I want coffee! Actually, I don’t want coffee. I don’t drink coffee. But today was all about coffee so I figured in a way I did want coffee. It was pouring down rain this morning which worried me a bit because we were suppose to visit the finca (coffee farm) to learn all about coffee and the process from tree to cup. Kathy reassured me that we’d probably be able to go. Thank goodness. I’m glad the rain wouldn’t stop us. I forgot how wet it is here during the rainy season. And damp. Today I realized how damp it really is. I had brought down a bunch of photos for people in Berlín and San Francisco and put them all in envelopes. When I tried to open the envelopes I realized that they had sealed themselves shut from all the moisture in the air. THAT is damp.
Breakfast this morning was homemade hot chocolate (the real stuff), tamales, beans, eggs, and bread. Yum! Before heading for the finca we went to Santiago de Maria, a town about 30 minutes away, to shop and pick up a person who works at the finca. Lynn and I got in trouble on the way there for playing around in the back of the pickup. We were standing at the back leaning up against the bar to take pictures of each other with our hands up in the air. Kathy warned us that the back bar wasn’t secure so if we hit a bump we might we flying out. Oh dear. They’re not going to let us come back.
When we arrived Blanca and Idalia when to get some things for the house. Lynn, Kathy, and I went shopping at Jordan Creek. Well, that’s what Kathy calls the inside market there. Here in Berlín we have Valley West Mall. Not sure where Merle Hay or Southridge are. We’ll have to find those someday. We looked around a bit in the “mall” and in some others places as well. Kathy found some shirts for New Zealand ($7), I found two long-sleeved shirts for winter ($5), and Lynn found a Nebraska Cornhuskers shirt for her grandson ($2). Nice! We had little admirers following us around asking us questions. They were pretty cute.
After shopping I went in search of the bathroom to get another toilet photos. Yes, I collect photos of toilets in El Salvador (see week 03/14 - 03/21: Toilet Photos). Then we got into the pickup to find Blanca and Idalia. Along the way Kathy pointed out a place that had the other kind of machete I was looking for. It has a curved blade and it’s what we used in the milpa (cornfield) a few days ago to cut down weeds. It’s called a cuma. I got out and bought a handmade one. I’m really hoping it will make it through customs. Of course, I’ll put it in my checked luggage. I have brought home two other machetes before so it shouldn’t be a problem.
Around 11:15am we picked up the person who was going to be telling us about the finca and we headed off. His name is Arquimides Alfaro. I chatted with him a bit in the back of the truck. We drove by hundreds of coffee plants. I was very excited because I basically knew nothing about the process of producing coffee. When we arrived we sat down and Arquimides told us all about coffee. The coffee made there, and the kind we sell in our church, is called Don Justo – Coffee with Dignity. It is called that because it is fairly traded coffee. Though we are not officially fair trade (very expensive) we follow internationally recognized fair trade standards to ensure the workers at the finca are paid a just wage. Almost all the money we collect from coffee sales goes back to El Salvador.
Cultivation: In order to grow coffee trees (more like bushes) you take seeds from existing trees and put them in a bag with some dirt. There is one seed per bag. It takes about 1–1½ years for the coffee to be ready to plant in the ground. After they are ready you transplant them where there are no trees. It takes 3 years before they begin to produce. Once they start to produce they will continue for 20 to 30 years.
Harvesting: Coffee beans are three different colors: green, yellow, and reddish. You don’t pick the green or yellow ones, only the red ones, which are called cherries in English and uvas (grapes) in Spanish. You basically start and one end of the finca and pick off all the reds one in a row and them continue to move forward. You do sweeps of the finca to get the cherries. To do this you have a basket (canasta) in front of you that’s tied to your waste very tight. You pick the cherries and put them in the basket. Once you get about 20 to 25 pounds you put them in a sack you carry with you. Then you drag the sack with you as you collect more cherries. Most people collect 150 to 200 pounds per day. The average wage is $4.50 a day (at least that’s what it is at our finca where the workers are paid a fair amount according to International Fair Trade guidelines). Sometimes they can make as much as $8 a day.
Cleaning: After each person has their sack full of cherries they take it back to the building where coffee is processed. It is weighed and then put into a machine that takes of the peel. The peel is later used for compost. From each cherry we get two coffee beans (pepitas). Those are sent down a chute into a big pila to be washed. A pila is a big cement basin used to hold water. There is a person standing in the big pilas mixing around the water to ensure all the peels and anything else stuck to the coffee cherries is off. The coffee beans stay in there overnight. Thinking about a person standing in a pila to get off the extra shells reminds me of grape stomping. Coffee stomper; that would look good on a resume.
