Producer Diary: The Two Month Journey to a Perfect Cup of Coffee
By the time we set up camp, we’re starving. Having no idea what we would find in the way of food at our destination, we had packed cans of tuna fish, sardines, crackers, nuts and dried fruit, power bars, even baby wipes. Yes, baby wipes. We weren’t taking chances with the water, either, so we all had canteens and brought a few liters for each of us. But our hosts, have prepared for their first-ever visit from a TV crew, are ready to pour on the hospitality.
Waiting for us is an amazing dinner of rice, beans, and chicken that his Guzman’s wife, Nellie, prepared on a wood burning fire in her simple kitchen. They were amazed at all our camera equipment and the tent city we set up in front of their modest wooden home with no electricity. We were amazed at their proud but simple life; hard work and kindness and generosity.
Exhausted and with full bellies, we settle into our tents early. At first light, the zipper from the neighboring tent wakes us up and breaks the morning silence of the Amazon jungle. Sunrise is the first chance we have to take in our surroundings. The sun is just coming up over the lush, deep green jungle vistas that go on forever. We take turns at the outhouse and wooden stall shower that uses the cold water running down from the mountains above.
Guzman wants to show off his crop so, after breakfast we trek another 1,000 yards up into the hills where coffee trees, about five feet tall, are filled with ripe, red cherries. Guzman’s family, friends and day laborers are there carefully picking only the ripe, red sweet ones, dropping them into metal tins. The green ones are given a few more days to ripen.
As their tins fill up, they transfer them into large, black, plastic sacks which, at the end of the day, they carry down in 100-pound bags on their backs to the washing station. Guzman has built a makeshift aqueduct that diverts mountain water into a wooden vat where the cherries are soaked, washed, and then de-pulped. Once de-pulped, Guzman’s son, Kleyder, sets the beans out under a covered drying bed so they don’t get soaked when it rains and can dry slowly in the sun. After three days, the beans are put into strong plastic sacks, and made ready to be taken down the mountain by mule.
It’s a bit sad saying goodbye to Nellie. As we leave, she gives her husband some money to purchase supplies down in the village and we all start down the mountain as Guzman and his son escort his coffee down the trail. It rained again the night before and the route is even muddier and more grueling than it was when we hiked up just two days before. To help ease the trip, we use walking sticks made from tree branches. When we hear the river, we know we’re nearing the bottom. We follow the mules across the river on a makeshift barge, then watch the coffee loaded onto trucks to be taken to the co-op. Our driver shows up with what have turned out to be some of the best beers we’ve had in a very long time – chilled in the river while they were waiting for us.
We follow a blue pick-up truck across the dusty roads to the co-op that helps small family farmers like Guzman with technical advice, logistical support and forging relationships with buyers. Guzman waits anxiously as his beans are checked, first as a stainless steel dowel called a tryer is jabbed into each bag of coffee to collect a sample, then as the beans are checked for moisture and consistency (even tiny stones in the bag can affect the price.) Guzman has delivered high-quality coffee and he nets about $2.70 a pound. A coffee buyer from Dillanos Coffee Roasters, Phil Beatie, pays a premium for Guzman’s organically grown specialty coffee beans. Guzman tells us, “we now have some money left at the end of the crop year. It’s not like it used to be, when at the end of the crop year we had nothing left in our pockets. Now my family is able to eat more nutritious food.”
After a two-month wait, La Familia Guzman coffee finally arrives at Dillanos Coffee Roasters in Sumner, Wash., and we’re there to see the roasting and production of Guzman’s beans. They are put in a bag that actually has his picture on it. In Naranjas, he was just another coffee farmer growing really good coffee – in Sumner, he’s a bit of a celebrity. Phil Beatie grinds some up, and prepares it in a French press. We have our first delicious cup. A long way to go for a cup of coffee, yes…but a journey, and a cup of coffee, that will always be remembered.