In 2015, Guatemala was the 8th biggest producer of coffee in the world, at 3.5 million bags. More than 125,000 Guatemalan producers rely on this industry – and Anacafé, the country’s national coffee association, is responsible for supporting them all.
We spoke to Isabela Minondo Durán, who works in one of the busiest departments at the association – Marketing and Communications – to find out more about what Anacafé does, what it’s like to work there, and what she hopes for Guatemalan coffee in the future.
SEE ALSO: Making the Case for Guatemalan Coffee
Alex Keller, VP of Anacafé; Isa; Luisa Fernanda Correa, Sub General Manager; and Mac Dixon, barista and cupper at Australia’s Small Batch Coffee during MICE 2016 (left to right).
Hi Isa, thanks for chatting. So what do you do at Anacafé?
I work in Anacafe’s Marketing and Communications department, which is one of the most interactive departments within the Association. We’re in charge of promoting Guatemalan coffees, both nationally and internationally, which is challenging because there’s always so much to do and never enough time.
It’s a very special challenge, though, because coffee is one of the most important commodities in the country in the sense that a strong coffee sector stimulates economic and social development. I would say that there’s also a lot of responsibility involved, because we have to make sure we communicate how special Guatemalan coffees are quality wise, and why as Guatemalans this is a significant reason to be proud.
How did you get into this role?
I graduated from the University of Florida in Gainesville in December 2014 and majored in Agricultural Economics, so I knew I wanted to do something agricultural-related – I just didn’t know what.
When I started applying for jobs, I applied to Anacafé without really knowing what to expect. I had always been coffee-oriented in the sense that I always drank coffee and loved coffee, and my father actually lives on our family’s coffee farm. But I had never been directly involved in coffee. When I was offered the job, there wasn’t really much thinking to do. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to learn about a crop that seemed mysterious yet intriguing – one I didn’t know much about but always wanted to.
I remember someone telling me at the time that “there’s something special about coffee; you’ll fall in love”. This didn’t seem important then, but now it does because you really do fall in love and coffee becomes a focal part of your life. Part of the appeal of working in Anacafé is that you are entirely dedicated to serving the coffee growers of Guatemala. Whatever we do, we have to do thinking about them and their benefit, not ours.
That’s beautiful. So what’s the biggest challenge of your role?
I think one of the biggest challenges is reaching every single one of the 125,000 + producers in Guatemala. Given that we are an association that represents all producers, it’s challenging to make sure that all services are available to everyone, that everyone is receiving technical assistance, and that these services are effectively implemented. Coffee is grown in 204 of 340 municipalities and makes up 2.8% of the country, so it’s a lot to cover.
What about your proudest accomplishment?
I have to say that it’s very rewarding to work for an entire sector. I think that although it may not be an accomplishment, it feels good when you get positive feedback from a producer that’s benefiting from Anacafé’s services.
Is there anything that surprised you about your job?
It’s a very dynamic job. There are never two days the same at Anacafé. One day you may be walking in a farm in Huehuetenango, the next day you’re cupping regional coffees, and the day after that you’re organizing a coffee congress; it’s multifaceted and I think that’s a good thing.
Anacafé’s yearly National Coffee Congress allows producers to attend presentations by industry experts.
Could you tell me a bit about what Anacafé does? Starting with…
Analab is the soils, water and leaf analysis lab. They are able to perform all kinds of analysis related to that, and have top-notch equipment to do so. Analab was created 40 years ago, and there are three main investigation areas: soil, water, and plant and vegetal protection analysis. Coffee growers know and understand the importance of performing these types of analysis at least once a year to create an adequate nutrition and fertilizing plan.
I see. It sounds extremely useful. What about the Cupping Lab?
The Cupping Lab relates to sensory analysis and all of our cuppers are Q-Graders. Some of the coffees they cup include regional coffees that will represent all Guatemalan coffees (these are selected through a rigorous competition, and are cupped blindly in our lab). They also cup independent samples from producers, impart cupping courses, and more.
And Escuela de Café?
Escuela de Café is our School of Coffee dedicated to baristas and roasters. We offer latte art, espresso, brewing methods, roasting and other courses. They are all divided in two, with one course for beginners and one for coffee lovers. Our coffee lover courses are more advanced because they’re directed to those who are, as the name suggests, coffee lovers.
Funcafé was established in 1994, and is an initiative for social development within the coffee sector. Its mission is to be the social responsibility program and through it we strive to promote human development in rural coffee-producing areas. Funcafé has three main pillars: food security, nutrition, and health.
Funcafé have also signed up to the AmazonSmile program, so you can support it while you shop.
Finally, what about your department: National and International Marketing?
We participate in different national and international fairs that serve to market our coffees and to stimulate a coffee culture in the country. Nationally, we participate in Feria Alimentaria, a food festival. Last year we won Stand of the Year.
This year we’ll also be hosting the 2nd International Coffee Day on October 1st, and will have several activities throughout the day including a Latte Art Competition.