Drying: After the coffee beans have been washed they go to a different part of the finca where they are laid outside to dry in the sun. The drying process takes 7 to 15 days. Groupings of coffee beans are set out at different times so they are able to continually dry coffee. There are machines that are used to dry coffee but this finca doesn’t have one. When the beans are dried they are a grayish brown color.
Storage: From there they go in a burlap bag and are stored for 2-3 years. This does not negatively affect the quality of the coffee. That’s just how it’s done. It’s not until you roast the coffee that the beans start to diminish in quality. I will write about the roasting process later in the blog when I talk about my visit to the place where coffee is toasted.
Crop maintenance: Major maintenance of crops is done 2 to 3 times a year. They have to trim and prune the trees, prune the weeds, put down fertilizer, and control insects. In order to control the insects, mainly grasshoppers, they use little bamboo traps. Grasshoppers normally sit in bamboo so when they enter the traps they can’t get out and can be disposed of later. The fertilizer they use is organic. It is made of weeds, dried leaves, the leftover shell from the cherries, leftover vegetables, and manure. It is mixed together in a compost area and dried. Then it is ground into a fine powder to put directly on the base of the coffee plants. How well a crop does depends on the amount of rain, sun, fertilizer, and wind.
° February, March, April, May- the flowers on the coffee plant bloom. Some maintenance is done on the plants and weeds trimmed.
° June, July, August, September- the beans begin to form and some pruning is done.
° October, November, December, January- the cherries turn red and are picked, cleaned, and dried.
Taste differences: One of the differences in the taste of coffee is a result of toasting it. But the elevation at which coffee is grown also makes a difference. There is Bajo (lowland) which are usually small beans, Medio (midland) which are a little bigger, and Alto (highland) which produce the biggest cherries and are considered to be the best. Minimal elevation for growing coffee is 1500 feet above sea level.
The Finca: The finca where our coffee is grown is about 30 manzanas; 52 acres (1 manzana = 1.7 acres). There are 5000 to 7000 coffee trees (more like big bushes) in each manzana. It is in the highlands so they taste is better. The two main types of coffee beans grown on this finca are Paca and Bourbon. The husband of the owner of the finca is a coffee connoisseur and knows how to blend varieties of beans to get the best flavor.
500 lbs. of whole cherries = 100 lbs. of processed coffee
100 lbs. of processed coffee = 80 to 90 lbs. of roasted coffee
So, 500 lbs. of red coffee cherries = 80 to 90 lbs. of coffee that is ready to sell.
I never realized how much work went into making coffee!!! After hearing about the process and asking several questions we went to see the baskets they use to put the cherries in when they’re picked and part of the machine that takes the shell off the coffee cherries. Arquimides put a basket on me and had me stand by a coffee tree so I could understand what it was like to pick coffee. But to get the full picture I’ll need to return to pick coffee sometime. “We’ll be waiting for you,” he told me. I hope sometime I can!
I told him that I didn’t drink coffee so it was good to learn about the process. For some reason I don’t like the taste of coffee. Both my parents drink it but I never acquired a taste. Someone made the comment that I need to start drinking coffee to turn my skin darker so I can blend in more. And last night someone said I needed to dye my hair black so I’d look more like everyone else. Hmmm, I wonder if doing all that would make me look Salvadoran or just really ugly. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have what it takes to make a good-looking Salvadoran. I guess people will just have to put up with the way I am.
After all the coffee talk we went to a tree to pick some jocotes, which are a kind of fruit. Arquimides climbed up the tree and I followed suit. I have always loved climbing trees. And picking fruit too! It was a lot of fun! He showed me which ones to pick and then we put them in a bag. I hope I picked the right ones. I think some of the ones I picked were a bit too green. I guess I still need practice in figuring out which ones are ripe. Then Arquimides used a very long bamboo pole that was shaped at the end to pick jocotes that were out of reach. He let me use it too. It reminded me of the tool I used in Arizona to pick grapefruit and oranges. I munched on a few jocotes and posed for a picture as if I were a leopard sleeping in a tree. I also posed for a few pictures on the ground holding a sack of jocotes and the bamboo pole. Yes, I am a ham. “Schinken,” my dad would say (ham, in German).
We didn’t leave the finca until 1:20pm. I didn’t realize we’d been there almost two hours. It was a great time! When we got back to the house around 2pm Cecilia smiled and informed us that we were late for lunch. She had everything all ready for us which was wonderful since we were tired. After lunch we walked around Berlín for a while. We went to the shop of Niña Luz where we buy earrings and a few others things. Everything there is made by a women’s co-op so I like to buy some things there to take back to the States as presents.
