Meet the Farmers Behind Your Favorite Cup of Joe
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
You get the chance to be a human-powered coffee-shucking machine.
By Molly Fosco
As we approached the town square, the ancient cobblestones dug into our sandaled feet with each step. For a coffee farm tour, the location looked suspiciously urban — a bright yellow church amid cafes, shops and food stands, with locals making their way to work on a foggy morning. My partner and I had been traveling through Central America for a month, and as self-proclaimed coffee snobs, we couldn’t wait to see the origins of our beloved morning beverage. But even if you’re not a coffee lover, this tour will not disappoint.
From plant to pot, the De La Gente coffee farm tour in San Miguel Escobar, Guatemala, is part coffee-making session, part intro to agriculture. Topped off by sharing a delicious meal and conversation with a coffee grower and his family, the experience will be one of the most intimate you’ll have in Central America.
The coffee cherries are poured inside a big tin box at the rear of a rusted bicycle. You hop on the bike and begin to pedal.
For about two hours, a coffee farmer will tell you every painstaking detail of making the hot brown liquid. Average temperatures between 60°F to 90°F and nutrient-rich volcanic soil make Guatemala an ideal climate and landscape for growing coffee. While this part of the tour is fascinating, the second half leaves a lasting impression.
The coffee cherries are poured inside a big tin box at the rear of a rusted bicycle. You hop on the bike and begin to pedal — a human-powered coffee-shucking machine. Shucked beans in hand, you’ll follow the farmer to his home, a modest dwelling with tiled floors, white stucco walls and religious icons throughout. His wife will demonstrate how to roast the beans in a wide, flat pan over an open flame and grind them on a heavy slab of granite. She percolates the coffee on the stove and offers you the freshest cup you’ve ever tasted. The afternoon culminates over a shared lunch of roasted veggies, rice, salad and chicken with the farmer and his family.
Historically, coffee farmers in the area were forced to sell to big distributors — “coyotes,” the locals call them — who took big chunks of the profit. But De La Gente sells directly to consumers and roasters online, creating economic opportunity for farmers in Guatemala.
Living conditions for coffee farmers in Guatemala can be tough, as the work often leaves them geographically and socially isolated. Coffee is a globally prosperous industry, but “many of the tens of thousands of coffee farmers in Guatemala don’t do well economically,” says Andy Feldman, executive director of De La Gente. “Our inspiration was to create a more equitable and inclusive coffee industry.” The organization facilitates connections between producers and buyers, provides microfinance loans and organizes agricultural education between farmers so they can share growing and production techniques.
Tourism also creates a profit for coffee farmers — those that participate in De La Gente’s tours earn seven times the local minimum wage. “The coffee harvest is once a year, but tourism is year-round,” Feldman says.
Spending time with a coffee farmer and his family on this tour goes beyond the shiny surface that so many tourist attractions try to uphold. It highlights the struggles, but also the progress and ingenuity, of a vibrant Latin American community.
Go There: De La Gente Tours
- Hours: Any day of the week starting at 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. — must book up to one day in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- Cost: Q200/person ($29) and includes the farmer as a guide, a translator and a bag of coffee. Traditional Guatemalan lunch prepared at the farmer’s home can be added for Q50/person ($7)
- Length: Lasts approximately 3–5 hours. A minimum of 2 people is required, but they can pair you with other groups.
- Location: Starts from the plaza in San Miguel Escobar, 10 minutes by taxi or tuk-tuk from Antigua.
- Pro Tip: Book a coffee cupping and brewing workshop right after the tour to learn more about Guatemalan coffee and get a discount.