Origin Trip – Guatemala and El Salvador

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I recently traveled to Guatemala and El Salvador on a 12-day trip.  The focus of the trip was to develop relationships with some of the farmers that we are purchasing coffee from this year, to walk these farms and get a better understanding of them, and also to seek out new great new coffees.

With email and social networking, there is much that can be done these days in regards to initiating contact with farmers (many of the farmers we met are more savvy on social networking sites than I am!).  And coffee samples can be shipped across international borders, then roasted and cupped. We can sign contracts with the producers and arrange for importation and then offer our customers ‘Directly Traded’ coffees.  But until you visit the origin, see the farm and shake hands with producers, you simply don’t know what you don’t know.

With this being only my second trip to origin, there was a significant amount of realizations about what I didn’t know.  Some of the producers we visited are well-known in the specialty coffee world and some are not.  After visiting 7 different farms during this trip, an overarching observation is that a producer’s popularity within the industry is not necessarily an indicator of their passion for their people and their coffee.

The motivations and passions of the people we work with are supremely important to Oak Cliff Coffee, and it is something that I could never have appreciated simply via email and Facebook.  You really must know the people to understand their product.

I think this is true of my business and my customers as well.  From our inputs to our outputs, the relationships are really what make up Oak Cliff Coffee.  We are driven to roast the best coffee not just because we love great coffee (of course we do!) but because people rely on and enjoy our coffee, and as a roaster, we are simply stewards of someone else’s creation.

Two farms really stood out to us on the trip because of their love for their people and product:  Finca El Injerto, which sits a few kilometers from the Mexican border in La Libertad, Guatemala, and Hacienda Nombre de Dios in Matapan, El Salvador near the borders of Honduras and Guatemala.

El Injerto’s reputation is impeccable.  1st place finishes in 4 out of the last 5 Guatemala Cup of Excellence competitions, the COE record price of $80.20 per pound in 2008, 1st place in the 2010 Rainforest Alliance Cupping for Quality competition to name a few accolades.  Arturo Agguire, Jr and Sr are known for their meticulous preparation of the coffee.

Hacienda Nombre de Dios is lesser known in the US, despite being a finalist in multiple El Salvador Cup of Excellence competitions.  This is probably due to the fact that Europe and Japan have been buying much of their crop production over the last few years.  Maria and Javier (Maria’s son) Botto are producing great coffee on a beautiful farm, and taking care of the people who work the land for them.

Both of these farms were equally impressive in their own ways, although very different.  I will follow up over the next week or so with more about each of these two farms and our travels in Guatemala and El Salvador.

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