Part 1 – The Place Where Coffee Is Born
I’ll start with a confession.
Before I worked as a translator on a Nicaraguan coffee farm in 2011 I’d never thought about where coffee comes from. In fact, you could have placed one of those shiny red berries in the palm of my hand and offered me a thousand euro to name the plant and I would still have failed to guess it was the source of a drink I consume several times every day and would never choose to live without.
If you’d offered me another thousand euro to describe the long process each berry undergoes from the time it leaves the plant until the moment it’s served as a beautifully smooth espresso at the other side of the world, I’d have muttered something vague about drying and roasting then blushed and looked the other way, knowing that my lack of knowledge had been exposed.
Here’s the truth: I was a coffee lover who know absolutely nothing about coffee.
But here’s another one: My ten days on the coffee farm were transformational.
I witnessed almost every part of the coffee-making process – growing, harvesting, weighing, washing and drying – and in addition I got to know some of the farmers and labourers; their working conditions; the places they sleep and cook and eat and pee; the games their children play.
The experience gave me a deep appreciation of coffee and for the time, effort and skill that goes into every cup I drink. Over the next few months I’ll be writing about what I learned, looking at life on a Nicaraguan coffee farm from the point of view of an uninformed but enthusiastic volunteer.
I’ll start next month by talking about why I was there – a Scottish writer translating Spanish on a Nicaraguan coffee farm for a research project funded by an American university. It’s a story of beans and bags and going barefoot, high in the beautiful mountains of northern Nicaragua – the place I finally discovered where coffee is born.