Santiago Atitlan sits next to Lake Atitlan, the most picturesque area of all Guatemala. The lake is surrounded by mountains, three of which are volcanoes: San Pedro, Tolliman, and Atitlan. It is on the southeastern ridges of the San Pedro Volcano that the Santiago Atitlan coffee is grown at an altitude of about 1725 meters.
Santiago is a Tzuthil – Mayan Indian village of about 28,000. All the coffee grown here is farmed by these native farmers. Each day they must hike from Santiago up the south side of San Pedro Volcano to work their small plots of land, usually 1 – 2 hectares. The hike takes 1 – 2 hours, and during harvest time the 110 pound sacks of cherry are carried down the mountain on their backs to sell each day.
Santiago is colorful, as men and women still wear traditional native garments, where the fabric is all hand-woven and hand-embroidered in the most brilliant and beautiful colors.
Driving into Santiago still via dirt roads, or taking a boat across the lake to Santiago, the first streets you see are lined with goods of the local vendors, from leather goods to artwork. The fabrics are woven by the Mayan women, and children try to sell strings of colored beans they have strung into necklaces and bracelets. You cannot help but fall in love with the color, the beauty, the energy, and the people of Santiago.
The children, by the time they are seven years old, are beginning to learn what their adult roles will be. The boys start going to the coffee fields with their fathers or one of the village elders to learn their future responsibilities.
The girls get up at 5:00 AM with their mothers and grandmothers to take the day’s corn to one of the little corn mills in the town to be cracked and milled for use in making tortillas and soups. Several times a week the young girls help carry loads of clothes down to the lake, where you can often see rows of women and girls doing the laundry.
These people take care of each other. From the late 1970’s through 1990, this area was ravished by guerilla warfare and many men, women, and children from Santiago lost their lives. In December 1990 there was a massacre of twenty-two community members on the road just outside of Santiago, Atitlan. Today our importer’s growers group and their families still include and help provide for the widows and their families from this massacre.
In the center of the village is the local market where food, crafts, clothing, tools, etc. are sold. In the evenings walking the streets, you can hear guitars playing and the natives singing. Running water, telephones, and electricity are luxuries that are very rare in Santiago.
In 1993 Coffee Kids, Inc. established a “Women’s Entrepreneurial Project: in Santiago, making micro loans to those women who were creditworthy, and who either had or wanted to start a small business. The program has taught them about record keeping, banking, and saving for their future. The program has helped to provide more income for these women and their families.
This coffee is certified organic shade grown and is mostly of the Bourbon, CaturraI and Cataui variety. The whole area is tropical mountain jungle. Our coffee grows inside the jungle canopy, among the natural flora and fauna of the steep mountain slopes.
When this growers group was formed and our importer began working with them in 1991, they produced 250 bags of certified organic coffee the first season (certified by OCIA, Organic Crop Improvement Association). The group has grown over the years, and they now produce 1500 bags of consistently high-quality gourmet SHB, WASHED, EURO-PREP green coffee to the North American specialty coffee market.
We pay a premium “plus” for this coffee, which goes directly to the growers at the time the coffee cherry is bought. After each harvest and after their certified organic coffee is milled, shipped, and sold here in the U.S., the importer returns to Santiago and pays a premium directly to each farmer. This premium is paid based on the amount of cherry that the registered organic coffee farmer sold to our importer from the harvest.
Over the years together, our importer and the growers group have worked to improve pruning techniques plus learn and implement active composting practices, picking only ripe cherry and implementing quality control measures and standards. At the wet mill, patios have been repaired and increased to handle production growth.
Ultimately all of the above is what helps produce this wonderful and unique gourmet coffee. The bean is small and dark green.
A lively, medium city roast from Guatemala that is slightly sweet with a spicy aroma, medium body and complex flavor. Nice and bright with a pleasant, spicy flavor.