Friday, February 4, 2011

Coffee in Guatemala: Politics and Economics

Another item in today's paper heralded the decision by Starbucks to feature a coffee called Guatemala Casi Cielo (Guatemala Almost Heaven), a "microblend" of coffees from 4 growers near Antigua. Starbucks is apparently planning to enter the Guatemalan market with a store at Pradera, one of the glitzy multi-level malls in Guatemala. Various dates have been given for the opening: the most recent notice I saw in a business newsletter was sometime in March 2011. Apparently the "gourmet" coffee market has been growing in Guatemala. There are a couple of local gourmet/espresso coffee chains (Café Gitane has a concession in the cafeteria at the Universidad del Valle; there is also &Café, and Café Barista). As far as I've seen, these tend to be located in elite bastions like shopping malls in Guatemala City and tourist-expat areas like Antigua. There is one locally owned store, actually a bakery/restaurant, in Santa Cruz del Quiché, that sells espresso drinks. But obviously the high cost of these beverages relative to average incomes in rural areas means that these beverages are beyond the reach of most Guatemalans. 

Guatemala is one of the world's coffee producing nations (I'm sure if you are reading this blog from the U.S., you can go to your local purveyor of gourmet coffees and find some beans that were grown in Guatemala). Many people I know worked at some point in their lives picking coffee -- as internal migrant labor on plantations where conditions were awful and wages miserable. A very high proportion of the coffee is exported: just under 15% stays in the country. There are, of course, some fair trade cooperatives and importers in the U.S. who try to help coffee-growing communities develop sustainable economies (my favorite coffee shop in Providence, and one of my favorite coffee shops anywhere in the world, the Coffee Exchange on Wickenden, sells fair trade organic coffee from Guatemala -- they also sell it online, just saying... -- and supports a program called Coffee Kids).  However, I have not seen a lot of coffee for sale locally that is labeled organic and/or fair trade.

I reflect upon this as I drink a cup of export-quality (Q46/lb, about $6 and change) espresso made in my new electric cappuccino maker.  

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