Internationally, we participate in the following events and exhibitions: Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA); Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE, World of Coffee); Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE); Specialty Coffee Association of Japan (SCAJ); Semana Internacional del Café Costa Rica (Sintercafé); Café Show Seoul, South Korea; and Taiwan International Tea, Coffee and Wine Expo. We have a stand at each of these fairs (except Sintercafé), at which we have continuous coffee tastings and cupping sessions to promote our Guatemalan coffees.
Isa (right) receives a gift from Rosa Amalia, the General Manager of Cooperativa Agua Blanca (left).
You really do a lot! You work with Behmor as well, don’t you?
Yes. It all goes back to MICE 2013 when Miguel Medina, Anacafé’s president, met Joe. Then, at SCAA 2015 in Seattle, Joe and Miguel met again and had the idea of starting the Behmor Inspired program in Guatemala.
Joe wanted to contribute to Guatemala’s coffee production and thought that a good way of doing so was providing small growers with a tool which which they can get to know their coffee: roasters. Nowadays, growers must know the quality of the coffee they’re selling and these roasters allow them to do that. Joe sent the first pallet of roasters in September 2015, a total of 30 roasters. These were then distributed to cooperatives and small producers. The department of Technical Assistance chose very carefully who the recipients of the roasters would be and there were several aspects to the evaluation.
After the first donation, Joe wanted to experience and meet the people that “make everything possible”, and so he flew to Guatemala to meet some of the recipients of the roasters. During his visit, he met the members of Cooperativa Agua Blanca, a coop run and almost entirely managed by women. He was profoundly moved and decided he wanted to do more.
In February 2016, Joe sent the second donation, a total of 62 roasters and 45 brewers. The list of distribution for these was also drafted by Anacafé’s Technical Assistance department, and Joe flew to Guatemala once again to meet some of the new recipients. This time, Joe visited Cooperativa Tomastepec, a cooperative that has strived to maintain high quality and unity among its producers.
The idea with the roasters is that, as I mentioned before, they allow growers to get to know their coffee. But most importantly, they also give them a sense of responsibility, since it allows them to value their work, their effort and the quality of their coffee.
During Joe’s visit, I remember him telling me how honored and lucky he felt for being able to visit Guatemala and meet these growers in their own plots of land. He said that most people that drink coffee don’t think of the effort that goes behind a cup of coffee and he was deeply moved to see how much love and determination growers really put into their crop.
I remember Joe telling me several times that “without these men and women, neither I nor either anyone else in the coffee business would have a job, and that is why I want to give back”. It really is an extraordinary program, and the best part is that Behmor Inspired is only beginning.
Joe Behm of Behmor picks coffee when visiting Cooperativa Tomastepec.
That’s inspiring. So why would you say national associations are so important?
National associations are so important because they work toward the improvement of the entire coffee production sector. In other words, the efforts are dedicated entirely to the progress and strengthening of the sector.
And what would you say to Guatemalans looking to get into your kind of role?
I would tell them to get involved and look for opportunities. I believe that sometimes we’re scared and don’t like to get out of our comfort zone, but it’s important to seize opportunities when they’re presented, and go out and find them when they aren’t.
I once read a quote that I still remember and I think it relates to this: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door,” by Milton Berle.
What do you think the biggest challenge facing Guatemalan coffee is at the moment?
I think it’s very complex to name one thing as the biggest challenge facing the Guatemalan coffee industry. There are several aspects that need to be taken into consideration, especially the fact that we are a developing nation and many of the coffee growers struggle on a daily basis with supporting their crop and their family.
This leads me to say that a growing concern of mine, and one that I believe is common amongst all coffee growers, is production costs. These don’t decrease with fluctuating coffee prices and have a tendency to increase.
In addition, the Guatemalan currency has not been devalued and lately it has even been revalued. This means that dollars coming in from coffee exports don’t have the same acquisitive power as with a devalued currency, so producing coffee in Guatemala is, in a way, more expensive than in other countries.
Anacafé’s Technical Assistance team give advice to smallholder producers.
I see. What do you hope will change most in the coffee industry in the future?
I hope the coffee industry learns to bridge the gap between growers, roasters, and baristas in a way that we are all united and all look after each other. This may sound idealistic, but we are all part of the same chain and if one part of the chain is broken, we all suffer. That’s why it’s so important to keep the coffee industry together, working together for a common cause.
It’s also important to keep in mind the fundamental element of the coffee industry which is the coffee growers. They are the basis of the entire chain and, therefore, should be unequivocally strong.
And what do you think the future of coffee in Guatemala will be?
Third wave coffee is becoming the new normal and I think we are tending to drift towards it rather than away from it. As coffee slowly drifts away from being a commodity and starts becoming a luxury, quality will be much more appreciated and market niches will become extremely important for producers.
An important aspect, and one that I think is also evolving, is the fact that producers are now more interested in knowing and recognizing the quality of the coffee they produce. This means they will care about where their coffee goes to and traceability will become increasingly important.
We’re now seeing coffee bags with name tags, which is a wakeup call. This was nonexistent a couple of decades ago, and is now a reality. The fact that producers can know exactly where their coffee ends up, and consumers can trace their coffee back to where it came from, means coffee is not simply a beverage but something created especially for you.
And that’s awesome. Thanks so much for chatting, Isa!
All photos by Isabela Minondo Durán.
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