It has been a tradition in my family for many years that Thanksgiving Day means watching The Muppet Christmas Carol. One of the more memorable, enjoyable, and (surprisingly) faithful re-imaginings of the classic tale, we find it an excellent way to kick off the holiday season: that time of year when even the most hardened misanthrope discovers his inner-philanthropist (or at least, goes half-heartedly poking about in his soul to see if, perhaps, he has an inner-philanthropist). For those of you who are interested in feeling seasonally philanthropic, and who typically purchase your home coffee in bulk from a place like Costco, this may be an excellent time to pause and think about what you're buying, and where it comes from.
Early in the 1980s, an organization was founded here in Seattle which envisioned land acquisition in Mexico and Central America as the long-term solution to generations of poverty for many rural and war-torn communities. The organization, called Agros International, now works with villages in five countries, helping them establish economic stability through land ownership and sustainable crops. For four of those villages, coffee is the crop producing income for families who own and work the land.
Coffee, as a crop, takes patience. In most cases, a coffee tree is not transplanted for growing in a field until it is about three years old. It will not produce until its fourth year. It begins to be reliable in its fifth year, producing about a pound of coffee per annum. It is a tremendous investment of time, energy, and resources to grow coffee.
Over the past decade, Agros has worked with farmers in the Guatemalan villages of Batzchocolá, Xeucalvitz, Sumalito, and (probably the best known within the coffee world) Trapichitos to develop consistent crops of coffee for export. Together, they are known as the Ixil A'achimbal association of producers. Working closely with Atlas Coffee Importers to shape the quality and marketability of the coffee, Agros and the villages made critical decisions not to pursue expensive Fair Trade or Organic certifications, instead applying finances toward worker wages, and payment of the loans that purchased the land. They committed themselves to ethically producing exceptional coffees: not only coffee people could feel good about buying, but good coffee.
In 2006, the Trapichitos crop began really catching roasters' attention. Caffe Lusso in Redmond began to purchase, and slowly but surely, the Agros-influenced, Atlas-imported micro-lots found their place in the coffee world. By early 2011, coffee from Xeucalvitz was featured by Coava Coffee's Samuel Purvis in his presentation at the Northwest Regional Barista Competition, which he won.
The Ixil A'achimbal no longer produces coffee that goes unspoken for. In conversation with Caffe Lusso's roaster and owner, Philip Meech, I learned that securing coffee from any one of the four villages (let alone, securing the nearly 25,000 lbs that Caffe Lusso now purchases) is requiring speaking earlier and earlier in the year. Of the four villages, originally purchased through Agros, three are now fully owned and operated by the people who live and work on the land. Word has, beyond a shadow of a doubt, gotten out about the Agros village coffee; Agros' vision of breaking poverty's cycle through land ownership is being realized. And you, by purchasing Ixil A'achimbal coffees, actually have the rare opportunity to participate in something that is positively changing the world.
In my opinion, the trouble with holiday philanthropy tends to arise from that inevitably defeated feeling of misanthropy generated by all things holiday-related. Such as, shopping. I may love all humankind at this particular moment, but it is only because I stayed home over Black Friday. Getting pepper sprayed was not on my to-do list this year. Aside from which, give me one day at a holiday Costco (or worse: the mall), and I will not like any people, anywhere, for any reason.
Therefore, I am pleased to report that these coffees can be purchased, locally roasted, without leaving the safety of your home. Both Caffe Lusso and Velton's Coffee currently carry Agros coffees in their online selections. And should you feel like braving the holiday bustle of Seattle during shopping season, Street Bean Espresso on the edge of Belltown carries coffee from the village of Trapichitos for whole bean sale.