Okay, there was no commotion, other than the sounds of the mill. Had you going though, didn’t I?
Now to the guns. At another part of the Serben compound we got to see their cupping lab. Inside were two vintage Probat roasters that looked awesome and steampunk. In this lab the staff roast, grind and cup the various coffees they receive in order to determine cup characteristics and potential defects. Just before we left I learned why there is so much security, though it should have been obvious by now: coffee is a hot commodity, especially in locations where a lot of it is concentrated, like a dry mill. It is not entirely uncommon for tractor trailers flush with bags of coffee to be hijacked by bandits brandishing assault rifles, the drivers shot and tossed by the side of the road. That stolen coffee ends up sold on the black market. In order to prevent such attacks, or at least to reduce them, mill owners have had to spend a lot on security. Now a lot of trucks are equipped with GPS, and if they are immobile for more than 60 seconds, the mill calls the drivers to inquire why. They travel in convoys of at least 3 trucks to better their chances of arriving at port alive. In response, the bandits (which some believe actually have the support of corrupt local police) have upped the ante and have started to raid the dry mill in the middle of the night, killing guards and stealing tons of coffee. This is why the mill looks like a maximum security prison from the outside; but rather than trying to prevent escape, they are trying to prevent people from getting in.
The final full day in Guatemala we visited the HQ of ANACAFE for an awesome lunch and a tour of their state of the art cupping facilities. Then we were off to one of Unitrade’s retail cafes for a pick-me-up, during which a short woman with a green t-shirt rubbed up against me and stole my camera (I was under the impression that I was hot stuff, but really it was just theft. Meh.). Not to be discouraged because everyone else on the trip has pictures, we departed to Unitrade’s offices for a tour and a cupping of regional coffees from Guatemala. For some reason there was some kind of caged owl in their parking lot.
And thus ends the overly verbose account of our trip to origin. Minus the theft, I would recommend an origin trip to pretty much anyone – not just coffee professionals. It is an altogether different and I think more enriching experience than a resort trip. With the dynamic locations, and dust, and coffee pulp, and wildlife, and education, and the kids, and the beer, and not to forget the discussions with our tripmates, I have grown and learned more than I thought possible; I also am hungry to learn even more and to continue to expand my horizons. The main thing I think I will take away from this trip? To not allow strange women rub up against me, in public at least. Kidding! It is the awareness that in coffee, and in specialty coffee in particular, we are all linked in a chain from seedling to cup; that we all, for the moment, occupy certain links in that chain; and that by increasing dialogue and education we can strengthen these links and even begin to transcend them – coffee drinkers, roasters and baristas become farmers, farmers become cuppers, roasters and coffee drinkers. We are all partners in the process.
The final leg of our journey involves some smiling children, a dusty and noisy dry mill ringed by razor wire and guarded by men with guns, and a little petty theft as well.
The road to Acatenango and La Guarderia de Las Nubes (The Daycare in the Clouds) was winding, scenic and tragic all in one. Read More