My First Trip To Origin
The city welcomed us with bustling roadways and the stunning purple colour of the Jacaranda trees that flooded the city streets as we prepared to board a small plane to Huehuetenango. This was officially the smallest plane I'd ever been on, and I was a little nervous, but as we flew higher and higher over the mountains, I knew it was my official welcome to Guatemala. I finally made it to origin!!
At our first stop, Concepcion Huista, we met one of our previous producer relationships, Diego Cardona, at El Sendero Cooperative, with whom we purchased our coffee Finca Canlaj both this year and last. They also had a full roaster and a great lab organized with a cupping area, which Hillary from Primavera shared that there has been so much growth from last year. This is exciting to see as a big co-op that can help to support smaller producers from all over, considering how rugged the terrain is, making it more accessible for local producers to receive income.
Next up was the small town, located at the high elevation of 2175 MASL, Com, where we visited a group of Indigenous women who exclusively spoke their native language Popti. They were curious about where we were visiting from and where their coffees were consumed.
It was there that we spoke with Paula Pérez, who represents Jovemcafé, in the Com community of Jacaltenango, who currently works alongside Primavera Coffee for their shared initiative with 1% for the Planet & The Chain Collaborative. Their initiative focuses on financial stability and career development opportunities for individuals in the community through their egg-selling business. Paula showed us their backyard chicken coop filled with 300 hens. They were also using their manure for Nitrogen to help fertilize the soil of their gardens, where they are currently experimenting with growing peaches and avocados.
As I listened to these women speaking their native tongue Popti, I was overcome by emotion, as I wasn't familiar with women having so much of an impact on specialty coffee at a producer level. It felt like a privilege to be in their presence and see women's incredible effort at the forefront of energy input in the specialty coffee industry.
As we took a few moments to take pictures with everyone, gazing onward toward T'zun Witz (another coffee we carry!!), I couldn't help but notice the music playing on the mountainside, many vibrant coloured homes glistening in the warm heat and the feeling of the sun, so hot to the skin, but yet, the air so cool as it brushed through my hair.
Next, we visited Petrona Perez and her sister Silvy as they showed us her washing station and drying beds. This is where I got to touch green coffee in its fermentation stage for the first time. It was pretty surreal to feel it from de-pulping. The mucilage must be removed after cherries are de-pulped, like a thick jelly and super -ick to the touch. Seeing this process really gave perspective to the multiple stages of processing there are for green coffee. Especially at such a micro level, where everything is being taken care of by a single family and all done with intention and care by hand.
As I continued to explore Petrona's backyard, I noticed I had a few little giggling followers; Catarina and her sisters were smiling (and shoving) amongst each other, as actual siblings do. So I called them over to play some soccer together and explored their backyard, which consisted of drying beds high and low but was also, surprisingly, surrounded by lots of beautiful flowers! Between Petrona's washing station and gorgeous plumage of flowers, it felt like a sanctuary – a well-loved and respected space filled with love and inspiration while being shared to raise her daughters and niece.
So as we frolicked around the garden, I learned new words in Spanish. My favourite new word was Mariposa, which means butterfly, I asked after I saw a few landing and enjoying the flowers. Their favourite English word was certainly Canada. They all thought it was hilarious. We smelled various flowers, and as I collected my things, Petrona made us coffee and biscuits, which helped us take a short break from the sun! As I was taking in my surroundings and trying to be in the moment, to my surprise, I turned to see four beautiful smiling girls holding their flowers in the doorway, and immediately my heart felt so complete. I will never forget Petrona's house and her children, Catarina and her sisters, as the Hermosa Mariposas (beautiful butterflies) they were.
We stopped for a brief lunch in Petetan (quesadillas, of course), and then we were off to meet Rosendo Domingo and his family at his home. His father was hand sorting freshly picked cherries, so red they looked like jewels, and removing cherries that weren’t quite ripe, which is commonly known as part of the defect removal process.
I was met by his cheeky son, who was very passionate about helping his mom at the washing station. We shared a few Hi-chews (the best candies). He was super curious about photo taking, so I helped him with a little bit of composition and was illuminated when he could take some lovely snaps of mom and dad and a coffee tree growing through the cinder block out of the side of their home!! It was assumed that upon movement, one must have fallen through the cracks and decided to shine. Nature does find a way.
Rosendo Domingo’s family was also extremely kind and warm-hearted, sharing a fresh loaf of cornbread and homemade horchata. As we perched on their stairs and took in the warm afternoon breeze, I just thought there was something so quaint about the coffee washing, colourful laundry blowing in the wind, with such a stunning mountain range that was so humbly their backyard view.
