Ever wondered where a cup of coffee comes from? This summer, six coffee-curious students from York’s Schulich School of Business travelled to Guatemala to explore the highlands and trace the origin of coffee. They interviewed previous presidents regarding coffee politics, farmed coffee with a community of revolutionaries-turned-reformers, and talked coffee production with ANACAFE, Guatemala’s national coffee consortium.
Schulich students Isidora Nedeljkovic, Erin Yang, Alan Mendoza, Jennifer Wang and Jimmy Chan are piloting a research project to explore the coffee industry. They will track the supply chain of coffee from seed to shelf, while climbing volcanoes, riding in tuc-tucs and visiting villages where most outsiders do not venture. To make this adventure possible, the students contracted Operation Groundswell, a non-profit organization managed by Schulich alumnus Eyal Rosenblum, to create a customized service-learning program for their needs.
Their first 14 days were spent meeting politicians and major coffee stakeholders in Antigua, Guatemala City and Xela. The students then ventured to Santa Anita La Union, where they worked with a coffee cooperative run by former combatants in the country’s 36-year civil war. These guerrillas have traded their guns for tools of the coffee trade. They see their product not only as an exportable commodity but a symbol of their revolutionary solidarity. The group collaborated on the construction of the community’s new beneficio, or mill, where their coffee will be washed, de-pulped, fermented, dried and sorted.
“During my two weeks here in Guatemala so far, I’ve taken away life lessons that wouldn’t be possible from the confines of a classroom,” says Mendoza.
“We got a crash course on coffee farming, coffee trade, Mayan culture, Guatemala politics, all in the course of five days. Ben, our program coordinator, called it an extended orientation – I call it coffee learning on steroids,” Wang wrote in a blog post.
To tie up their adventure, the students will mellow in self-reflection in the oasis of Semuc Champey, a landscape of cascading waterfalls. While there, they will consolidate their research into a documentary, a blog and various research papers targeting coffee trade. Research will be evaluated by Professor Detlev Zwick as a guided study.
For more information on how you can get involved, contact Jimmy Chan at GuatemalaCoffeClub@gmail.com.
To learn more about the course, visit its Facebook page.