There I stood, sweat pouring down my face. I was standing on top of a mountain, staring at the three coffee cherries in the palm of my hand. This was what we had set out to find. It was such a surreal moment.
Just days before, six of us took off on an adventure from San Diego, California in search of the origin of one of the Mexican small-lot coffees we roast. Our travels took us to the mountainous state of Oaxaca (generally pronounced wä hä’ kä ), located in deep southwest Mexico and home of the ancient Zapotec civilization. We arrived in the capital, Oaxaca City, and started our journey by touring the dry processing plant from which our coffee is shipped. We were all impressed by how meticulous they were in quality control. Each step was performed with care and precision. Each person was well trained and highly focused on their job. I was a little overwhelmed by the volume of coffee they processed every year. Maybe the most impressive thing was that they moved each 150 lb bag by hand–no pallet jacks, no lift trucks, just sheer muscle. Our team tried our hand at moving a stack of coffee, and found that, although small in stature, these Mexicans were very, very strong.
The following day we hopped in a van and traveled up into the mountains. The drive was long and sometimes perilous, winding around curves and up into the lush green mountain forests of Oaxaca. After hours of driving, we arrived in the little mountain town of Putla to meet the leaders of the Co-Op that supplies our coffee. They gave a presentation, and then our team explored the town and enjoyed the incredible food and culture of the area.
The next morning we woke up well before sunrise; the air was cool and damp as we loaded into the van. Our journey towards the top of the mountain was filled with driving on lots of dirt roads, crossing several streams, and a climbing a few steep inclines that made me wonder if we could make it in our vehicle. By the time we arrived in the village, the sun had risen, and there was a heavy mist hanging over the top of the mountains. We were greeted by several farmers and invited into a home for a breakfast of sorts. I always find it odd to eat chicken with live chickens walking around at your feet. We were grateful for their hospitality and excited to meet the rest of the farmers and hike up into the coffee fields.
As we walked back to the center of this small village the community began to gather. Through our interpreter we shared about who we were, and that we had been roasting and selling their coffee in San Diego. We thanked them for their hard work and dedication to quality and then showed them a small bag of their coffee beans we had roasted and brought with us. They excitedly crowded around us as we poured out a few beans into each of their hands. They told us that they had never seen their coffee roasted before. It was such a fun moment to bring back to them the final product that was made from the coffee they had worked so hard to harvest and export.
We then headed up into the fields together. In my mind, when I think of farms, I think of straight rows of plants, but this was way different. Their coffee farm was basically a mountain path with coffee trees sporadically planted among the other thick green foliage. After about a mile of hiking across several rivers, through thick brush, and up into the mountains, we began to see our first coffee trees. Most of the coffee cherries were green because it was early in the season. It took quite a bit to keep up with these farmers as they took us on their mountain path. They explained how they picked the coffee cherries one basket at a time and brought them down to a second location part way down the mountain. I was shocked by the sheer amount of effort it took to harvest the coffee and transport it.
As I stood there on the top of the mountain, surrounded by great friends and new community, staring at the coffee cherries, I felt so inspired–inspired by actually experiencing the entire process from farm to cup, inspired by seeing the small part we play in helping these farmers provide for their families and communities, inspired by their incredible work ethic and passion to produce high quality coffee beans, and inspired by their resilience and hope for the future. In fact the name of their Co-Op is Nuevo Esperanza which is translated, “New Hope.” I think this adventure left us mutually inspired with new hope for the future as we partner together to do as much good as possible from farm to cup