Coffee harvest is in full swing. I hear Don Adán in his Forerunner and some other workers arriving faithfully each morning at 6:15 am. Men in rubber boots, with machetes swinging from their belts, walk briskly in the cobblestone lane. Women, some with young children and teenagers, arrive in time to get their baskets for picking coffee before heading out to their assigned patch for the day. They each tie a basket around their waist and the berries fall into it as they carefully and quickly select the red berries off the small branches of each bush, leaving the green ones to ripen till the next round of picking.
When I ring the bell for our breakfast at 6:45, Don Tino and Don Byron are washing coffee by swishing it back and forth with wooden paddles in a long concrete trough. The red coffee berries go through the depulper to take off the pulpy outside fruit and then the slimy beans sit in a vat for 2 days to ferment until they are ready to wash them. It takes lots of water to process coffee since water is used to transport the beans from one area to another. It is also very handy how the best beans are heavy and sink in a vat of water while the inferior, lighter ones float, making it easier to separate the ‘dross’ from the ‘gold’.
By the time the sun is hot at 9:00 the workers have a thin layer of coffee beans spread over the concrete patio. I like how they spread the coffee in neat patches, keeping the seconds in a separate spot. One day when someone was feeling extra artistic and patriotic I saw they even had the coffee spread out in the rough shape (design) of the country of Guatemala.
As I hang out my laundry, the acrid smell of burning chalum wood stings my nose and reminds me we are still in ‘coffee months’. That strange smell brings back memories of when we first moved here 9 years ago. The coffee beans are sundried on the patio for several days but then are shoveled into a big trough where they are finished drying by hot air. The dryer is kept stoked with firewood from the chalum trees which also serve as partial shade for the coffee plants. Coffee bushes need shade but not too much so the chalum shade trees are pruned yearly which also provides firewood for the final hot-air drying process.
By 2:00 pm Don Byron starts up the little Kubota tractor and heads out to where the pickers are waiting for him to come with the wagon to load their coffee sacks on. When the tractor and wagon arrive at the beneficio (building where the depulping is done) each person hurries to carry his sack up the steps and waits in line to weigh it on the bag scales. The administrator writes down how many pounds each person picked and they get paid accordingly every two weeks.( A fast picker can pick up to 200 lb. a day but 120 lb. seems to be the average.) Then the sack of coffee berries gets dumped into a vat of water to be pumped out into the depulper.
It is a jolly time of day when the workers bring in their coffee. I hear good-natured laughter and light banter. The women and their children are washing out their sacks to be used tomorrow and the young boys are splashing their faces with water because the sun is hot. They are grateful for the work and tomorrow is another busy day much like this one.