Last weekend I had the privilege of visiting La Voz Cooperative, a coffee cooperative, that is located in the stunningly beautiful Lake Atitlan region of the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Lake Atitlán provides an ideal environment for growing coffee—the region has a cooler climate than most other parts of Guatemala, there is plentiful and consistent rainfall each year, and the area is surrounded by the rich soils of the Atitlán, Toliman and the San Pedro volcanoes.
Since moving to Guatemala a year and a half ago, I have discovered all the wonderful things Guatemala has to offer. From picturesque Mayan ruins and steaming volcanoes, to lush jungles and beaches to the warm indigenous culture and its range of breathtaking scenery—Guatemala offers an incredibly rich and distinctive culture.
Guatemala is also known for producing some of the best coffee in the world. Large coffee fincas can be found in many parts of Guatemala. Smaller-hold Guatemala coffees come from cooperatives like La Voz, in Lake Atitlán, that run their own mills. They market their coffee under the poetic name “La Voz que Clama en el Desierto.”
Coffee begins as a fruit. It takes three to five years for trees to produce the round berries that start out green and ripen red.
What is unique to La Voz Cooperative is that they grow their crops in harmony with nature without the use of harmful chemicals. Their coffee is grown high in the mountains, 4,300 – 6,500 feet above sea level, where the forest canopy shades the coffee plants to protect them from bitterness.
La Voz Cooperative is made up of the communities of the indigenous Tzutujil, Kakchiquel and Quiche Mayan people who have been cultivating coffee in this region for the past 90 years. They are skillful producers dedicated to community collaboration and growing certified organic coffee.
Harvesting usually begins in November and runs through February. Walking along the roadside you can see thousands of hectares of coffee trees covering the lush mountain sides all needing to be handpicked. Yes, you heard me correctly, harvesting is done by handpicking. Each tree is picked NUMEROUS times during harvest season. The fruit must be processed the same day it is picked otherwise the beans inside may spoil.
This time of year in Guatemala the seasons are changing. We move from the rainy to the dry season, which means hot sunny days with blustery winds and high UV levels. This drier environment is necessary to dry the coffee cherries outside in the sun.
After Colombia, Guatemala ranks second in the world in the amount of high-grade coffee it produces, and has the highest percentage of its crop classified as “high quality” by world-wide buyers.
Concrete or clay patios are most common in Guatemala. They allow producers to dry large amounts of coffee at a time on an easily raked surface.
Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, after oil. It is estimated that the global coffee industry earns in excess of $60 billion dollars annually, yet less than 10% of those earnings end up in the countries where the coffee is produced, and slightly less than 0.5% of the total earnings translate into wages for those who actually labor to produce the coffee. For every $3.25 latte sold in the U.S., approximately 1 penny of that goes to the workers who do the actual work of growing and harvesting the coffee beans.
Once the coffee beans are clean, they are spread out on a flat surface where the warm Guatemalan sun dries them. To ensure consistency of the coffee, the beans must be turned constantly by using rakes during the drying process.
In Guatemala, it’s a culture of friendly people who are always smiling.
The dried beans are sacked.
The beautiful face of woman who dedicates herself to the work of planting and harvesting coffee beans.
Second-quality beans are of a darker color even when dry, and are taken out and consumed locally.
I am so grateful to La Voz Cooperative in San Juan La Laguna, Sololá Guatemala and the incredibly hard-working, but grateful farm workers who welcomed us into their life for a day. The journey from tree to cup is incredibly time consuming. I hope this blog enlightens you on the amount of labor that goes into the steaming cup of coffee you enjoy every day.