As complex as coffee can taste, making a cup can seem simple. Too simple. You grind some coffee beans, add some hot water, and voilà. But the reality is that getting those beans into a consumer’s or barista’s hands involves […]
As complex as coffee can taste, making a cup can seem simple. Too simple. You grind some coffee beans, add some hot water, and voilà. But the reality is that getting those beans into a consumer’s or barista’s hands involves a much more arduous, lengthy and sometimes even dangerous process. To more fully appreciate a cup of joe, you need to get to the root of coffee — or at least the flowers of the coffee plant — by visiting a coffee farm if you have the means to do so.
As a coffee enthusiast and someone who’s worked in coffee shops, I thought I had a pretty good appreciation of what went into making coffee. But it wasn’t until I took a trip to Guatemala and visited a coffee farm for the first time that I realized how little I understood in terms of the actual experience.
To be fair, visiting the coffee farm was a touristy, pre-packaged excursion, almost like the pastoral version of touring a microbrewery. So I’m sure the true experience of working on a coffee farm still escapes me. But in just a couple hours that included standing in the bed of a pickup truck to go into the fields, strapping a basket around my waste and picking the ripe cherries from the trees under the hot sun, I realized firsthand how difficult the work can be.
What really struck me about my visit was the juxtaposition of experiencing this hard work and then hearing how little laborers typically get paid, even at this progressive coffee farm. Regardless of cost of living differences, making roughly $10 a day (or less at a run-of-the-mill coffee farm) is hard to imagine, especially given the difficulty of the work. And that’s just to pick the cherries.
Seeing the full production process from cherry to bean to a steaming hot cup of coffee makes me feel embarrassed for all the times I grabbed a $1 “deal” at a deli. Ethically sourced coffee should be the baseline, not the high-brow, coffee snob alternative. Visiting a coffee farm has helped me understand this on more than just a conceptual level, and I highly suggest that other coffee drinkers do the same.
Sure, this might sound like someone who studied abroad and comes back with a so-called expertise and appreciation for European culture. But visiting a coffee farm, even as part of a vacation, is truly both a fun and enlightening experience.
For a few years now, travelling was out of reach for many of us due to the pandemic, though we’re mostly back to normal now. For others, they may not have the means to visit an actual coffee farm. There are still ways for those people to get this experience, as explored in this accompanying blog post made last year.
Jake Safane is a freelance journalist and content marketer living in LA who’s worked for companies like The Economist. When’s he not drinking coffee to fuel his writing, he enjoys baking vegan goodies and exercising.