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See the full set on Flickr for Tim's notes on each photo from his trip to El Salvador in March-April 2011.
Though only a month has passed since our return, it already seems like forever ago that Jeff and I traveled to Guatemala to spend time with Jorge and Javier Recinos of Finca Nueva Armenia in Huehuetenango. As unbelievable as it might seem, Counter Culture had never seen this farm — home to one of our longest coffee-purchasing relationships — during the peak of the coffee harvest!
 
Even before the season began, I had mentally reserved a week for total Finca Nueva Armenia immersion, and I count myself blessed to have shared this trip with Jeff McArthur, Counter Culture roaster, cupper, and logistics guru — not to mention talented photographer. In addition to the typical responsibilities of a first-time coffee person at origin, we tasked Jeff with documenting the inimitable beauty of Finca Nueva Armenia and the quirky Recinos family. With his characteristic attention to detail, Jeff snapped more than 800 photographs while we were there, then winnowed them down to a manageable and beautiful set, which he posted to Flickr, complete with descriptions! Then, with his characteristic humility, he didn't promote these great photos around the office, so I’m taking it upon myself to crow over his skills.
 
Our Finca Nueva Armenia coffee logo features a mountain view rather than an illustration, as with some of our coffees.
Recent references to the theme of this year’s TED conference — The Rediscovery of Wonder — brought this trip, family and farm to mind immediately. First, because Finca Nueva Armenia is awe-inspiring. Have you ever wondered why we use a stylized photograph as the coffee’s icon on our packaging? I have wondered, and increasingly I think that it’s because, even with all of our powers of imagination combined, we could not dream up an icon so beautiful or dramatic as the scenery at this farm. Four years have passed since my first visit to Finca Nueva Armenia and I have seen a lot of farms and met a lot of people since then, which makes it all the more intriguing that I feel more star-struck now than I did on that first visit to this corner of Guatemala.
 
Though this was Jeff’s first trip to origin, I was the one gasping and marveling at the landscape like a good gringo tourist as the mountains and valleys of Finca Nueva Armenia spread out in front of us.
 
If it’s a little bit hard to believe that the farm is real. The same goes for warm and good-natured Recinos brothers. If I didn’t know them, I wouldn’t believe that coffee farmers like Jorge and Javier still existed. That’s a strange thing to say, I know, because it's not like these guys are churning their own butter: they drive cars, watch reality television, have university degrees, and have traveled to Botswana (that’s a story for another time). And yet, I can’t help feeling like they belong in another era because they lack the cynicism that sometimes seems entrenched in modern-day society (in Guatemala as in the US).
 
Jorge Recinos looks for Maragojipe variety coffee beans at Finca Nueva Armenia. Photo by Jeff MacArthur.
These 30-something twins speak reverently of the beauty of the land their great-grandfather purchased at the beginning of last century, and they marvel at the health and strength of the towering bourbon-variety coffee trees their grandfather planted there in the 1940s. They recognize that neighboring farms look, feel, and produce coffee very different from theirs. They know that if Finca Nueva Armenia had no shade, more plants per foot, and plentiful agrochemical fertilizers, the two of them could make more money. But, as inheritors of generations of tradition and preservers of a style of agriculture that almost doesn't exist in coffee, they've chosen to keep the old ways and make them work in this new world.
 
With all of that in mind, my hope for each of you is that when Finca Nueva Armenia's coffee arrives next month, you can taste it with a hint of that sense of wonder I feel!
 
abrazos,
Kim Elena
 
 
See the full set on Flickr for Jeff's notes on each photo from his trip to Finca Nueva Armenia in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, in January 2011.
 

See the full set on Flickr for Tim's notes on each photo from his trip to Ethiopia in January 2011.

See the full set on Flickr for Meister's notes on each photo from her trip to Nicaragua in January 2011 for our Nicaragua Field Lab.


Nicaragua Field Lab Report from Peter Giuliano.

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Hola,

I put together a few photographs from my recent trip to Finca El Puente in Marcala, Honduras, where the Caballero-Herrera family continues the quest to continue improving one of Central America's most celebrated coffees. The floral aromas wafting from a hot cup of the farm's coffee may be but a distant memory for you so many months after we sold out of last year's lot, but here in the Coffee Department, Moisés and Marysabel are much on our minds these days because January and February represent the peak of the harvest at Finca El Puente, as well as in most of the northern hemisphere's coffee-growing regions, and we're anxious to see what this year brings.

We have worked with Finca El Puente since 2006. Peter and I made our first trip to meet Marysabel, Moisés, and their family in the spring of 2007 on an exhilarating trip. Looking back, I can't believe that we were able to fit as many sights and activities into the few days we spent with them as we did, but it's consistent with my experiences across countries and relationships that the first visit is a whirlwind of activity – so much to see and it's all so new! – that barely fits into the days allotted.

Conversation we have time for ends up taking place in the car between activities or on the way to the airport, and only on subsequent visits can everyone – farmers and producer relations managers alike – relax enough to spend time just sitting and talking. These discussion-heavy visits are more difficult for me to describe enthusiastically than the first glimpse of a waterfall or the discovery of an unexpected coffee variety, but they are undoubtedly a more valuable feature of my travel and of this company's business model than anything I could capture on the first visit.

