Panorama of the Week: Coffee Berry Hill at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

We have a weakness for coffee. But, like so many people, we didn’t truly understand where it came from or who the people were behind the process. Then we took a rather adventurous drive along Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan from San Pedro to Santiago and met these friendly guys shoveling coffee berries into 50 kilo bags for transport to the nearest coffee cooperative.

360-Degree Panorama: Packing Coffee Berries along Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

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For those of you who might not know, coffee begins its life as a berry. The bean we know and love is inside. The berry skins get stripped away (we stayed in a hotel next to a place that did this and let me tell you, old coffee berry skins STINK!), to reveal a white bean that is then sundried and later roasted to yield the rich, dark beans we know and love.

We always find it heartening to attach a human face, a personal story to a product that is considered a commodity. So, next time you drink your morning cup of Joe, consider these friendly guys near the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and the work that they’ve done to help jump-start your morning.

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  1. says

    I was recently around Lake Atitlan for a few weeks, and tried to chat with some kids who were picking the ripe red coffee beans.

    Did you ever try to eat one? You can suck on the juices, and it’s pretty tasty (but doesn’t taste like coffee!)

  2. says

    @Sarah: Thanks!

    @Liudmila: I think you’re right – not many coffee pickers actually drink coffee themselves. The only coffee growing area in Central America where we found locals drinking coffee themselves was in the area around La Esperanza in Honduras.

    @Brooke: Yeah, the odor from rotting skins really was bad. Almost had to change hotels because of it. But, the final outcome is pretty nice :)

    @Matt: No, didn’t try eating or tasting the juices on one of the berries. Had a bad experience doing that with olives in Turkey a few years ago and now a bit more cautious.

    @Andi: Sorry about that! But, hopefully you’ll get some sleep and appreciate that cup of coffee in the morning even more so!

    @Sam: Glad you learned something here about how coffee goes from being a berry to the dark liquid we often drink in the mornings.

  3. says

    Oh, I love Guatemala so much, and I especially love the area around Lake Atitlan.

    I also went on a tour of a coffee farm in Panama and learned a lot about how coffee is made…and now that I think about it, I checked out a book from the library just last weekend about the history of coffee.

    Beautiful panorama!

  4. says

    @Lisa: Thank you. The moment with those men and their coffee beans was totally unplanned, unexpected. Some of the best experiences on the road seem to unfold that way.

    @Megan: Lake Atitlan, even for all the tourist infrastructure, has a special feel. Maybe it’s the influence of the volcano, the Earth’s crust. Not quite sure.

    As for coffee, what I know of it’s story and history, it’s a long and deep one. And one that’s easily passed over and disregarded over a warm, tasty brew.

    @Lola: Glad we could help scratch the itch!


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