What’s the hot new thing in Gu­atemala? Coffee

Baris­tas point out ex­otic blends to ea­ger cus­tomers.

Austin American-Statesman - - STATESMAN AT THE LEGISLATURE - El­iz­a­beth Malkin ©2017 New York Times

In the nar­ra­tive spun around spe­cialty coffee, there are two kinds of places: those where peo­ple cul­ti­vate the beans and those where peo­ple con­sume the end re­sult.

On one side, the sturdy farmer from some­where in Latin America or Africa plucks red coffee cher­ries against a tapestry of emer­ald plants.

On the other, men and women in cozy cafes sip from fra­grant cups of coffee iden­ti­fied by their ex­otic ori­gins — Gu­atemala, for ex­am­ple, a small coun­try of cloud forests and glis­ten­ing moun­tain lakes where var­ied mi­cro­cli­mates en­gen­der count­less coffee va­ri­eties.

But the pic­ture is shift­ing. Gu­atemala is no longer just ex­port­ing coffee. It is also home to an ex­pand­ing com­mu­nity of coffee shops where baris­tas point out the peach and raisin notes in the daily spe­cial and tast­ing classes (“cup­ping,” to the ini­ti­ated) are sched­uled each Satur­day.

“The com­mu­nity will grow,” pre­dicted Raúl Ro­das, the 2012 world barista cham­pion, who has his own coffee shop and dis­trib­u­tor, Paradigma, in the city’s trendy Zone 4.

“We need more pro­duc­ers, more con­sumers, more coffee houses,” Ro­das said over coffee at a com­peti­tor, El In­jerto, where he greeted the baris­tas by name and ex­plained how to iden­tify the hint of a co­coa pow­der fla­vor with the fin­ish of each sip.

The phe­nom­e­non of “third wave” coffee, with its intense fo­cus on ev­ery step of the coffee chain — from iden­ti­fy­ing the farms that pro­duce the best qual­ity to roast­ing the beans and ed­u­cat­ing con­sumers — has be­gun to spread across the coffee-pro­duc­ing coun­tries of Latin America. But the fer­vor of Gu­atemala’s scene may top them all, even though the pool of po­ten­tial con­sumers is very much smaller than in Mex­ico City or Bogotá.

“We would do this even if they didn’t pay us,” said Ri­cardo Mo­rales, a barista at El In­jerto, estab­lished by the own­ers of a cen­tury-old ex­port plan­ta­tion of the same name.

It is the baris­tas who are driv­ing the third wave here, said Diego del Águila, who is in charge of the coffee school at Anacafé, Gu­atemala’s na­tional coffee as­so­ci­a­tion.

“The coffee shops are chang­ing con­sumers’ idea of the way to drink coffee,” he said.

In just the past year, seven coffee shops have opened in the leafy neigh­bor­hoods sur­round­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion’s head­quar­ters.

The trend is also al­ter­ing Gu­atemalans’ per­cep­tion of their claim on one of their most im­por­tant ex­ports.

“Four or five years ago it was dif­fi­cult to keep coffee in­side the coun­try,” del Águila said.

Anacafé’s coffee school of­fers a barista train­ing course, which in­cludes a mo­d­ule on the art of draw­ing pat­terns on latte foam, as well as cour­ses in coffee roast­ing, which many coffee shops now han­dle them­selves.

On a re­cent Mon­day, 10 aspir­ing baris­tas clus­tered over two me­tal ta­bles at Anacafé’s school, where the beakers lined up on shelves and counter tops sug­gest a mid­dle school sci­ence lab. At one ta­ble, an in­struc­tor, Paulo Melén­dez, 24, who took his first barista course when he was only 13, was show­ing the stu­dents how to pre­pare coffee us­ing a French press.

After pour­ing hot water over the ground coffee, he waited 45 sec­onds, then stirred just three times, waited an­other three min­utes, skimmed the foam from the top of the mix­ture and then pressed the plunger.

The stu­dents sipped from espresso cups, com­ment­ing on the acid­ity, body and weight of their coffee, which comes from Gu­atemala’s Hue­hue­te­nango re­gion.

Then Melén­dez moved onto the Melitta pour-over tech­nique, us­ing a goose­necked pot to pour water first over the en­tire fil­ter and then over the coffee in a spi­ral move­ment.

“It smells dif­fer­ent, it’s more acidic,” was the ver­dict from one stu­dent, Xiomara Mon­tene­gro, a lawyer.

Melén­dez agreed. “It leaves our mouths dry like a dry white wine,” he said.

Ale­jan­dro Quiñónez, an ar­chi­tect, was there be­cause he hoped a barista cer­tifi­cate would al­low him to travel in Europe and work in coffee shops there.

“As a Gu­atemalan, you grow up with coffee from your grand­mother, every­body drinks it,” he said.

Veron­ica Shin, a South Korean stu­dent who had lived for 10 years in Gu­atemala, also hoped to work part time as a barista. Her Gu­atemalan qual­i­fi­ca­tion would have ex­tra ca­chet in Korea, she said, be­cause Gu­atemala’s coffee is prized there.

It is dif­fi­cult to make a busi­ness of a spe­cialty coffee shop, and it is a la­bor of love for those who em­bark on it. In a coun­try where many peo­ple do not even make the min­i­mum wage — less than $12 a day — spend­ing as much as $2.50 on a cup of coffee is a reach for all but a tiny sliver of the pop­u­la­tion. And even for those with some more dis­pos­able in­come, there is the ques­tion of habit.

“How do you con­vince some­body who has al­ways bought coffee in a su­per­mar­ket to join the ranks of spe­cialty coffee con­sumers?” Ro­das asked. His an­swer: “The more we spread the cul­ture, the larger the mar­ket will be.”

He also links back­ward, to the coffee farms, de­vel­op­ing cof­fees with be­tween 16 and 20 grow­ers each year.

On sale at Paradigma re­cently were three sep­a­rate cof­fees, iden­ti­fied by re­gion, farm, va­ri­ety and the date the bean was har­vested and roasted.

“Or­ange peel, flo­ral, brown sugar and a spicy fin­ish,” read the de­scrip­tion on a bag from the hu­mid north­ern re­gion of Cobán.

Ro­das ap­pears to be suc­ceed­ing in spread­ing the gospel to his loyal cus­tomers in Gu­atemala City’s tiny high-tech­nol­ogy district.

“They have taught me to try coffee, to trust in my palate,” said Os­car Vil­la­grán, the chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer at a soft­ware firm, who comes in after lunch most days. “When I drank bad coffee, I didn’t know it. Now I feel the dif­fer­ence.”

Many of the third-wave baris­tas got their start at one of Gu­atemala’s lo­cal coffee chains, fall­ing into the busi­ness by ac­ci­dent.

Ger­son Ot­zoy was one of them. Then seven years ago he took the money his brother and sis­ter sent from Spain to join them and bought an espresso ma­chine in­stead.

Now a new As­to­ria Ra­pallo espresso ma­chine with a retro sheen oc­cu­pies pride of place on the counter of Fat Cat, the coffee house he runs with his brother in the colo­nial town of An­tigua, an hour’s drive west of the cap­i­tal.

Ot­zoy be­gan roast­ing his own coffee three years ago.

“That marked the dif­fer­ence be­tween sell­ing coffee and sell­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

DANIELE VOLPE / THE NEW YORK TIMES

Rojo Cerezo, a coffee shop in Gu­atemala City, joins an ex­pand­ing com­mu­nity of shops where baris­tas point out the peach and raisin notes in the daily spe­cial and tast­ing classes that are sched­uled each Satur­day.

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