Whether catching up with a friend over a steaming hot cup at Brewbakers or guzzling down an iced coffee from Bean & Bagel before running off to class, most coffee consumers haven’t the slightest idea of how much work truly goes into producing a single cup of coffee.
The popular caffeinated drink, which many rely on to give them an extra boost in the morning and motivation for those late-night assignments, continues to be in high demand. But as America and the rest of the world runs on this concoction, how many actually realize the implications of this beverage?
Fourteen Keene State College students, along with an advisor from the community service office, have a new appreciation for that cup of joe as they partook in each step of the process, starting from the three and half mile hike up a volcano to reach a coffee farm, ending with the roasting of the beans in small shack and packaging them for shipping.
This year’s International Service Trip to the country of Guatemala was different from previous years, since it was more educational.
The crew did its share of sweating and manual labor, but the majority of the time spent was learning about the culture and focusing on how to spread awareness of Fair Trade and how it benefits communities.
KSC worked with the non-profit organization, As Green As It Gets, which concentrates on economic development and environmentally sustainable agriculture in Guatemala.
The eight-day excursion was jammed packed from the crack of dawn to the wee hours of the evening. Activities ranged from making burlap bags and cosmetics, which supported local artisans, to digging massive holes to produce a bio-digester, which would provide farmers with fertilizers, fish to feed the families and additional income.
The major project at hand dealt with making coffee, an unfathomable process to most unless they have witnessed it firsthand. The group harvested the coffee fruit at the peak of its ripeness, and then went back to the farmers’ houses to sort the good fruits from the bad using different methods. The next step was peddling a self-made bike machine that was designed to strip the flesh off the fruit and expose the bean.
The beans were then thrown back into a bag where they would sit fermenting for several days. A thick, slimy cover formed on those beans; they needed to be washed and left out to dry. The beans were sprawled out across the floor and once dry, the husk was shucked off, leaving a green bean that then needed to be polished. The students then roasted them over an open stove and ground them up using an old-fashioned stone.
When it seemed like the 14 students would never reach the end of the process, they finally were able to taste the freshest coffee they had ever had in their entire life. Senior Addy Parsons said, “These farmers had such sense of pride in their work. They have so little, but what they do, they are so proud of it and so happy of what they’ve accomplished.”
Franklin Voorhes, director of appropriate technology at As Green As It Gets, hopes that after volunteering with the organization, participants will look at each cup of coffee they drink in a different light and start to recognize where the value string is, where the wealth is generated and where the wealth is kept because they’re not the same place.
Voorhes commented, “I hope this affects how you [at KSC] affect the rest of the world and how almost everything that you do, every purchase, every vote that you cast, every business opportunity that you take, what store you’re going to shop at, have major implications on the third world. I hope that beyond the work you do today, I hope the experience lives on and changes the way that you live back in the United States.”
Not all farmers in the area are lucky enough to work with As Green As It Gets, and they unfortunately are forced to sell their coffee beans, which they slaved over, for just pennies, not seeing a single cent of that profit.
Coordinator of Community Service and leader Jessica Gagne-Cloutier expressed her sympathy and said, “What bothered me was walking home every night, seeing farmers selling their coffee beans the next street over, knowing that they probably weren’t getting a fair price for all of the labor they put in.”
Freshman Kya Roumimper shared the same feelings and said, “What really bothered me was seeing so many kids not in school and having to give up their education so they can go pick coffee all day with their family.
I understand that their family needs the money to survive, but it’s just so sad to see eight and nine year olds having to give up their childhood and miss out on the opportunity to learn.”
Though the team only spent a little over a week in Guatemala, they made a big impact in the community, but the community that greeted them with arms wide open made an even bigger impression on them. All of those who took part on the 2013 International Service Trip to Guatemala are now going to savor the taste and aroma even more because they know how much exertion went into that one cup of brew.
Junior Lisa Bryant said, “We are the lucky ones who can remember the faces of Pedro, Alberto and all the other farmers we worked with, but now it’s our responsibility to bring this information back to Keene State [College] and put it into full force making sure our peers realize the importance of buying fair trade products.”
This was an Equinox special coverage project by Kateland Dittig,
Kateland Ditting can be contacted at