 Most of Finca El Puente's coffee is the catuai variety, but they also have some bourbon of a sub-sub-species known as tekisic. Photo by Kim Elena Bullock.
I had a lot to talk about this year with Moisés and Marysabel, not so much in terms of Finca El Puente's coffee quality, which we expect will be better than ever, but rather because recent volatility in the coffee commodity market continues to have us all puzzled. How will record-breaking high prices affect costs of individual farmers? Will fair trade co-operatives be able to convince farmers to stand by their commitment to quality even in the face of easy money from local buyers?
We're on pins and needles as we wait to see how much coffee is available and how it tastes, and from farmer to buyer, everywhere I look I see the same mix of curiosity, anxiety, and frustration at how the beyond-our-control factors of the market impact our ability to do our work well.

Lest I set you all a-worrying, let me explain that I bring up the market's instability in order to give an explicit example of why long-term relationships like the one we have Finca El Puente are valuable for all of us: because real sustainability means knowing, as a grower, that your buyer is committed to your coffee no matter how cheap coffee might be in other coffee-growing countries or regions. Likewise, real sustainability means knowing, as a buyer, that you'll get the same great coffee from the growers you trust, no matter how easy it might to sell that coffee elsewhere for a lot less effort.

The best moment of my trip occurred mid-morning on my third day at the farm as I sat at the dining room table in the middle of a long discussion about prices, hopes, and expectations with Marysabel, Moisés, and Fabio and I suddenly realized that the conversation we were struggling through could never have happened on the trip I made in 2007. The four years and four visits since then have made it possible to arrive at that point, and I felt so thankful for each one of them.
 
I couldn't capture that experience on film, unlike that of seeing a waterfall (which is still breathtaking, even after you've seen it three years in a row, mind you), but for me, that dining-table moment will be as important to the experience of enjoying Finca El Puente's delicious coffee in 2011 as the information about coffee variety, altitude, climate, and processing methods that I collected the first time I visited.

I hope you enjoy the photos! Stay warm!

Saludos, Kim Elena
Hi folks!

I split a week between Finca Pashapa and Finca El Puente (photo set forthcoming!) in November on an early-harvest, relationship-strengthening trip to see two of my favorite farms and families. Honduras has been in the news a lot more often recently than when I began traveling there four years ago, beginning with the ousting of President Mel Zelaya (in his pajamas, as the story goes) in June of 2009, continuing through controversial elections, and an unusual frequency of violence (in particular, against journalists) in the months since then. All of the political instability that makes the news here at home feels completely unrelated to life in the communities of La Labor and Marcala – hours and worlds apart from Tegucigalpa and the world of coffee farming – so I headed south with the same high hopes as always, headlines be damned.

Coyo, the matriarch of the Salazar family. Photo by Kim Elena Bullock. Would you believe me if I told you that everything about these coffees, farms, and relationships just keep getting better? How is that possible? Is it magic? Nope, it's hard work and lots and lots of practice. Take Finca Pashapa, for example, which is a family operation in the fullest sense of the term: the four siblings of the Salazar family, among them "worm guy" Roberto, divide and conquer the day-to-day tasks of the family's farm, from milking cows and collecting eggs to weighing each day's coffee harvest and paying pickers accordingly, while their parents, Coyo and Jorge, preside over the house and keep the operation running. I idealize Finca Pashapa for its long-time commitment to organic certification, its independence from commercial farming inputs (meaning they make all of their farm's compost and fertilizer out of their own materials, like manure), and the integration of the Salazar family, which owns the largest farm in town, with the surrounding community, but they work incredibly hard every day to make my vision a reality.

After this many years (this will be 10 between Counter Culture and Finca Pashapa!), I'm happy to endure Roberto's teasing as I wax poetic about environmental sustainability and beseech him to share his farm's experiences with other growers. I have tried to organize farmer exchanges between Finca Pashapa and Finca Mauritania, and between Finca Pashapa and Finca Esperanza Verde because I believe that the Salazar family's model for organic production embodies real sustainability – environmental, social, and fiscal – better than any farm I have seen and that is an incredibly valuable example to share! But, as I mentioned before, that success comes at the price of hard work, which means that Roberto is a busy guy. Almost impossibly busy, I would say, between the family's farm, the mill he runs, and the cooperative he manages.

Finca Pashapa has long been committed to organic certification, dedicated to independence from commercial farming inputs (meaning they make all of their farm's compost and fertilizer out of their own materials, like manure), and the integration of the Salazar family, which owns the largest farm in town, with the surrounding community. Photo by Kim Elena Bullock. One evening, sitting outside his office and waiting for him to finish another 14-hour day of work, I decided that he's like that friend who never returns your calls, EVER, but yet somehow always makes you feel, whenever you're together, that you are still the one who benefits more from the relationship. I have learned so much from Roberto's observations on everything from co-operatives to compost to cupping protocol over these past few years that I would be a fool not to wait, no matter how many hours.

On that note, I hope you enjoy the photo set's brief glimpse at some of the most interesting farms – and people – I know!

abrazos,
Kim

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