Artisans, Design, and Big Dreams

It’s been a busy few weeks here. Sometimes it seems like doing work is the best way to create new work. Every finished project opens the doors to two more. A large part of my focus in the past two weeks has been on different design projects, mostly directed toward the coffee courses that fund our project. This is the front of a flyer waiting approval from one of our partners to go to print:

and our new logo:

Lately we’re really looking into different ways to promote our artisan connections. Things like our connection with a local guitar maker and local ceramicists seem like great ways to both generate a little extra revenue for the project and to introduce people to the communities who don’t have the time to commit to volunteering. Check out our pages for our ceramicist and guitar makers here:

Guitars

Ceramics

Our first volunteers since I’ve taken on the role as coordinator are coming this Saturday. I’m excited, it will be a learning process I’m sure. Bismark and Noemy, their hosts, live in a beautiful little house with a tiled roof and clay walls up in Mozonte. They have a small farm where they grow corn and beans, and a little coffee crop, all without the slightest hint of machinery or chemicals. They make their own cheese and sour cream in the house. Claudia has made some comments about how she’s jealous of our new volunteers. I can’t help but agree.

It’s our program’s hope that eventually we’ll have a small demonstration farm in Mozonte as well, with the idea of creating a community garden and agricultural learning center. With a little luck, after this year’s coffee season we might have enough to buy an acre or two and start on that. I’d really love to see more variety in the crops grown here, and the only way to start is teaching through demonstration. After all, what good is it to grow broccoli if no one knows a recipe with it?

A good analogy for why teaching agriculture in this fashion might be my relationship with sushi, one I feel like is probably shared with at least one person reading this. The first time I heard about sushi I was, well, pretty grossed out by the idea of eating raw fish, but then when I tried it I fell in love with the buttery deliciousness of salmon sashimi. If we can give community members a taste of the metaphorical sashimi that is a multiculture, maybe they’ll fall in love.

It should be possible to buy a piece of land to start a demonstration farm for around 10,000USD. It seems like so little for land in american eyes, but it’s an incredible amount of money here. Like I mentioned before, the revenue generated through the courses for industry professionals in the coffee season should bring us pretty close, but it’s hard to know for sure.

The next couple weeks will definitely be interesting. We’ll keep you posted.

-Bennett LaFond, Project Coordinator

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Where Your Coffee Comes From

While Guardabarranco does a number of different things, the project centers around small coffee producers and their communities. Despite having grown up in Seattle, being a coffee lover, and being surrounded by coffee lovers my whole life, I really never had any idea where my coffee came from before the first time I met Claudia and she showed me the farms in Dipilto. I thought I’d start this blog with a short description of where that delicious dark beverage I, and so many others, consume every morning comes from.

Your coffee starts as a seedling in a seedbed. The seeds (coffee beans) used to grow coffee are carefully selected from the best plants on a farm. The best variety of coffee plant to grow depends on the growing conditions of the farm and the preferences of the market.

The strongest seedlings then make their way from the seedbed to a shaded nursery. As the time for planting approaches, the shade is removed to prepare the plants for transplantation to the hillsides.

Plants take about 2 years to begin producing coffee. Their production increases until it reaches it’s maximum at 7 years and then begins to decrease. Between 8-9 years they will cut the plant to it’s stump and it will grow again.

When the cherries are ripe they will turn either red or yellow, depending on the variety of plant. Each cherry contains two coffee beans. The inside the cherry around the beans is a sweet and mildly stimulating “honey”, which answered my long standing question: If coffee beans are toxic until they are toasted, why did anyone bother toasting them?

During harvest season, large groups of migrant workers travel north from farm to farm with the harvest.

Coffee picking is hard work, it’s necessary to only pick the ripe cherries and leave the green ones. As well, if a cherry is not twisted off the branch properly the plant will not grow another cherry in its place in the following season. Workers must go quickly, and to make matters more difficult, most coffee farms are at least partially situated on steep and often muddy slopes, combined with the bushy foliage of the coffee plants, just moving around is a chore.

The cherries are then de-pulped. This means removing the soft outer layer of the cherry. In our small farms, this is done with a machine powered by a 2-stroke motor from a dirt-bike fed from the story above by the worker’s baskets. It’s important that this machine is calibrated properly so that it removes all the pulp without biting the beans.

Here we have the wet-mill. The wet-mill is used to separate the good beans from all the rest of the stuff. This worker is stirring the beans in the chute. At the end of the chute is a skimmer that stops the bad floating material. The good beans, which sink, fall into a catch where they are strained and then put in big 100lb bags called ‘quintales’.

As quickly as possible the beans are taken to drying-patios. Here they are dried. They are constantly turned over with repeated raking.

When they’re dried, they’re taken to a warehouse where they’re stored and aged. A light colored papery material called ‘parchment’ loosens itself from the bean. This is removed from the bean leaving, ideally, a grain that is bluish-green, well shaped, and slightly translucent.

The coffee you drink is probably roasted with a big machine, a little like a laundry dryer, which rolls the beans and keeps them consistently moving. In the mountains, they use a wood fire, a cast iron pan, and a stick. The important factors here, with a machine or in a pan, are high heat and constant motion to get an even roast. It’s also necessary to provide some kind of wind or ventilation to remove light flaky chaff that peels off the beans during roasting. In this photo one of our producers, Roberto, is roasting in a pan.

Spin spin spin.

Cooling the beans quickly to stop the roast at the right point is important. Here, a piece of wire mesh is being used to give the beans good ventilation.

And there you have it, from beginning to end. If you’re anything like me, you’re craving a cup of coffee right about now.

(Special thanks to Clement Reidel for a large portion of the photos)

-Bennett LaFond