Tommy and I met Ryan sort of by chance last year at Lula's. He saw us on Instagram and said he was coming through town and wanted to talk to us about the coop he works at in Guatemala. Boy am I glad we met. Ryan has helped the farmers in Yepocapa export their coffee to the U.S. for the first time ever and now, has begun to help change the culture surrounding coffee growing in Yepocapa. Farmers can earn more for better crops, instead of just being at the mercy of the market. Oh, and the coffee is pretty dang good too - you'll find out this summer! Here's what Ryan has to say from the farm down in Guatemala! - Jeff
My name is Ryan Chipman and I work with Guatemalan coffee farmers in a place called Yepocapa. I'm so happy Jeff asked me to speak a little bit and I’m excited to share about what specialty coffee looks like from the perspective of the farmers and what changes it’s bringing about!
First off, I kind of fell into coffee when an opportunity to teach English in Yepocapa transformed into an opportunity to work within that same community - but with coffee farmers. A few years in, the farmers obtained their export licensing, which opened doors for them to sell to roasters. But they didn’t have any real way to reach out to them... so the leadership of the cooperative asked me if I’d consider being their international representative, helping to create relationships between them and roasters. Long story short, I went from being a lost traveler, to an English teacher, and now a representative of an entire community of coffee farmers in Yepocapa! Whew, kinda crazy hey?!
Enough about me and more about the farmers! Well for starters, coffee means the world to the people in Yepocapa! The majority of the farmers we work with have more than 50 years of experience and have 3-4 past generations of family that have coffee farmed before them. During harvest season, everyone in town goes out and helps to bring in their family’s crop. The hope for many of them is to see coffee farming become a sustainable career in order to provide for their families. Sometimes this is feasible and sometimes it isn't since most coffees are sold on the stock market with prices that ebb and flow - prices that are uncorrelated to their level of hard work and quality of coffee they harvest.
But for the most part, farmers love their work! They love the clean air, the feeling they get from a hard days work, and just like you and I, they too have dreams and aspirations. Many farmers would like to expand their lands, hire more workers, and see coffee farming earn a name for itself to encourage the next generation to continue this work. This is where specialty coffee comes in!
What is Specialty Grade Coffee?
Well, for starters, coffee itself is really just the seeds from a red tropical fruit. (It’s still an argument whether coffee beans come from a plant, bush, or a tree but I’d like to argue it’s all three!) Specialty Grade Coffee is a coffee that has received a point scale grade of 80 points or above; similarly to wine for all my wine lovers out there! In the United States though, we’re a bit more picky and most roasters prefer cups that score above an 85 for their local offerings.
This score is a reflection of overall quality. Although it may seem subjective, quality of coffee derives itself from literally hundreds of variables in which we really only have control over potentially 20 or so at the farm-level. Some of these variables include coffee maturation, coffee plant species, fermentation processing, climate, altitude, soil quality, water quality, drying methods, and even storage conditions. All of these factors play a huge role in helping to make coffee as tasty as it can be.
The specialty coffee industry has created an avenue in which mutually beneficial relationships can exist between roasters and farmers. Through “quality incentivized pricing,” farmers find opportunities for growth found in producing specialty grade coffee and roasters benefit by being able to offer their clients a noticeably tastier cup of coffee while being able to buy coffee in a manner that’s helping to make coffee farming a sustainable career.
One of the ways we’ve been working with the farmers in Yepocapa is with their coffee maturation. Prior to obtaining their export licensing, the farmers picked approximately 55% of their cherries ripe - meaning the remaining 45% of cherries were semi-ripe and even green, which affects cup quality and taste. Now that opportunities for growth are found in producing quality coffee, the farmers have crushed it this year and are picking at above 90% fully ripe cherries.
We’ve only begun the process of developing coffee quality with the farmers in Yepocapa. In the three years we’ve been there, farmers have gone from thinking about abandoning their lands to thinking about expanding their lands. Local job employment was slim, causing many to look toward Guatemala City or emigration to the States. But now there's talk that coffee farming might be that means to bring jobs back. And the coolest part of it all is that all of this is done through producing better tasting coffee for people like you to enjoy!
We want you to be proud of your coffee because we believe that is a way we appreciate and say thank you to the farmers who help to make that cup so tasty. From what I’ve seen and heard, their biggest desire isn’t necessarily to receive high prices, but that you’d simply like their coffee and that they could help make coffee farming a career worth putting their best effort towards.