The Other Side of Coffee

The smell of fresh coffee cherries waiting to be picked in the morning is nothing like the smell of the first shots you pull out of the espresso machine when dialing in the grinder.

The department of Nariño is almost entirely devoted to coffee production. In small batches the coffee is drying on the streets waiting to be sold to the Federation (FNC) or companies such as Starbucks. There is a lot of potential for specialty coffee and Kuba, Rebecca, Aukje and I were able to come over because the Argote family understand this potential.

We arrived right in the middle of the harvest season, thus we got our hands dirty on picking cherries, washing, drying and sorting (basically the whole process before the beans are exported to Europe).

We finished the first week with a paycheck that barely covered the cost we made on buying chocolate from the only shop to keep us going. Our fellow pickers Fredi, Hugo, Ybette, Adrian and Marjorie picked about the same about every day as we did in a week.

In the second week we went to the local high school to emphasize the importance of speaking English. I asked the children whether their parents work with coffee, on which they all replied yes. The second question leaves me concerned about the future of Nariño as a coffee region: 'Who's planning on succeeding their parents?'. Most heads were shaking no, others replied whether it is possible to study in Europe. 

The lack of opportunities, low wages and tough labour will cause the region to drain empty. Offering the farmers a better price is the first step to prevent this from happening, but more measures are necessary.  Higher wages for the pickers, education about coffee processing and motivating the people involved in the process are examples to stimulate the area.

Just before leaving we did a cupping of three bad and three good coffees with the other pickers to show them how we experience the product that they produce. We thanked them for their effort of picking the ripe cherries and tried to show as much appreciation for their work as possible.

Muchas gracias to the Argote family and everyone we met for showing us the other side of coffee.