Seeing the Ixil, Guatemala

8th Avenue barista Luke "Stormo" Stormogipson traveled to Guatemala.
 
He was searching for a group of native Mayan coffee producers called the Ixil A'achimbal.
 
At the time, Think was selling a coffee, which we believed came from the Ixil, on our Single Source Menu.
 
Stormo got on a plane and went looking for our coffee in Santa Maria Nebaj. His investigation is below.

 
Nebaj is a small town in the highlands of Guatemala. From Guatemala City, it is a cool and indirect 6 hour ride up into the hills. I could feel the temperature drop as my legs fell asleep squished between two beautiful, short Mayan women on the converted school bus. Marimba infused pop remixes on the radio numbed my brain as we ascended and arrived in the town square. I was in the "Triangulo Ixil" [ee-sheel] where Think's Guatemalan coffee was supposed to come
from. But what community, specifically, were our beans sourced from?

 
Nebaj is a large town. Standing there, I could see coffee plants scattering the countryside into the horizon. How was I going to find our coffee? And so the scavenger hunt began. Luckily the next day was Sunday, and I knew a good way of tracking down anything to the source was by hitting up the local market and working backwards from there. Unfortunately I only found one bean seller, but he told me I could catch a bus up to a local "finca" (plantation) the next morning and continue my search from there. 8 AM rolled around and I was on my way up past Chajul (the second city in the "triangle") and on my way into nowhere Central America. There was nothing but green, fog and dirt roads for miles. I was the tallest, whitest person anyone on my bus had seen. And after 4 hours of bumpy mountain climbing and river hopping in a resurrected mini-bus, I was dropped off at "la cruz" in the road. The driver told me to walk up the only other road there and I would arrive. That seemed like my only option, so off I went.
 
After 2 hours of uphill switchbacks on a water-worn road I came upon cardamom plants galore and a gate to the farm. I was happily greeted by kids kicking a soccer ball and Marcos, who seemed eager to take me on tour and even feed/house me for the night. I met with an engineer of Finca La Perla, Edgar, later that evening before retreating to Marco's kitchen to set up my sleeping situation with his cats and ducks. Although similar coffee is grown here, I knew it wasn't exactly where our beans were from. I was looking for a mystical "Trapichitos" or "Somalito" that no one seemed to know about. Everyone in Nebaj that I asked just shook their heads and giggled. Here at La Perla the manager suggested another route: ride in the back of a pickup truck at 4 AM and head to another fork in the road (closer to Chajul) and take the road less traveled to 2 communities that he said sounded like what I was trying to find.

 

With no other leads I took his advice and before I knew it I was up and freezing my face off standing shakily in the
back of a battered Toyota. 3 hours of pitch black careening later the driver stopped and let me off. Dawn was breaking as I started to walk. The crisp air dissipated as the sun rose and I walked for another 3 hours.

 Eventually I ran into Alejandro, his son Jorge, and Jorge's son, Jose. The grandfather was excited to run into a stranger on his familiar trek from the town back to his small community. His two donkeys were carrying fruits and veggies for home. Jorge reassured me that there was coffee where we were heading. I was relieved and proceeded to show them the single bag of coffee I brought from Think, to see if they would recognize their beans. They smelled it, and once we got to their homes, brewed it traditionally (boiling water with grounds in a metal pot, and drinking both together). Happy, they said it was definitely Guatemalan, and definitely from the Ixil region. However, since a large part of creating coffee for its final, drinkable form comes from the roasting process, they couldn't tell me if it was the coffee from their plants specifically. But their family generously hosted me, showed me their plants and the different types of coffee that can come from one type of plant (depending on the roasting process, etc...). Since I was there just before coffee season started, their operation wasn't in full force yet, and they said this years crop was highly influenced by "Roya" - a fungus that eats away slowly at the coffee leaves, eventually preventing the plant from photosynthesizing. The next day Jorge had to return to Chajul and gave me a ride along with some locals, and from there I made it back to my base in Nebaj. Whether or not I actually encountered the beans we sourced becomes secondary when I begin to think about the warmth of the people I encountered and how content they seemed in their simple yet satisfying
situations. I was more than comfortable with all of them, and can't thank them more for their help and openness.


Coffee was what I was searching for, but I ended up finding a community that was willing to take in a complete stranger
with open arms, smiles and excitement. I don't know if I impacted them in any way, but I certainly left with a renewed hope in human generosity - something that can sometimes get lost in the craziness of NYC. And I learned so much about coffee in the process.