Noah (Barquito) Welch is a barista for Think Coffee and the newest member of our Farmer Relations Team. He recently went on his first coffee trip checking on some of our farms. What follows are his own words and opinions concerning his experience.
I spent the last month in Central America, riding on flame-decorated US school buses, breathing diesel fuel and staring at shotguns. We ate Ceviche. We bought knives. We went to the zoo and museums and lots of farms. Lots of old women were entranced by my blue eyes. We frequently said “Hey, we’re students from the US studying coffee-is it okay if we film you?” People usually responded with “Yes-of-course-hop-into-my-truck-and-lets-spend-eight-hours-together-talking-about-our-workers-and-the-environment-and-the-political-state-of-affairs-in-our-country-and-yours!!
Here are some things I learned on the trip, all of which are important.
1. When Think says “farmer,” we tend to mean upper-middle-class, well-educated, English-speaking entrepreneur-owner of a few farms. They have inherited farms from their parents, and they usually own more than one. They are almost all men. They employ managers and guards and workers who actually plant the trees and trim the trees and mash the compost around. During harvest, larger and poorer families come to hang out and pick coffee cherries and have fun and make significant amounts of money.
These wealthier farmers tend to be good people. They provide well for their employees. On Finca El Injertal, in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, we were driven around by Jorge Funes. Jorge was fresh from the hospital for a leg operation, his first day back to driving. There is a school on this farm, for the children of workers. The kids and teachers were excited to see us, and asked us to send school supplies. We will. The fact of a more advanced, wealthier industry than one expects isn’t a bad thing. It’s good for the overall betterment of living conditions. But it’s important to know that this is the state of things. Think about small, but prosperous, farmers in the Midwest.
2. This higher-class thing isn’t true of all of our farms. The Castellon family, in Nicaragua, is an amazing group of people who produce all kinds of organic foods – beans, mangoes, corn, yucca, sugar. Coffee is a small part of their farm. They sell whatever they can to get by. They do so proudly. My compañero, Medio, and I arrived at the Castellon house after a four-hour hike into the mountains. They were sitting in the dark, watching Church on TV. They were unfazed by our arrival, gave us strawberry cream cookies and orange soda, mangoes from their front yard, and the largest bowls of soup of I have ever seen. We walked around on their land. We talked about Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan president, and how much a pickup truck costs in the US. We slept in their house with the seven or eight members of the family, and left in the morning to help their son Norvin obtain a passport and US visa.
3. Central America is underrated. It is, at times, terrifying and bizarre, but I imagine the United States can be, too. Everyone in all of these countries-El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras—wants to talk honestly and thoroughly about anything.
They want to share time with you. Coffee is something that they are proud of. So is conversation. Don’t sweep these people under the rug! Don’t let them become oil and chocolate and cheap clothing to you! They’re brilliant, and sweet, and important, and far more than what they export.
What’s great about Think, I’ve realized, is that we try to approach a pretentious industry without the extravagance. We taste what we taste, and we see what we see, and we go far to talk with whom we talk, and we’re candid about it all. We’re not weird. If you speak with us, we’ll respond, and tell you what we know, and ask questions because we’re interested, not just because our questions sound smart. We tell you about our trips, but we want you to come with us.
Think likes workers and the environment and the flavors of high quality coffee. It is our goal to combine these things honestly and respectfully.