>> Interested in coming with us on a Guatemala coffee origin trip? Our 2021 trip is now open! Learn more here.
By Karen Lickteig, Marketing & Sustainability Director for Nossa Familia Coffee
Four years ago, in 2016, I had the opportunity to go on my very first-ever coffee origin trip to Guatemala with Nossa Familia. It was also the first-ever company trip to Guatemala for Nossa too, and we were just starting to build up relationships with a few new coffee suppliers in the country. I felt extremely lucky to be chosen to go on this trip, and to have the opportunity to travel to a beautiful new place to meet coffee producers and to learn more about the production side of coffee. I went to Guatemala with a group of fellow staff and a few wholesale customers of Nossa Familia. During that trip, it was the first time that many of our coffee farming partners had cupped their own coffee, or been in the same room with a group so representative of the supply chain—producer, importer, roaster, wholesaler, retailer, and baristas. I’d been absorbing all the knowledge I could about coffee, but I’ll be the first to tell you that reading about coffee farming, even seeing photos and videos, pales in comparison to what you can learn by spending just a day on a farm, touching the plants and beans, and soaking in coffee knowledge from the farmers themselves.
Fast forward through those four years, and we’ve just wrapped up our fifth Guatemala coffee origin trip. That first time I went to Guatemala back in 2016, I truly fell in love with the country, and simply had to find a way to go back. Every year since then, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of organizing our trips and leading standout groups of our staff, wholesale clients, and inquisitive customers on these unforgettable origin trips. This year, we brought 21 people to Guatemala across two, weeklong trips to learn more about coffee production directly from the farmers themselves. We got to visit with our producers — Timoteo Minas, Fredy Gonzalez and other members of the San Miguel Escobar Cooperative; members of the Young Farmers or Seguna Generación group; Julio of La Armonia Hermosa; and Finca San Jerónimo Miramar. We rounded out the trip with visits to our friends at The New Denim Project and Coffee District café in Guatemala City.
Nossa Familia’s purpose as a company is “To deliver exceptional farm-direct coffee and create positive relationships locally & globally.” We are also a Certified B Corporation, and work to uphold that model of using business as a force for good. If we did one thing to exemplify every word in that phrase, it would be traveling to coffee origin and meeting with our producers, and sharing that experience with as many people as we can, in a responsible way. This trip truly exemplifies all of Nossa Familia’s company core values in some way — we are ABMF’ing (always be making friends), Living Fully, expressing and experiencing Care. It also takes a not-insignificant amount of Entrepreneurial Spirit to navigate through new, foreign lands in a different language. Our coffee origin trip is an unforgettable, transformative, even life-changing experience. Several common threads emerged from this year’s Guatemala coffee origin trip with our staff that I want to reflect on and share with you here, along with some impressions and reflections from a few of our team members who attended the trip.
The first theme of this year’s trip was transparency. A trip like this is a unique opportunity for everyone to be open and honest with each other, to ask our burning questions and get the answers we’ve sought. This year, we went a step further to try to bring a new level of transparency to our visit with producers. We worked with our nonprofit importing partner De la Gente to organize a Transparency Forum with members of the San Miguel Escobar Cooperative (Café Artesanal San Miguel Entre Volcanes de Antigua). We had a representative of each step of the supply chain—roaster (Nossa Familia), importer (De la Gente), and producer (the cooperative—give a presentation with a deep-dive into their operations. We handed out copies of our Sustainability & Transparency Report to the farmers to see a breakdown of what goes into our work, and we enjoyed hearing from the other sides about how they operate, what are their challenges and their successes. At the end of this forum, we all had a much clearer understanding of the other sides of the supply chain.
Another theme that emerged throughout the trip was growth. Since I have come on this trip for the past few years, I’ve been able to see first-hand the amount of growth that our producer partners have experienced. Working with the same partners year over year means that as we grow at Nossa Familia, they grow too. As we sell more coffee to our customers, it means we can buy more from our producers, and they can grow their businesses and quality of life. For our partners, growth means being able to acquire new plots of farmland, plant new coffee trees, and learn more about farming practices and techniques that help to nurture a healthier farm. It also means growing a family, getting married or having children and grandchildren, building additions or making upgrades to a home, acquiring technology and appliances that can help make once-arduous tasks like cooking or laundry a bit easier. Growth is becoming more sophisticated and educated in farming, production and business practices. I really felt what it means to grow as we enjoyed a delicious home-cooked lunch on Timoteo Minas’s beautiful and bright new rooftop patio that he had added onto his home over the past year. From our lunch spot, we could see the area just next to the patio where he had his freshly harvested coffee drying. In a few months that coffee, having passed through a few more processes and hands, would travel the long journey to us at our roastery in Portland.
