Making Coffee From Scratch with De La Gente
We make the quick, 10 minute trip from Antigua to neighboring San Miguel Cristobal by Tuk-Tuk, bouncing around violently as it tears down the city’s cobblestone streets. In San Miguel’s small main square, in front of a yellow Colonial-era church, we meet the team from De La Gente and our guide for the day, Gabriel. Gabriel, born and raised in San Miguel, is a coffee farmer working with the De La Gente collective who will be leading our tour today.
We start with a short walk up the hill, to Gabriel’s “string,” 33 square meters of three Arabica varietals. Since having started with the collective seven years ago, Gabriel has become an expert on every step of the coffee farming process, including the most difficult portion, growing the beans. Learning how the trees are grown, from seed to sapling to a fully mature, fruit-bearing tree, we take in each bit of information with eager curiosity. We sample red beans and green ones, tasting the distinct difference between the sweet ripe berry and sour one.
Gabriel shares more details of the often difficult coffee growing process and shows us how to pick the fruit, giving insights to his own personal story along the way.
It was seven years ago that Gabriel finally listened to his older brother who had been urging him to join the coffee farming collective. Taking a chance on what had long seemed a risky decision, Gabriel joined the collective through the support of a microfinance program through De La Gente, making small loans accessible to prospective farmers. The loans, offered with zero interest, allowed Gabriel to purchase his first trees (575 in total) which he knew would take at least another year to bare fruit. Seven years later, Gabriel’s farm has grown, and with it, his coffee production. This year alone he produced over 2,000 pounds of beans (13,000 pounds of beans).
Making the short descent from the farm down the hill into town, we’re soon welcomed to Gabriel’s home (and processing plant) where we meet his wife and learn how the ripe fruit we just picked is turned into the perfectly roasted beans sold in nearby Antigua shops. Starting with the “pulpero,” a grinding machine rigged to a bicycle for manual power, we remove the semillas (seeds) from the surrounding pulp with a little help from some furious pedaling.
The next steps in the process would typically be to let the beans ferment together in plastic bags for 2 to 3 days, followed by a thorough rinse, then a period of sun drying which lasts approximately 6-8 days. After removing the outside husk, the hardened “green” beans we now have are ready to be roasted, in this case on the family’s fire heated ceramic stove. Spreading the beans across the stovetop, carefully moving them about so they don’t burn, we work toward a dark roast. The difference, Gabriel says, between a medium and dark roast can be as little as 20 seconds of roasting in a commercial roaster. Here, using old school methods, it takes a bit longer.
As the wonderful aromas of the roasted Arabica beans waft through Gabriel’s home, we can almost taste the coffee. Using a large volcanic stone rolling mortar and pestle, Gabriel’s wife quickly turns the roasted beans into delicious grinds, ready to be transformed into homemade Guatemalan cafe, straight from the source. And the first sips do not disappoint. The coffee is dark, strong, and surprisingly smooth. The result, we surmise, of great beans that have been carefully processed and thoroughly roasted by experts.
As we sit drinking the last of our coffee, Gabriel explains how this collective has changed his life and created opportunities for him and his family. He now has enough money to make improvements to his family home and is saving to send his children to university. He wants them to learn to speak English, which will result in a chance to earn double the salary of the average Guatemalan. The literal fruits of Gabriel’s labor, have created opportunities for his family and hopefully, generations to come.
Article written by our ambassadors Ryan and Megan. Read more on their blog !