Endless mountain ranges, coffee trees drooping with ripe-red cherries, and golden coffee beans drying on raised beds: this is what we often think of when picturing a coffee-producing country.
What we don’t immediately think of is roasted coffee. Yet more and more producers are realizing the importance of roasting their own crops. From quality analysis to income diversification, it offers their communities many benefits.
La Cooperativa San Pedrana in Guatemala is just one of many coffee cooperatives doing this. I spoke to the cooperative’s President, Don Timoteo Charuc, as well as Ryan Chipman, owner of Yepocapa Coffee which sells their coffee, to discover more about its impact.
Lee este artículo en español Productores: Tostar Su Café Mejora La Calidad Del Café Verde
The drying patio at La Cooperativa San Pedrana. Credit: Elliot Lambdin, Jubilee Roasting Co
Introducing La Cooperativa San Pedrana
San Pedro, Yepocapa: this region is surrounded by two of Guatemala’s iconic volcanoes, Fuego and Acatenango. It’s also home to many coffee producers, who benefit from the fertile volcanic soil.
In 1967, a group of these producers came together to combat the falling price of coffee and rising costs of production. This was the birth of La Cooperativa San Pedrana.
Don Timoteo tells me that operating as a cooperative has numerous financial benefits. “The price of coffee is better when it is sold as a group,” he says. “When you buy fertilizers… and other supplies, you also get a better price because you are an organization. The costs are minimized.”
Currently, the cooperative has 43 formal members and 60 aspiring members who do not yet get to vote on the cooperative’s actions. The aspiring members have to wait three years before they can become formal members.
During this time, they prove their commitment through adhering to the cooperative’s quality standards. This includes picking uniformly ripe coffee cherries and following adequate farm management and agricultural techniques. This is important for the cooperative’s certification with UTZ, Starbucks, and Fairtrade.
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Looking over the Yepocapa region in Guatemala. Credit: Elliot Lambdin, Jubilee Roasting Co
Low Prices & Instability
Working as a cooperative has helped the group receive better prices for their coffee. Don Timoteo tells me, however, that these prices are not yet sustainable since they are based on the commodity market.
The cooperative faced one of its biggest challenges in 2001, when prices dropped to 50 US cents per pound in the global coffee crisis. The community was hard hit, with many losing their jobs – even if they were only indirectly working in the coffee industry. Don Timoteo witnessed many farmers choosing to leave their land to look for work in the city, or switching to farming more profitable commodities.
Even today, Don Timoteo tells me that it is difficult to attract people to the industry. The low and often unsustainable coffee prices paid on the commodity market make being a coffee farmer an unattractive profession.
These challenges have led the cooperative to the conclusion that they need to improve their coffee quality and instead compete on the specialty coffee market.
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Members of La Cooperativa San Pedrana working in the wet mill. Credit: Elliot Lambdin, Jubilee Roasting Co
The Move to Roasting Coffee
With the cooperative working to improve their coffee quality, the provision of a roaster came at the perfect time. As part of the Behmor Inspired program, equipment manufacturer Behmor has donated more than US $200,000 of equipment to cooperatives and national coffee associations around the world. Anacafé partnered with Behmor Inspired to distribute some of the donations around Guatemala – and, as a result, La Cooperativa San Pedrana received a Behmor 1600+ roaster and an SCA-certified Behmor Brewer a few years ago.
This has allowed the cooperative to roast their own green coffee and cup it, meaning they can taste the impact of their quality control methods and test new farming practices.
The change has had an obvious impact.
Ryan tells me that, since many producers had never before been able to cup their coffee, “the farmers… thought the quality derived from an area or a region where the coffee was grown.”
Cupping, however, allowed them to see a coffee beyond its geographical origin. Ryan says that through cupping, the producers “began to realize that it is not the origin that makes the quality but it is the work that they do.”
Ryan explains the cupping process to members of La Cooperativa San Pedrana. Credit: Elliot Lambdin, Jubilee Roasting Co
How Roasting Coffee Improves Farm Practices
As the producers saw for themselves the impact of farming methods on cup quality, they started paying even closer attention to their harvests.
Ryan tells me that just two years ago, 60% of the harvest was “pretty ripe” while the rest under ripe. Last year, however, the cooperative picked mostly ripe coffee cherries and hired additional wet mill equipment to sort through them. In the end, 97% of the crop that they intended to export was ripe.
Don Timoteo says that roasting has also helped them make decisions about coffee processing. As they are now able to cup their coffee and analyze the quality, they are able to improve their farming and processing practices.
Members of La Cooperativa San Pedrana cup their own coffee. Credit: Elliot Lambdin, Jubilee Roasting Co
Roasting Coffee Means New Markets
But roasting hasn’t just helped the cooperative analyze and improve coffee quality. It has also opened up an additional market.
Ryan tells me that they have started selling their coffee to local cafés in Yepocapa. While it is on a small scale, Don Timoteo believes it is a good future market for the cooperative to explore.
The Behmor 1600 Plus, a drum roaster used by producers to roast their coffee. Credit: Behmor
Roasting Coffee Empowers Producers
Roasting coffee has not just allowed producers to taste their own coffee. It has empowered La Cooperativa San Pedrana to make informed choices about their farming practices. It means that the producers have more ownership and agency over their work.
“You just need to see the smiles and the pride when the farmers receive their own coffee in a more professional and formal roasting,” says Ryan. “It stirs a lot of pride in their work that they get to taste their own coffee… to taste their own work.”
Don Timoteo shares a similar sentiment.
“Learning how to roast coffee has been a different journey than any we have had before. It has been an opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of in order to know a different side of the coffee world, a side that historically we have never had knowledge of, because the farmers usually sell their coffee without knowing what will happen with it later;” he tells me, “so we want them to know what happens next.
“It has helped us a lot to improve the quality of our coffee, to be able to make decisions in our processes, and has opened up new possibilities for our coffee and for our families.”
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Written by Sunghee Tark. All quotes by Don Timoteo Charuc translated into English by Abdiel Tax.
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