part of the world are. To think about the logistics of transporting beans from a farm two hours up a dirt road, and eight hours to Guatemala City is overwhelming at best. These people have to be extremely passionate to get their coffee to consuming cultures.”
Coffee is Human
As Seattle Coffee Works’ general manager, Jesse Fish keeps a close eye on operations at the cafes, bringing his 12 years of combined barista and café management experience. Having grown up in Monroe, Washington, Jesse has a long familiarity with the region’s café culture. “I intentionally set no expectations before embarking on this trip. By nature, I have a mostly extroverted personality, but in Guatemala I noticed myself becoming a quiet observer. With my day to day responsibilities suspended, I was able to absorb as much as I possibly could about coffee at origin. Although I did learn many details surrounding the mechanical processes of coffee, I was even more impacted by the people I met on this journey. Never in my life have I experienced more hospitable, curious, and hard-working humans. What has resounded with me most upon reflecting on my first experience at coffee origin in Guatemala, is that in so many ways: Coffee is Human.”
Coffee is Teamwork
Our Green Coffee Guru Oscar Garcia grew up in the lovely village of San Pedro, near Guatemala’s beautiful former capitol and UNESCO world heritage site: Antigua. As a child, Oscar went to the coffee farms and picked beans with his mom. When he was 19, he and a few friends, including his now-wife, Nidya, started a coffee roasting company, buying beans from small holders nearby. Growing coffee is practically second nature for Oscar and his family. “Because I have spent a lot of time in Seattle alongside the rest of the team, I was eager to introduce them to the people I know from the farms, and to see how they would react to the coffee plants, the beautiful farms, the hard work of processing and drying the beans, and the huge the challenges of moving the beans and people from place to place.”
Coffee Plants are my Homecoming
“Frau Fix-It,” Pipo Bui – that’s me on the right, can be spotted occasionally in our cafes, which I helped build. Often I’m in the basement fixing wobbly chairs or squeezing under a counter to replace a frayed wire. “My earliest memory of coffee is the taste of the cherries during picnics as a toddler in the highlands of Vietnam. This trip was a like a homecoming, seeing the plants, touching and being surrounded by their leaves, and meeting people who felt the same way. I was constantly eating the cherries! I found a part of the coffee story that I love.”
Coffee Blows Me Away
As the man behind the Coffee Drinking Man, Sebastian Simsch has been on a journey to understand coffee since 2006, when he started Seattle Coffee Works. Going from a pop-up multi-roaster bar to roasting, to sourcing beans from the farms, he’s traveled to places he never could have imagined while growing up in a small German town near the Black Forest. “I want people to have the kind of eye-opening experiences that I’ve been lucky enough to have. When I started visiting coffee farms, it blew me away to see how differently people in these areas live, what challenges they face and overcome in their daily lives. I have huge respect for that. I’m hoping this trip will blow your mind too!”
More Team Travelers
You may recognize Kailey Nelson and Maria Colantino in the photos, both longtime Coffee Works baristas and friends of the house. Kailey is now at espresso manufacturer Slayer and Maria is pursuing urban farming with gusto while getting ready to join Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Roaster Ponch Estrel was in Guatemala on sabbatical, and we also got to meet up with our friends “Frosty” Giron and Teco Echeverria, Guatemalan coffee professionals who spent several months as professional exchange baristas at our cafes. Last but not least, Elie Simsch (13) moved up from occasionally washing dishes at the café to providing entertainment and translation for the group. He made great friends on the farm and is hoping to return for next season’s harvest!