Cafe Campesino celebrates 20 years this year.
Cafe Campesino celebrates 20 years this year.

Bill Harris has been on a self-described “coffee tangent” for the last 20 years. This year, he goes back to where it all started, and you’re invited to join.

Some 20 years after meeting a coffee farmer on a Habitat for Humanity trip, Bill Harris will join Habitat again, returning to the very town where he was inspired to start Café Campesino- San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala.

This Nov. 10-18, 2018,“Back-to -Guatemala” service trip will organize volunteers to build smokeless stoves in homes around San Lucas Toliman and feature excursions to nearby coffee farms.

Coffee professionals looking to learn more about rural Guatemala, Habitat for Humanity’s international work, or the origins of an industry-leading sustainable coffee supply chain, are encouraged to participate.

Since starting Café Campesino in 1998, Bill has returned to Guatemala more times than he can count, but he has not gone back as a Habitat volunteer in 19 years.

“I’m thrilled to be returning to San Lucas Toliman on Lake Atitlan to help families in that area again,” he said, adding that he was curious to see how many families in the area would be working with coffee.  “It’s one of the most famous coffee-growing regions in the world.”

Over the years, Bill has traveled extensively to the departments of Quiché and San Marcos, where Café Campesino sources its coffee, and he has seen the need for improved air quality in homes that use wood-burning stoves.

“In particular, we’ve noticed so many coffee farming families that have really difficult conditions in the homes, with women & children living in smoky rooms all day long.  We’re excited to help build safer kitchens for those who need it,” he said.

individuals measure a smokeless stove installation

Habitat volunteers installing a smokeless stove.  Photo courtesy of Joe Johnston.

Habitat estimates that 90 percent of rural Guatemalan families use wood as their primary cooking fuel and most cook using an open fire inside the home. This contributes to respiratory illnesses and deforestation across the country.  Smokeless stoves, however, are built with adobe blocks and a metal pipe to ventilate smoke outside of the home, which improves indoor air quality and uses about 60 percent less firewood.

Smokeless stove installations are a part of Habitat’s efforts to improve household conditions that negatively impact physical health.  The organization also installs sanitary latrines and works with families to filter their drinking water.

Process of installing a smokeless stove

Smokeless Stove installation.  Note the exhaust pipe and adobe brick foundation. Photos courtesy of Joe Johnston.

Bill started importing coffee directly from small-scale farmers after talking with a coffee farmer during a Habitat home-building project in 1997.  During that conversation, the farmer helped Bill understand that middlemen in the coffee supply chain were absorbing his profits.

Despite doing the labor-intensive work of caring for coffee trees, hand-picking coffee cherries and preparing coffee for export, farmers have traditionally earned the lowest percentage of profits, because they often do not have direct access to buyers.

Bill with coffee farmers in Guatemala in 2011.

Bill and Cafe Campesino CEO Tripp Pomeroy in San Marcos, Guatemala, with members of the APECAFORM coffee farmers’ cooperative.

When Bill started Café Campesino in 1998, he had this in mind.  He started importing coffee directly from small-scale farmers who were organized into cooperatives.  That farmer-cooperative model in Latin America inspired a roaster-cooperative model in North America.  In 2000, Bill found five other coffee roasters in the Eastern United States who wanted to source directly from farmer cooperatives using fair and environmentally responsible principles to guide their terms of trade.  Cooperative Coffees was born, forming a one-of-a-kind importing collaboration between small-scale roasters in North America. Today, Cooperative Coffees has more than 20 roasters-members in the U.S. and Canada who have collectively imported more than $80 million of fair trade, organic coffee directly from farmers.

The group also leads the coffee industry in its terms of trade- returning year after year to source from the same farmer groups, facilitating access to pre-financing for farmer groups and re-opening closed coffee contracts so farmers can benefit from higher coffee prices at harvest time.

Bill Harris in his Habitat for Humanity shirt, holding a carafe of Chemex-brewed coffee and a hammer.

With a Chemex in one hand and a hammer in the other, Bill Harris returns to Guatemala with Habitat this November.

Café Campesino has also assumed a leadership role in the coffee industry.  Based in Americus, Ga., it is the state’s only Certified B Corp outside of metro-Atlanta; it sources and sells coffee-house supplies that align with its values, such as compostable to-go ware, fair trade, organic teas and a full line of organic syrups.  It also trains coffee industry professionals at its Specialty Coffee Association Premier Training Campus and operates a restaurant and coffee house in Americus.

