A return to Guatemala 2019
It always seems to take some time for me to “unpack my bags” and write about an expedition to the source of our coffee, an origin country, a magical land, always south of Kansas City.
Honestly, I feel like once it’s documented on a page or screen, in written word, that journey is finished. Luckily, I always have a couple of months to wait for the arrival of the coffee we find. While my bags are still packed, the tales flow from memory, to mouth, to anyone within earshot. I’m not exactly sure if waiting to write things down clarifies in my mind what actually occurred, or just increases the height of the tale.
As far as I can recall, everything that happened in those weeks leading up to the Expedition, our time in Guatemala, and even continuing into the current day, are all true. Only a couple of names have been changed to protect the innocent, but no locations have been renamed.
Please read along, and allow me to remove the memories from my bags. It’s time to unpack. The aroma of the coffee from San Jose Poaquil will transport you along with me, and the first sip will make this tale easier to swallow.
If some of this sounds unbelievable, well you’ve never ridden with me in a truck through Central America. I’ll wait right here while you grind and brew a cup. Let’s Go!
There are coincidences, serendipitous events that happen all the time. In Guatemala, there is something else. A force of some sort that we might not recognize in our everyday hectic lives. I experienced this force the first time we visited there, and five years later, the strange coincidences began the moment I decided it was time to go back…
I’ll start from the beginning in a timeline of sorts.
It takes approximately three to five years for a coffee shrub to produce enough fruit to harvest. John Greiner, and I first traveled to Guatemala after the harvest in 2014. While the freshly planted seedlings we saw in the nursery above Lake Atitlan were growing, John moved to Portland, Maine and I spent a number of years traveling to Nicaragua.
When my Apprentice Chris decided to move to the other Portland, I made a curious call to John to see how things were going in Maine, and he answered the call somewhere in the Green Mountains of Vermont. We’ll be back in Kansas City in a few weeks! How about we pick up where we left off? Jajaja, Perfect!
The coffee around the Lake was now ripe, and ready to taste so it seemed like a good time to check in with what might be going on at the tiny Cooperative we visited long ago.
John, you want to go back to Guatemala?
You driving again? Absolutely. The guy in Guatemala City said he has the same truck for us. OK, I’m in.
The first step in preparation for an Expedition like this is to pull out the maps, and look up old friends.
To my surprise, a quick Google search for San Miguel Tzampetey brought up a video that had been uploaded 2 hours before.
A man speaking English was filming the town where he had grown up.
In Spanish he was speaking with the family who lived there, just down a path from the COOP. He quickly changed from Spanish to English, as he continued tearfully talking about how difficult it is for these people to make a living from day to day.
He was saying that even with the benefits of living in the USA, he missed the simple things about living above the Lake.
Who is this man filming just inside the town I need to pay a visit to? Within a few more clicks, and a few more photos, I was chatting with Carlos via Messenger.
Lo and behold, he was visiting his farm where he grows coffee to have processed at the COOP. For the past few years he’s driven his Jeep from the USA to Guatemala to harvest the beans that grow on his small plot. I tell him I want to visit again soon.
Absolutely sceptical, he says he’s leaving the Lake to come back North to work, and should be there in a few weeks. I let him know that if he brings me some green coffee back I’d roast it for him.
I need to taste it, and if it’s still as good as I remember from years ago I will make a plan to visit San Miguel.
A few weeks later, and I have 4 lbs of parchment to mill by hand with a letter saying it has been a dream to find a Roaster who knew the quality of the small town above the Lake.
The sample I had was just enough to taste that the quality had been maintained at the COOP. I decided I needed to meet Carlos in person to deliver his roasted coffee. Gracie and Sylvie’s spring break was coming up so we planned a trip through Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and back to KC.
Along the way, we scheduled a family dinner and I invited my new friend Carlos. I think he was a bit overwhelmed by the group we had at the Mexican restaurant.
We exchanged handshakes, and I delivered the coffee he had brought back, with a proper label and roasted to perfection