Then we walked to the toastery here in Berlín to learn about toasting the coffee. Mauricio, who is in charge and lives at the toastery, greeted us. He and Kathy told us a little about the process. When the coffee arrives at the toastery from the finca it is put into an electric de-pulper machine which removes the final layer of peel on the coffee bean. From there he moves the beans to the sorting table where he picks up the bad ones. Then the beans go into the toaster. How long the beans are in there and what the temperature is what produces different tastes and the strength of the coffee. On average, it takes about 35 minutes to roast 35 pounds of coffee. If the coffee is flavored with any oil it is done at this time.
After it is roasted the coffee is weighed, put into bags, and sealed. Don Justo has 5 different kinds of coffee: Regular, Dark, French, Vanilla, and Snickeroo. If I am remembering correctly, the flavored coffees are the lightest, followed by regular, dark, and French being the darkest/strongest. The French is roasted for the longest period of time and at the highest temperature. It is all considered gourmet coffee because of the quality of the coffee beans themselves and also because all the “bad” beans are picked out.
When we left the toastery we went to La Neveria for some ice cream. I LOVE their ice cream (I hope I made you proud, Emily). Lynn got a scoop of caramel and I got a scoop of mango mixed with another local fruit. We also got some vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry to take back to the house with us for the ladies. After dropping off the ice cream Lynn and I went on a hunt for some special pan dulce that we’d had last year. But the store was closed so we headed back home.
Before dinner Tito and his friend dropped by to say hi and practice English. Tito is one of the scholarship students that is supported by various people through Our Sister Parish. He is studying English and likes to practice with native English speakers. If he gets good enough he may be able to translate for us someday. He is going to be joining us tomorrow on our walk through San Francisco to help out. He told me that he would be my Spanish teacher and I could be his English teacher. It sounded good to me! Although I think his English is better than my Spanish so I’ll have to work hard to keep up.
Dinner tonight was empanadas. They were delicious, delicious, delicious. Just what I needed. Kathy, Lynn, and I sat out by the garage area and ate dinner. It was a nice, light, relaxing meal. During dinner Lynn and I decided that we needed to make a clone or two of Kathy to put in various places around the world. One of her would be in Iowa and one in New Zealand. They can clone sheep so we figured one day we’d be able to clone her too.
Kathy hasn’t been feeling too well today. She has a cold and has been sneezing. So Lynn and I did some shopping at the house so Kathy could have a break from us. We are an energy-sucking pair. We looked at Blanca’s bags and decided which ones we wanted to buy, for ourselves and for others. I got a few bags as did Lynn. Then Blanca let us into the chapel so we could see a few other items the Pastoral house had for sale. Blanca didn’t know the prices of what we'd picked out so we set them aside so we could pay for them tomorrow.
Tomorrow is a full, long day so I’m off to get some sleep! Buenas noches!
More about Don Justo – Coffee With Dignity from the Our Sister Parish website: http://www.oursisterparish.org/
El Salvador is a small mountainous country in Central America with rich volcanic soil and a reputation for hard working citizens. By combining a strong work ethic with near perfect coffee growing conditions, El Salvador’s farms have supported their communities while growing excellent coffee.
But current coffee trading practices can come between farmers and you. Each year exporters, brokers, creditors and processors take a larger share of coffee proceeds, leaving farmers and El Salvador’s communities with less than 10¢ of every dollar. But there is an alternative.
Coffee sold through this project meets and exceeds internationally recognized fair trade standards, standards that balance inequities found in the conventional coffee trade. Fair trade standards more than triple the income of Salvadoran farmers who grow, harvest and process this exceptional coffee. This additional income provides access to a host of social services such as education, medical care, public transportation and recreation facilities. Farm families are also guaranteed adequate housing and access to clean water.
While coffee farming can be particularly trying to the local environment, it doesn’t have to be. Coffee plants need to be grown in high altitudes with warm days and cool nights. This usually means on steep hillsides where erosion and chemical runoff is likely. By using a combination of traditional and modern farming methods, farmers who sell coffee through this project protect their soil and water.
Forty-two hundred feet above sea level, the traditional shade grown method of coffee farming is practiced. Coffee is planted in the shade of fruit trees and taller trees. These trees prevent erosion while providing protection for coffee plants, food and wood for families, and shelter to birds and wildlife.
Farmers also use organic methods to protect the environment. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, they take advantage of the natural fertility of the coffee cherry. Once the beans are extracted from the fruit of the coffee plant, the remaining pulp is used to fertilize plants the following season. This natural process protects the health of the soil as well as neighboring creeks and rivers, while maintaining balance between soil, plants and animals.
Buying coffee through this project also promotes sustainable community and economic development, with a large portion of proceeds going to projects designed and organized by local residents.