I visited a dry mill in Oaxaca last week just as the harvest is getting into high gear. The mill was primed and ready, but almost totally empty. And spotless. Unlike all my past visits to dry mills during the peak of the post-harvest period, there was no activity at all. No people. No coffee. No roar of elevators or sorters to shout over. Perhaps that is why I was able to appreciate lots of beautiful little geometric details that have escaped my notice on previous visits.
Sure, I know there is good coffee in the coffeelands. But mind-bending coffees are hard to come by. There are a few stars in the coffeelands firmament that I know of that burn brighter than most: Cafe Palo Alto in Cali and Ben’s Coffee in San Salvador.
I have been writing in recent weeks about the issue of hunger. You may be asking yourself what hunger has to do with coffee. Unfortunately, and notwithstanding the extraordinary advances made by the sustainable and certified coffee movements, hunger is still common in the coffeelands.
The “sustainable coffees” segment of the specialty market is more crowded than ever with certifications and concepts that advance different — sometimes competing — ideas about what constitutes sustainability when it comes to coffee. I believe that all these approaches generate benefits and move in the right direction. The question I struggle with is how much benefit they need to generate — and for whom — to be truly sustainable?
Payback time. Earlier this week I confessed to taking some pleasure in seeing a few national champion baristas roll up their sleeves in Sustainable Harvest’s Seed-to-Cup Barista Challenge, and get humbled in the process. Then, I got mine — on a visit with an association of smallholder farmers in Guatemala on Tuesday, something went terribly wrong after I carried a sack of freshly picked coffee cherries to the wet mill.