Robbing coffee from the poor?
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 | 01:08 PM ET
by Amber Hildebrandt, CBCNews.ca
Guatemala is no small player in the world of coffee. But you wouldn’t know it from the cup of Joe plopped on your table at most restaurants.
As I discovered on my recent trip to the Central American country, insipid watery brews abound. And I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was to blame?
A cup of weak coffee at a restaurant in Antigua. (Amber Hildebrandt/CBC)
Most of Guatemala’s best coffee gets exported, with most going to discerning drinkers in the United States. (A large chunk ends up getting sold at Starbucks for several bucks a cup.)
Anacafe, the Guatemalan coffee bean growers association, reported last year that more than 3.7 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee beans were exported in the 2006-2007 growing season.
About 400,000 bags of lower-quality coffee was kept for local production.
The fact that locals get little opportunity to enjoy their superb coffee quickly became evident to my travel companion (a former Starbucks barista) and I as we travelled the country.
Every morning, we went out on our bleary-eyed search for the perfect cup. Soon enough we gave up on café quality, desperate for anything that resembled anything other than instant. Exceptions to the rule (thankfully) were found in touristy sites, such as restaurants run by foreigners or on the coffee plantations.
At one coffee plantation we toured near the colonial town of Antigua, white blossoms had just begun to appear on the shade-grown coffee bean trees.
Workers, meanwhile, scrubbed away at the machinery dirtied by the last harvest. In the warehouses, large canvas bags of green beans were piled high to the ceiling.
Tempted, I asked my guide if I could buy one. He laughed.
Despite having a hankering to steal away some green beans for myself, I couldn't escape the irony of ‘coffee, coffee everywhere and not a drop to spare’ for the local population. It does beg the question: how fair is it that we're hogging all the good stuff?
Don't the locals deserve to enjoy some of their high-quality coffee?
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From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.
About the writers
Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.
Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.
Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.
Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).
Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.
Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.
Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.
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