Finally, the last theme we experienced was hope. Our coffee producers are hopeful for their futures in coffee, and what their work and the product have in store for their futures. To be sure, that hope doesn’t come without a fair share of challenges. The farmers are challenged every day by so many factors: the effects of climate change and unpredictable weather patterns; low market prices for coffee that may even be below the cost of production; lack of access to resources and cash flow; human migration that makes it difficult to find pickers and farmworkers; fungi and pests (such as roya, coffee leaf rust, and broca, the coffee borer beetle) that pose extreme threats to their coffee crops; and more. But through it all, they remain committed to their craft and their crops, and excited for what is yet to come.
We felt this sense of hope most strongly when meeting with the Young Farmers Group of the San Miguel Escobar community, or the Segunda Generación de Café Entre Volcanes. We purchased the young farmers’ first harvest as a group a couple years ago and want to do what we can to support their work. We spent a delightful evening with these young coffee producers, many of whom are the children, nieces and nephews of the members of the San Miguel Escobar Cooperative. On our trip, we took over a cafe in Antigua and prepared their coffee we brought with us from Portland. We shared a delicious meal and drinks together and learned about each other’s work. This past holiday season, we raised funds for the group through sales of our Festa Holiday Blend, with 50 cents of every bag we sold going back to the De la Gente Young Farmers Fund. We learned that one of the goals this group has is to open their own coffee shop together in Guatemala, and to offer a farm-to-cup café experience, and they are working hard to gain the knowledge and tools they need to be successful. Their hope and excitement about their futures in coffee was infectious, and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish.
I am grateful to everyone who made this trip possible. Our staff and wholesale customers who come along, the producers we meet with, the importing partners like De la Gente, and the founder & Chief Friendship Officer of Nossa Familia, Augusto, who sees the intangible value of these trips that bring indescribable benefit so many. Our hearts are full!
Staff Reflections on the Guatemala Coffee Origin Trip
From Emily Ochoa, Manager of Nossa Familia’s Central Eastside Café
This trip was so spectacular for so many reasons. The group we had, the laughs we shared, the knowledge we gained, the miles we travelled, the food we ate. Everything was beyond my expectations.
What was the highlight of your trip?
The highlight of my trip was experiencing what Guatemala has to offer. The hospitality, the food, the weather, the farmers, the history and the overall feel of the place.
What’s something that surprised or particularly interested you from the trip?
I think the entire process of growing and harvesting coffee was pretty interesting and unlike anything I have experienced. It was awesome to see the contrast in each of the farmers’ processes—from Timo [Timoteo Minas, San Miguel Escobar Cooperative] to Fredy [Fredy Gonzalez, San Miguel Escobar Cooperative] to Julio [Julio Cuy, La Armonia Hermosa] to Giorgio [Finca San Jerónimo Miramar]. All unique and so talented, while doing their work to the best of their abilities within their means.
If you could tell Nossa customers one thing you took away from this experience, what would it be?
I think realizing all the hard work, dedication, and focus that goes into growing this amazing plant long before we come into contact with it, was the most humbling experience.
Would you recommend to others to go on a trip like this? If so, why?
I would recommend this trip so intensely! haha I had such a grand time and will remember it for the rest of my life. It would be inspiring if more people could take trips to origin and truly experience this incredible opportunity. Is is so easy to just drink coffee and not think much about the supply chain before it arrives here in Portland. I will never look at coffee the same.
After going on this trip, what coffee are you most excited to share with others, and why?
After going on this trip I am most excited to share all coffees we have from Guatemala. Meeting the farmers and spending time in their homes meant so much. They are all so generous and kind and I just want to give back and share the beauty in what they have created for us.
From Brittany Dawn, Event Marketing Manager
This experience exposed me to the care and effort which was put into each and every bean, every step of the way. To think of all of the beans which I have dropped or spilled over the years!!.. Someone tended to that coffee tree, picked those cherries by hand, wet-milled them, dryed them, dry milled them, roasted them, etc! I have a hell of a lot of respect for that end product now!
What was the highlight of your trip?
Delving into the world of coffee with others who are so passionate- coworkers, partners and farmers. We fueled each other's excitement -soaking it all in!
What’s something that surprised or particularly interested you from the trip?
That higher quality and premium-priced coffee (like ours) is made from the deep red, ripe cherries. The imperfect cherries- unripened, molding, pest ridden, are sold at a cheap price to other buyers. Based on the negative flavor impacts, this coffee is often roasted darkly to mask the impurities.