Guatemala, Day 1
It’s been just under two years since I left the United States, and just under two years since my last trip to a coffee producing country. The last time I was in Guatemala was 2018. It’s a 3 hour direct flight from Dallas to Guatemala City. A guy holding a sign with our names meets us at La Aurora International and for about $60 USD takes us another hour through the winding Pan-American highway, full of small cars, motorcycles, and busses packed full of people. As we drive, I think about what has changed in the last 4 years, and a pandemic.
I’m traveling with my best friend, Jonathan Aldrich. He runs Tweed Coffee Roasters in Dallas. Tweed is the sister company to Houndstooth Coffee. We’ve been friends for almost 25 years, both started working in coffee around the same time, and both serve as coffee buyers for our respective companies. Oddly, this will be our first time to visit a farm together. The coffee industry is all about relationships. Aldi, as most most of us call him, introduced me to Josue Morales and Dan Griffin of Los Volcanes about 6 years ago. He had just returned from a trip to check out their lab, then located in Guatemala City, and told me these were the guys who could connect me to any coffee quality, varietal, and growing region I could ever dream of, and that they could facilitate transparent buying relationships with the coffee producers year over year.
The next harvest season, I was on a plane to Guatemala and would establish a very key relationship with Don Higinio in Sierra de Las Minas. I began sourcing our Guatemalan coffee from one of his fincas, Cerro de Oro, which translates to Mountain of Gold. Over the years, this coffee, along with Don Higinio's Sierra de Las Minas, have consistently found its way into several of our coffee blends, as well as being featured as a single origin light roast and single origin dark roast. The coffees from Cerro de Oro and Sierra de Las Minas are very versatile in how they can be roasted and always represents the best qualities of a Guatemalan coffee. They taste sweet like caramel, pleasantly acidic like an orange, and have a nutty, chocolatey undertone. I’ve been buying coffee from Don Higinio ever since. This year, I will import almost 25,000 lbs of coffee from his farms.
(left, Jonathan Meadows, center, Don Higinio, right, Josue Morales)
After living, or still living through a pandemic that seems to be never ending, I’ve had to question the importance of traveling to other countries to buy coffee. Is it really necessary? After all, with all of the technology at our disposal, much of my coffee buying job could be carried out via Zoom, email, snail-mail, and phone. All of this, of course, lacks a personal touch that I miss. I’ve always been an in-person meeting kinda guy. But is it really necessary when there is a risk of spreading or catching a communicable disease? I’m really trying hard to not write or discuss the pandemic as we’ve all been living it, and I know that no one really wants to talk about it anymore. However, there are just some moments when it must be discussed.
So, admittedly, I don’t HAVE to travel to do this job, but I do believe that elements of my job, and ultimately, the coffee quality that you taste from my company and the culture of my company are intrinsically enhanced, and made better by my visits to Cerro de Oro, the coffee lab, the coffee mill in Antigua, and the drinking of mezcal with Josue Morales as he tells us amazing stories of his work in coffee and with the people of Guatemala. As with all things coffee, the devil is in the details, and details tend go get summarized when you type an email.
I’ve been away for so long that I hope to recapture and remember the elements that make this kind of travel important. I intend to document my travels better on this trip and future coffee trips, as to better share the story of coffee, and most importantly, the people that produce this thing that we cannot live without.