A day without coffee is like……. (hmmm, I actually have no idea!).
When a person loves coffee, their affection is complicated! Some like it for waking up and energizing the day. And repeat! Others are taken by the flavor, the aroma, the savoring of it until the last sip. Whatever your relationship to the beverage – there’s no denying that coffee has a huge impact that extends around the world!
The impact of coffee in Guatemala
During a short visit to San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala, a beautiful village on the shores of Lake Atitlan, we met many farmers, families, business leaders, educators who indicated that the fluctuations of the world coffee market has a controlling impact on the local economy. Educators mentioned that attendance and learning for school aged children’s is often interrupted (and sometimes halted) by the urgency of the coffee harvest and processing. Business leaders spoke of the fluctuations in coffee pricing having significant impact on their businesses. Farmers expressed frustration with the low return for their massive efforts to grow, enhance, hand harvest, remove the coffee cherries, wash the coffee, dry it, remove the parchment, sort and grade the quality of the beans, prepare for shipment. It’s a lot!
Farmers (who do much of the work) receive around 6 cents of the dollar made on coffee worldwide. Even the “middle men” in Guatemala receive more than the farmer (collectively they receive 14 cents of each dollar). As you can see, the farmers are in a tough situation. We find it ironic that a person can work in a coffee shop in the United States and pay their way through college, whereas a child of a coffee farmer may have their education upended just to keep the family coffee business from failing.
Great Coffee. Greater Good.
As a result of that first visit to Guatemala, we’ve formed Top of the Lake Coffee as a means to bring you the exquisite specialty coffee produced in Guatemala (and other countries) combined with a vision to partner with the farmers and community that produces coffee so they might flourish.
Most of the people we’ve met in San Juan la Laguna are smart, hopeful, hardworking, and love their families and community. Business leaders work countless hours to improve their situation. Educators are passionate about their students, school, and community and pour themselves into their roles despite inconsistent access to meaningful resources for their classroom. Farmers tend their coffee plants to increase the quality and yield of each plant.
Creating opportunity through collaboration.
One key ingredient is missing for the community – opportunity. Indigenous Mayan textile producers create amazingly beautiful fabrics, taking raw cotton, creating and dyeing thread, and using a backstrap loom to craft textiles of amazing beauty, complexity, and quality. Their products are remarkable, but they lack access to the world-wide marketplace. Teachers and schools are dedicated to shaping the futures of their students through education, but many schools have little to no funding or support. Businesses languish due to a lack of start-up or operating capital (the interest rates for bank loans are astronomical).
We’re addressing the lack of opportunity in San Juan la Laguna slowly and in different ways. We seek to support the community as strategic partners rather than economic saviors. We bring leaders of the Casa Flor Ixcaco Mayan Weaving Cooperative to Colorado for pop up sales of their products. They are well received and now have greater access to the marketplace in the U.S. (Colorado in particular) as a result. We have provided micro-loans at reasonable interest rates to small business owners to help jump start business growth. We’ve brought service groups who have donated money (and time and energy) toward additional classrooms, English classes, internet access and more. We’ve partnered with Northern Colorado’s Engineering Brightness (https://philanthropic-engineering.org) to bring engineering training and practical skills to students.
The process has been slow and sometimes messy. We’re discovering ways to import more directly from individual farmers which allows us to buy coffee from the farmer directly and at a higher price than going through a coffee broker. We’ve partnered in projects that haven’t produced the outcome we’ve sought.
Coffee is personal.
Our hope is to provide coffee consumers with a beverage of exquisite flavor – and to make a more personal connection between the communities that produce the coffee and the individual that savors the coffee. We hope you can see the face of the person who has worked so hard to produce a unique and wonderful coffee for you to enjoy.
For a short video of our story, click here.