El Salvador for the First Time, as Seen by Klatch’s Travis Hochhalter

Klatch Coffee production roaster Travis Hochhalter shares his memorable experience in El Salvador, originally published on Klatch Coffee’s blog

BY TRAVIS HOCHHALTER
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM KLATCH COFFEE

œIf I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants      ”Issac Newton

Leaf rust, lack of rain, climate change, bandits and thieves, destructive wildlife, volcanos, earthquakes, coffee berry borer, and root rot ”these are just a few of the of the obstacles coffee farmers have to deal with. All these obstacles are out of the farmers’ control and cannot really be planned for: there are a few pesticides to deal with rust, and farmers can irrigate to deal with lack of rain and climate change issues (at a debilitating high cost), but most are uncontrollable.

On my recent trip to El Salvador, where we visited two farms that Klatch Coffee has long-standing direct-trade relationships with, I was humbled by the amount of things that can go wrong on the farm, as well as the amount of effort that is involved. When you get a cup of coffee at your local cafe, you don’t see past the skill and work of the barista. Even if you have observed the roasting process, that is just the very small peak that is visible above the surface. There is an entire mountain that exists beneath ”this is where the real work is done.

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At Klatch, I am a roaster. We take great pride in bringing out the very best qualities in every coffee we roast and making sure that quality stays consistent over time. As roasters, this is really the only job we have to worry about. In El Salvador, however, I saw men, women, and children, young and old, putting in a day’s work at the farm that makes a U.S. work day seem like a walk in the park. These workers traverse steep slopes with sacks of coffee cherries that weighed up to 110 pounds in the hot sun, and they do it with a smile on their face. After the pickers bring their haul down, it is weighed and separated by lot and variety. Then the processing workers stay long into the night washing and processing the days’ picking. Keep in mind that these processors have already been working since 6 a.m.

I saw farm owners struggle with coffee diseases and climate change, trying to make the best decisions they can with the information and resources they have. But ultimately, their livelihood ”and the livelihood of their workers ”hangs in the balance every day. Even with all this risk, uncertainty, and very narrow profit margins, these owners are providing free health care to the surrounding community and donating pieces of their land to local schools.

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Every cup of Klatch coffee you drink has traveled a long way and has been touched by some very talented and dedicated people. If we roast and serve a great cup of coffee, it’s only because we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

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