Rosendo also took us on a short hillside hike, where I got to see my first cherry tree. Hiking uphill toward the farm was no easy feat, and it made me appreciate all the labour that goes into carrying all of the extra weight downhill. At this moment, I realized how incredible the journey of specialty coffee is from seed to cup. Only a few moments later, I got to experience eating my very first coffee cherry!! It tasted like a semi-sweet bell pepper, not at all what I expected, and surprise! There were three beans inside instead of two; just my luck! Wheo, what a day!!
DAY 2 | BODEGA VISIT & METIC'S QUALITY COMPETITION
After being awoken by roosters cawing, a nice change from my phone alarm, I swiftly popped out of bed to enjoy the sunny haze awakening the mountains.
We visited the Primavera bodega, where their receiver La Central delivered coffee. We then visited the local government building to participate in Metic's yearly quality competition. Esteban Lara greeted us and said some words before we cupped. I couldn't help but notice the small piece of tile he was standing on while presenting. I thought it needed a moment to shine.
My recommendation when travelling is always to look up and down! You'll probably be awed by details you might have missed otherwise (photographer hack!!)
Seeing so many local coffees on the cupping tables was fantastic, and I met a few new friends, like Esteban's daughter Angel, who snapped this photo of me. It felt rad to be present and watch multiple roasters cup all local coffees together; we also decided on a few of the best cups so they could be on Primavera's cupping table being organized for Thursday, but more on that later.
As we made our journey back to the airport to fly home, I couldn't help but notice there was always something going on everywhere you looked. Every little town felt so alive, from street markets to children playing to stunning blooming flowers on each street corner. And just like that, it was time to say goodbye to Huehuetenenago.
And it just so happened that we got to fly back into the city at sundown, so that meant another mesmerizing sunset from above was in store!
DAY 3 | VISITING PRIMAVERA/ LA CENTRAL DRY MILL & LA NUEVA MONTANA
We started off the day by visiting La Central Mill, where Primavera focuses on the quality control of green coffee being delivered to this incredible milling facility that was so awesome to see currently running off 35% solar power. While we shared a great pot of coffee, we saw truckloads of coffee cherry begin to arrive at the mill. WHOA, that was a lot of coffee on one truck bed. The sights and sounds of beautiful flowers lining the driveways and singing birds were quickly drowned out by the heavy machinery that removed the parchment and sorted the green coffee inside the mill.
Witnessing the process of the mill helped tie together how many hands green coffee travels through before it reaches the Detour roastery. We also got to see some farmers tending to drying beds naturally drying coffee cherries for quality control. We were introduced to producers Hector Reinoso, Antonio Gonzalez & his wife, Eby Aracely Samayoa. They shared some avocados from their farm that were so big they were the size of my head! She reminded me so much of one of my Tia's (Portuguese, for reference); she shared a warm energy that made me feel at home.
Driving towards our next stop, I was awed by the fields filled with a local tree which we know to be called the Wedding tree, a vibrant red/orange that made it appear as if the hills had set ablaze. It was explained that it was called that to resemble a couple's honeymoon stage, where everything is beautiful and budding, like foliage and blooms. Still, over time the flowers fall, and the trees are left with dangerous thorns like the aftermath of marriage.
The last farm we travelled to belonged to Antonio Gonzalez & Eby's farm, La Nueva Montana, which overlooked an atmospheric mountainside and had rows on rows of natural drying beds. Just walking uphill, you could smell the sweet berries, like a thirst-quenching juice to ease a hot summer day of my childhood. We helped to sort sticks, twigs and unripe cherries, but I was so eager to eat one because the aromatics were so fresh and juicy. I reached down and picked one, chewed and — WHOA, that was not what I was expecting!! The taste threw me for a loop; it was over-powering and sort of boozy, port wine-like like a strong vino.
We finished the day by heading back to Primavera's HQ in Guatemala City, where we could cup some fabulous coffees; we can confidently say there were more than a few favourites we hoped to buy this year. My favourites were some of the naturals (but you must stay tuned to see what Detour has in store!) If you want to check out more of the cupping experience, check out our Instagram Live here to join the fun.
We had a fantastic send-off dinner with everyone to celebrate the success of our visit. Although we were sad to say goodbye to everyone we had met, we knew that we had harnessed one-of-a-kind relationships that would go beyond the timeline of this trip to origin.
As I take the time to reflect on the whirlwind of my first origin visit, it was not what I expected – but so much more. Guatemala, you were inspiring, I’m grateful for the connections made and to have the opportunity to take in all the knowledge and passion that Producers had to share about the beauty and richness that their land had to offer — it felt completely humbling to be accepted into their world of specialty coffee; with warm hearts and acceptance into their sacred spaces. On one last note, I wanted to share an overwhelming thank you to Primavera for being gracious hosts for our visit and to Detour for accepting me with open arms, eager as I was to learn, and allowing me to fall more in love, and inspired by the world of specialty coffee.
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