This Mataquescuintla coffee is part of a four-year project spearheaded by Drew Johnson, the owner of Bows Coffee Roasters. This project began after Johnson read an LA Times article. 

The LA Times editorial written by Kate Linthicum led with the headline: “’If we’re attacked, we’ll die together,’ a teenage anti-mining activist told her family. But when the bullets came, they only killed her”. It recounted the story of Topacio Reynoso, a bubbly 14-year-old teen from Guatemala who devoted herself to opposing the construction of a large silver mine near her town of Mataquescuintla. 

In 2017 the Guatemalan Constitutional Court finally ruled in the protesters’ favour and suspended the Tahoe resources mine’s license. In 2018, Tahoe sold the halted mine to Canadian-based Pan-American Silver. As of now, the mine is on a moratorium.

Bows initially teamed up with other Canadian roasters like Drumroaster and De Mello Palheta to increase the buying power for the area. Now, many others have joined in to support.

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We chatted with Brendan Adams of Semillia Coffee (a coffee importer) and Drew Johnson, the owner of Bows Coffee Roasters, to get an update on the ongoing situation in Mataquescuintla.

“On the mine front, things remain relatively stable as before. There are ongoing consultations between the government and the Xinca parliament, and Escobal remains shuttered as long as that is in process,” Adams explained.

The timeline for these consultations remains unknown. 

“The last I heard, they were theoretically wrapping up consultations at the end of 2022, and then again, there was more of an update saying that they would be wrapping up at the end of February 2023, but we haven’t heard anything yet. Maybe in the next month or two, we will find out something. We were just there at the end of February. I think the general tone is that people are tired but resilient,” Johnson explained.

Yields were down last year due to bad weather, erosion and a natural harvest cycle.

“It’s somewhat cyclical; there is always a bit of a down cycle, but that conspired with long-term changes in the climate. Last year was a tough year for everyone, but numbers are up a bit this year, Johnson explained.

Semilla Coffee will be purchasing 1400 bags from the community for roasters across the US and Canada. The buying group has also pre-financed the mill where the 2023 harvest will be processed in an effort to expedite paying farmers.

“A producer is not usually paid until the coffee is being exported; sometimes it’s called ‘cash upon documents’. We have rearranged it so they get paid closer to when they deliver the coffee. We want to close the gap between when they drop it off and when they get paid so they aren’t waiting around arbitrarily for the coffee to leave the country,” Johnson explained.

The group prefinanced a different mill this year and farmers are currently dropping off their 2023 harvests.

“The first round of three delivery windows concluded yesterday and everyone got paid with cheques that didn’t bounce,” Johnson shared.

Like many other regions, labour shortages are affecting farmers’ ability to produce coffee.

“The biggest issues for this last harvest were similar to many in Central America, and it was around a labour shortage. Due to increasing immigration, it’s very difficult for coffee producers to find people to collect cherries for them on the farm, leading to increased costs or even lost yield,” Adams explained.

May 05, 2023 — Zara Snitman

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