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Trip to Origin Part II: Guatemala

The second leg of our recent sourcing trip took place in Guatemala, made possible with the generosity and help of Mr. Juan Carlos Chen, a local producer. The remote farmlands of Honduras were traded for the more populated cityscape of Antigua, Guatemala.

“It’s very modern in a way. Cobblestone streets, and lots of cafes or speakeasy type places. But take all that away and you can see what the natives saw. It’s still there. The sky is the perfect blue, the snowcaps, the puffs of smoke coming from an active volcano. It’s so gorgeous,” says Xavier.

In addition to nature’s beauty, a local celebration was taking place. A procession of men and women walked down the street, bearing flower-embedded litters topped with crosses and other symbols, music and conversation accompanying the demonstration. It sets a beautiful scene, but what’s more, the parade illustrates the very real religion and culture the people of Guatemala live and breathe: Catholicism being practiced in tandem with native religions, crisp shirts with black ties next to traditional garb of bright colors and floral garlands. As Juan Carlos drives the crew an hour outside the city to his coffee farm known as El Pilar, there sits achurch built in the 1600s, a simple hall stitched together with fresher additions, perfectly exemplifying the way traditional ideas come together with the ideas and the needs of today.

We can’t help but connect this notion into what is occurring in the coffee industry. Old practices going through constant updates and metamorphoses due to external and internal influences; innovation and fine-tuning occurring from both producers and buyers. Many folks who work the mills or the land itself are pushing the industry forward by careful observation in regards to growing, picking, and processing. Roasters and buyers are able to express their ideas, preferences, and knowledge that can also assist the producer as they move forward. Guatemala is not yet as sought-after as many other Central and South American countries. At this point, producers and buyers can truly work together, share information, and start building relationships. That’s part of why Metric chose to visit Guatemala.

“That’s the roaster’s dream…It’s a true collaboration. I don’t know how much more collaborative you can get,” says Xavier.

Juan Carlos employs about 100 people during harvest. Many live for free on a hectare of land provided, picking cherries during the day, returning to their families in the evenings. Nobody is under the impression that picking cherries is an easy job—the truth is, nobody stands to benefit more from direct trade relationships than the pickers. Metric’s ambition is to work entirely with producers like Juan Carlos who have an intense focus on the quality of coffee as well as the quality of life of their employees.

Beautiful vistas, wonderful people, outstanding coffees are part of what makes these trips important. We return a better human, a journey that never really ends.Ideally, these are places that we can return to again and again, partially to find coffee, partially to renew friendships, partially to find ourselves. Traveling to origin epitomizes the axis of profession and pleasure; we are able to see ourselves as a part of the world, and the world as a part of us. Uniting old, new, and yet to be.