We don’t always think about how much work it takes to produce coffee. We conceptually understand that coffee is grown in some foreign, tropical land at the beginning of the seed-to-cup process. But that takes place far from where the coffee is roasted, brewed and consumed. And even if we know the country of origin of our coffee, it’s difficult to truly envision the place where it all begins.
But in the coffee farms of Huila, Colombia, that theoretical concept became fantastically real. We had an incredible opportunity to join the 4th edition of Barista & Farmer program, and for 12 amazing days, we lived, worked and built lifelong friendships with ten wonderful baristas from around the world, as well as with the coffee competition judges, team leaders coffee instructors, event organizers, and the gracious hosts of the coffee farms we visited.
During the program, the baristas were able to experience the first steps of the coffee journey first-hand. Side-by-side with the coffee pickers of the farms, they had the chance to physically pick the coffee cherries from the trees – a simple but beautiful act that most coffee professionals have only dreamed of.
On day 3 of Barista & Farmer, on the beautiful grounds of Finca Santa Ana, each of the baristas were paired with one of the farm’s coffee pickers to collect as many ripe coffee cherries as they could in one hour. Most of the baristas had never been to a coffee-growing country before, let alone seen a coffee tree up close. But in just a short time, the baristas learned some of the skills of the coffee pickers, and gained an enormous appreciation for the work they do every day.
At the end of the picking session, the baristas and pickers presented their coffee to the judges of Barista & Farmer for evaluation.
Here’s what the baristas said during their heartfelt speeches:
Glenn Bailey, Australia: “I just want to let you all know what it means to me working with Arwin today. For me, I get to experience the process through the eyes of the farmer. Baristas finish the product, but it’s great to see how the product starts. But most importantly it’s the people, and seeing the people involved here. It kind of gets me a bit emotional. I really loved working with Arwin.”
Diego Campos, Colombia: “Inside of this bag you will find love, family, his experience, all the things that make Colombia really proud. I was talking to my pickerabout what coffee means, and he said: “coffee means my family, coffee is why we get to eat, coffee is all for us.” So this bag is just a sample of everything Colombia. Colombia’s coffee, Colombia’s love, Colombia’s pickers like him. We all really appreciate their work. And we work hard for them. One hour is not enough to show how hard the work is. So I want to give an applause to him for all the pickers and workers who are here.”
Victoria Rovenskaya, Russia: “Picking the best cherries is very important if you want to serve a good coffee in your coffee shop. Now we start to understand how difficult work on the farm is. We usually don’t think about this. I want to say thanks to everyone who works on the farm because it’s really important for baristas and good-quality coffee.”
Iuliia Dziadevych, Ukraine: “I don’t consider this real competition. Of course, we are competing, but I think was competing with myself. I consider this a chance to learn something new. At first, I was thinking that Elkin, my partner, wasn’t picking perfect cherries, and I wanted to make it better. But then I thought that it wasn’t right for me to teach Elkin how to pick cherries. So after that, I let him do the picking that he knew, and I tried to learn from him. It was really nice being with him. I got a lot of pleasure from today.”
David Lau, China: “We were both very excited during picking time. And I was really focused on the quality of the cherries. When I saw the red cherries on the trees, I really went crazy. I wanted to pick more and more and more. I really appreciate the work of the guys who do this every day. I want to bring my experience today back to China. I want to share with my colleagues and baristas their work and how happy we are working here."
Daniel Munari, Brazil: “I always say that coffee is about people. Specialty coffee, specialty people. I was trying to put into words what I’m feeling, and what this means to me. But the word that gets close to it is ‘love.’ We have family, we have unity, we have team effort - everyone working for the same goal.
These are the hands of a barista, who works in the city. This is the guy who picks our coffee. They’re really different. Many times we don’t speak about the pickers. We know about the farmers. But his guy, he operates the magic. I’m proud to be with him today, and what we’ve done here. It’s not about the amount of coffee, but about what we did today together.”
Rie Hasuda Moore, Japan: “Today, it was raining. So the ground was really wet and slippery. We were sliding down the hill. And you can see looking at our shoes that they’re really dirty. Every time I pick the trees, I appreciate their work, because that tree is coming to our coffee shop. And I always explain to customers and new baristas that the coffee is touched by the farmer’s hand. Today I had a great opportunity to see that.”
Sara Ricci, Italy: “It’s a really nice day today, because I’m just proud to work here with a really professional team. He has been working here for 14 years. We worked as a great team. He always had a big smile on his face, and I think that’s important. We paid a lot of attention to quality, not quantity. It’s our philosophy of life. I think it’s better that way.”
Matija Matijasko, Croatia: “Today I got a lot of knowledge and experience in the farm. I want to say thanks to my picker because he’s a great man. After this moment, I have more respect for people like him, people who work on farms. I have more respect for coffee.”
Vala Stefansdottir, Iceland: “Today I got to meet Hiro, my farmer. Even though we don’t speak the same language, he has really playful and energetic character. We became really good friends. We didn’t need to speak the same language for him to teach me a lot about how to only pick the ripe cherries. And also the posture of picking – he presented it with body language. Today I learned a lot.
My biggest change of mind is that I’ve always known that working in the farms was hard work. And I kind of had a negative image on it. You feel sorry for the farmers who may not live in as nice of houses as you do, and they don’t always have hot water like we do. But hard work isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
For more photos of Colombia, check out our Instagram account!