‘The Coffee in Central and South America Is Awful.’
Crazy, right? Yet when working in Coffee Town, a specialty coffee shop in Buenos Aires, I heard this all the time. Grateful tourists would sigh with relief when tasting our coffee—but I couldn’t understand how they’d had such bad experiences when countries from Bolivia to Mexico produce such delicious coffee.
This sparked the desire of two travel lovers—Ernesto the Argentinian and myself, Hannah the Kiwi—to slowly traverse the continent on a specialty coffee hunt. And as we talk to the people in the countries we travel through, it just fuels our passion even more.
Happy customers! San Martín de Los Andes, Argentina
Starting Our Travelling Coffee Business
1. Source delicious export-grade coffee from the plantations themselves, make contact with roasters, spend time with them, and be present throughout the roasting process.
2. Thereafter, from our Kombi VW ’89 (aka Olive) and with our variety of brewers, we sell it to people on the streets throughout South and Central America for a reasonable price.
The outcome we hope to see? Hoping that everyone can enjoy the delicate aromas and exotic flavours that, in other parts of the world, these coffees are famous for.
Ernesto getting hands into the drying process and enjoying his first cupping session.
Over the last 7 months, we have driven over 11,646kms from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Lima, Peru. And I’m not going to lie; it’s a lot harder than I had dreamt it would be. We’ve had days where we have sold only one cup of coffee. People are generally unsure when they see our table laid out with an AeroPress, a Chemex, a French press, and V60.
On good days, though, the curious take the plunge and start asking questions. Then, when there is a little crowd growing, those that are a little more shy feel comfortable to come and peek over shoulders.
All day in the baking heat of northern Argentina and we only had one customer, But at least we had a pretty awesome view!
Bringing Coffee Knowledge Back to Locals
It has been amazing to learn that a lot of people either do not know that their own country is producing this coffee or they don’t know how to get their hands on it.
Lucky for us (and it came as a pleasant surprise to me), Ernesto is quite the crowd entertainer. In detail, he explains each step of the process of making a quality cup of coffee, from how important it is to have clean filtered water at an exact temperature to the importance of precise quantities of freshly ground specialty coffee. He then explains to the people how specialty coffee is produced in their own country.
Coffee: The War on Sugar
We’ve also been noticing the immense amount of sugar consumed with coffee. We started off by simply not having any on offer, but making a culture that has sugar added to just about everything go cold turkey was not going to work for us—or them. So now we have sugar available, but first, we always ask people to take a sip and think about the flavours they can pick up on and to take the time to savour it. We then list off the characteristics of the coffee so that they can see that coffee has its own sweetness, and does not have to be black, bitter and in need of four heaped teaspoons of sugar. Hearing “wow, it doesn’t even need sugar” is a massive pat on the back for us.
It is these small, shared moments of joy and appreciation of the world-class specialty coffees of this land that will help pave the way for people to join the third wave of coffee.
Ernesto making an aeropress for the workers at Finca Las Tacanas in Bolivia.
Coffee Farmers Try their First Cup of Specialty Coffee
We have made coffee for people who have worked on these specialty coffee farms, the ones that get their hands dirty all year caring for these plants, harvest the cherries at just the right time, wash, ferment and dry the beans and then get them ready to be shipped off for roasting. When asked if they have ever had coffee prepared like this the answer is always “no”. The “grano de oro”, or ‘Golden Grain’, is selected and shipped off to those Western countries that have become very used to just popping down the road for some of the Americas’ finest.
Harvest time in Villa Rica, Peru. Here we learnt all about the the production side of the coffee chain.
Kids in Oruro, Bolivia fascinated by our filters and proud to learn that their country produces and exports top-grade specialty coffee.
How to Get Locals to Begin Riding This Third Wave?
It’s all about exposing locals to what specialty coffee can offer them, and taking an angle which they relate to. This often means not obsessing over the quality in a nation where quantity is preferable.
We have met people who are doing this, fighting the good fight, each their with own unique approach. A notable individual was Maurico Diez De Medina Aramallo from Roaster Boutique in Bolivia. He teaches consumers about the coffee supply chain and connects with them through familiar concepts. Bolivians are aware they reside in the highest altitude city in the globe so Maurico seizes this opportunity to explain that their exquisite cup profile is a result of their higher elevation.
Chemex competition with Mauricio in Roaster Boutique. Yes, he won!
What’s Next for Us?
We want to keep travelling, to continue meeting and learning from all those thirdwave soldiers out there in the countries to come. We love to pass on our coffee knowledge in the hope that everyone will be able to enjoy what some of us take for granted. We all deserve to start the day with an amazing cup of coffee.
Morning coffee in amongst these beautiful plants, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Edited by N. Bhatt.
Perfect Daily Grind.