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"This Coffee is for You, Sir"

by Zach Payton on

 

We landed at the Guatemala City airport and stepped outside to the arrivals loading dock, where we were welcomed with a sepia of whizzing cars, horns, and bird calls unfamiliar. Six hours it took, from sharp, Minnesotan air, to the thick blanket like humidity wrapping the equatorial line.

I asked Josh who was picking us up. He said “Julio”. I said, “how do we find Julio?” As I peered around, standing there in the airport median “pickups”, I saw this cool looking cat; Ray Bans, leather boots, strutting across the “do not walk” part of traffic…. Julio.

Julio
[Pictured: Julio Abonce]

Julio represents Onyx. Onyx is the coffee middleman, so to say, that Fika uses as an importer to get coffee from the farm, to our roastery door. He’s the mover and shaker, getting things done, and making the magic happen. On this trip, Julio was our inside man, our translator, our local guide, our friend. The four of us shoved into the Uber car big enough for three, and sped off into the Guatemalan city streets, weaving in and out of New York City like traffic, without the rules.

Let’s get this straight, there are rules, but you have to figure them out yourself. What I observed is life a bit more natural, more rhythmic. Not so much written law like a controlled box, but more of a flow, like water finding its way to more water. Guatemalan time - it’ll happen when it happens. Traffic - you will get passed or pass at all chances, split lanes into oncoming traffic, but always in your lane when needed. Hand out the window palm down - do not pass. Hand waving on - you’re good to go. Hand open, perpendicular with the road - the middle finger. Rules learned.

Julio got us on the next regional, twelve seater, dual prop flight, up the Pan-American highway, and into the city-state of Huehuetenango, where the farm owners and our host Family, the Villatoros, awaited our arrival. Julio said, “anything you need man, just ask”.

 

[Pictured: Aurelio Villatoro]

The Villatoros are a third generation coffee farming family. Aurelio's father planted the coffee, he’s growing the coffee, and his kids (Rodin, Jenner, Crista) are running the operations. Aurelio’s English is not very good, and my Spanish is worse than his English, but he is one of those people in the world where communication is more than just words. When he embraces you with welcome, and shares that moment of eye contact, you know you’ve made a new friend, and are in company of the highest quality. 

Aurelio asked us if there were any requests for the trip. A matter of fact, I’d heard there were hot springs near, flowing from the volcanoes towering about Guatemala. Aurelio took no time and told us to suit up, jump in the truck, and head straight to the water, now 7pm of the 16 hour travel day. A mountain community, centered around a hot spring shrine, filling multiple large pools and tubs, where kids, families, elders and teens gather for a hot soak and a hang out. Post soak we were taken to the connected restaurant … of course serving hot traditional Guatemalan soup. A clear broth, chicken, cilantro, rice, and a side of tamales. We and the entire Villatoro family gathered around a long 20 something seating table, and were brought two large pots of this fantastic meal. We all passed around utensils and tamales… and Julio with the honors of filling the bowls, handing them to us, saying, “for you sir”. 

 

[Pictured: The Villatoro’s processing farm, Finca Punta Del Cerro]

The Villatoro’s trucked us up, two hours into the ‘Huehue mountains via Toyota pickups, where we took turns jumping out of the cab, and into the truck bed, so as to stand and feel the mountains towering above us. These mountain roads are tight, rough, without room for mistake, and make Northern Minnesotan gravel county roads feel like a breeze. Up and down, side to side, fast and slow - everything covered in dust, hair feeling like natural hairspray - pushed back by the wind and holding form by particulates. Arriving at the Villatoro’s processing farm, Finca Punta Del Cerro, will make you blush. Thousands of pounds of ripe coffee cherries being unloaded by truck, the cherry de-pulping station humming, mountain spring water flowing through washing channels and patios after patios of some of the best coffee in the world, drying in the sun, all on their way to ship to Lutsen, MN.

[Pictured: Tree with ripe coffee cherries]

We headed up and into the elevation to walk the coffee tree trails. This is March, and Guatemala is literally popping off with coffee. The mountain sides glimmer with red, ripe, coffee cherries in all directions. Almost every truck bed you pass on the road is stacked full with coffee bags. For only a few short weeks during the annual coffee harvest, Guatemala is in a full hustle to get the cherries off the trees, processed, and into storage and tasting labs for import.

 

[Pictured: Coffee Cherries]

The Villatoro’s welcomed us to their tasting lab, where they carefully prepared the cupping table. This table is where our family farmers get to show off what they’ve grown for us this year. In many ways, it’s a microcosm of the overall energy one feels while in the beautiful country of Guatemala. The table showcases a relationship built between us and them, holding pride, respect and honor.

We are the buyers, looking to contract a year's worth of coffee for our roastery. They are the producers, looking to sell a year's worth of crop to a client that will highlight their hard work. It’s all on the table. Once the Villatoro’s have everything set and ready to taste, they step away with hands behind their backs. Julio steps up, one hand presenting the table of coffee, the other touching Josh’s back. “This table is for you, Sir”. Julio steps away and the table is Josh’s, the coffee is Fika’s.

[Pictured: Zach and Josh tasting coffee at the cupping table]
[Pictured: Florencio Villatoro holding a bag of the coffee that grew on his farm]
[Pictured: Zach from Fika Coffee with natural processed coffee cherries]
[Pictured: Petronilo Martinez, Aurelio's brother-in-law, who oversees the nursery program in the community of Hoja Blanca]
[Pictured L to R: Aurelio Villatoro, Arcelia Villatoro, Josh (Fika), Claire (Fika), Rodin Villatoro, Zach (Fika) and Crista Villatoro]
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Narrative & Photography 
-Zach Payton
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Current coffee offerings grown and produced at the Villatoro's farm:

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Interested in reading about our previous trips to Guatemala?

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