There are very few people that can make me pee in my pants with laughter like my sister Becky does. She lives in Dallas so I don’t get to see her very much. So when we had an opportunity to take pictures together over Christmas break, we were true to form and could not stop laughing. Becky, Shanna Kaye, and I had a lot of fun goofing around at Sola Coffee. We discussed her recent trip to Guatemala, and I thought it was too interesting not to share her experience. So scroll down to check out our conversation…
Tell me about your recent trip to Guatemala. I had a few extra vacation days saved up, but I wanted to do something that was off the beaten path. So, I volunteered through an organization called Unearth The World that links people with meaningful volunteer travel experiences.
Sounds amazing and a totally “Becky” thing to do. So what did you end up doing? I’ve always been interested in working on a coffee farm so I can learn more about the growing process. Eventually I’d like to work in sustainable coffee or cocoa sourcing. So Unearth The World linked me with a local non-profit in Guatemala to harvest coffee beans with local farmers.
Way cool! But, hold up. You said you planned this trip last minute. Yep, I planned everything in one week. [Laughing] Side note: Our dad wasn’t too keen on Becky taking this trip. Haha.
So you traveled across the globe to pick coffee with farmers in Guatemala and planned it in one week?! Yup.
Did you know anyone going? Nope, I was a little hesitant but I’m so glad I went. I volunteered with a few other people. We ended up learning a lot from each other…one volunteer had managed a Starbucks and worked at a roaster in Portland so he knew a lot about coffee and taught me so much. I’d do the trip again in heartbeat, despite not knowing anyone.
Why? What did you learn? I literally saw the coffee picking process from start to finish. How they harvest the coffee cherries, how they separate the cherry from the bean using a bicycle…literally every step. I have a whole new appreciation for my cup of coffee in the morning.
A bicycle? Seriously? Yeah, check out this video on Separating coffee beans using a bicycle
Sooo how long DOES it take to pick enough beans for a cup of coffee? I think it takes about 90 coffee cherries to make a cup of coffee, and it took me 10 to 15 minutes to pick that many cherries (the professional pickers can do it much faster). BUT the amount picked does not equal amount consumed….you get 15 pounds of roasted coffee per every 100 pounds of coffee cherries picked (that’s 15% from raw to finished product or a lot of picking for one cup of joe…).
What do you want people to know about buying coffee? Buy responsibly to ensure that farmers are being paid fairly, and they’re respecting the environment. Look for certifications on the bag like Fair Trade, Organic, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified and Bird-Friendly. Here is an example of responsibly sourced coffee: Nossa Familia Coffee from Guatemala.
Direct trade is another term. You know…it’s when you see the roaster describing their relationship with the farmer on the bag. That means the roaster is trying to cut out the middleman to give the farmer more of the profits. But, it’s less credible than the other certifications because it doesn’t have a legal definition.
The certifications are somewhat confusing and there are discrepancies within them, but by looking for them, you are doing your part to make a difference. The farmers who are part of the cooperative I worked with make 50 percent more money because they found international roasters to buy their beans essentially cutting out the middleman.
So good to know, and I’m going to look for those certifications in the future. Sooo, did you do you do anything fun on your trip? (not that picking coffee beans isn’t fun…) You know I did! Haha. My favorite place in Guatemala is Lago Atitlan, a volcanic lake formed more than eighty thousand years ago. Beautiful.
Thank you so much to my sister for taking time to share her experience. My biggest takeaway from our chat is that time-off can be whatever you make it…not every trip has to be this meaningful, obviously. A trip to the Caribbean or Hawaii is wonderful. But if you have an itch to see a different part of the world and learn something new, like where your coffee comes from, that is entirely possible. And, you can plan it in a short amount of time…although your wallet might appreciate some advance notice 🙂
Photographs by Shanna Kaye Photo