Because Café Campesino and Habitat for Humanity both started in Americus, individuals who were involved in both entities’ “early days” are expected to participate in this trip.

In fact, Joe Johnston, a former Café Campesino employee who has been working with Habitat for Humanity International for the past 8 years, will be leading this November trip to Guatemala.  Joe opened Café Campesino’s first coffee house in 2007 that was located adjacent to the company’s roastery.  Today, Joe manages staff and Habitat Global Village teams that travel the world.

Traveling internationally with Habitat changed Joe’s life.  It certainly changed Bill’s life.  And it will no-doubt impact yours.  Join Joe and Bill this November as they ponder life, learn more about San Lucas Toliman coffee and help families in need. 

Wood Thrush lives in shade-grown coffee farms.
Wood Thrush lives in shade-grown coffee farms.

Habitat conservation in North and Central America can help save the Wood Thrush from extinction.  Photo by Mary Kimberly.

About the size of an Eastern Blue Bird, the Wood Thrush is a small, reddish-brown bird whose color descends into spots on its white chest and belly.  Weighing about 40-50 grams, this reclusive bird uses its song to establish its territory in the early mornings. Then, it descends into the forest to forage, scratching up invertebrates or plucking ripe berries from native shrubs.  The shells of snails are especially beneficial to Wood Thrushes who need the extra calcium to reinforce the durability of their turquoise-colored eggs.

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Hannah Mercer is an Authorized Specialty Coffee Trainer with Cafe Campesino. She is teaching at the SCA Global Expo in Seattle April 19 and 20 2018.

Americus, Georgia – April 18, 2018 – Cafe Campesino’s Hannah Mercer will be teaching professional coffee classes at the Specialty Coffee Association’s Global Coffee Expo held in Seattle this week.

An Authorized Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Trainer, Hannah will be the lead instructor for a Barista Foundations class offered during the expo on Friday, April 20.  In this class, she will teach some 40 students best practices for pulling espresso shots and steaming milk – the foundational skills needed to build espresso-based beverages such as lattes, cappuccinos, and espressos.

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Hannah Mercer is an Authorized Sprecialty Coffee Association Trainer

From Entry-Level Barista To Certified Coffee Educator

Do you suspect, beneath the surface of your everyday life, there brews a latent desire to know everything there is about coffee but you don’t know where to start? Keep reading, cause that’s what happened to me. I always want to know more about anything I’m involved with, so when I started working at a coffee shop, my interest lead me on a journey through the supply chain of coffee across the United States and all over the world. There is much still to learn, see and experience, and so many people to meet.

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On a muggy February morning in 2017, Hannah Mercer dipped her toes in the chilly Atlantic waters near Miami Beach and wondered what the next few hours would bring. She was headed to Colombia- a land of myth and mystery for the coffee professional and a destination she’d seen in pictures for years.

With equal parts excitement and anxiety, she imagined getting off the plane in Cali, driving to remote villages in the country’s coffee lands, and finally meeting the faces from the photos. She had an idea of what was to come but not a full picture.

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Café Campesino coffee roaster Ethan Ryan traveled to Guatemal to meet producer partners at the APECAFORM cooperative and learn about coffee harvesting and exporting

Ethan Ryan, our roaster extraordinaire, traveled to Guatemala for the first time in May to meet producer partners at the APECAFORM cooperative, learn about coffee harvesting and exporting, and generally polish up on his Spanish. It was his first time abroad. And his first time at coffee origin.

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Hannah Mercer Cafe Campesino sales, customer service and training representative is pictured center with school children in La Nueva Colonia a community located deep in the coffee-producing highlands of the Cordillera Central mountains of Colombia

Cauca, Colombia- Hannah Mercer, our sales, customer service and training representative, is pictured here (center) with school children in La Nueva Colonia, a community located deep in the coffee-producing highlands of the Cordillera Central mountains of Colombia- home to Fondo Paez.

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Esperanza (left) having breakfast in our Americus coffee house during a 2016 visit with some 40 other sustainable coffee professionals from around the world.

In Spanish the word “Esperanza” means hope, so it is fitting that one of fair trade coffee’s most hopeful protagonists would be named Esperanza. Esperanza Dionisio Castillo leads Peru’s CAC Pangoa cooperative, a farmer-owned enterprise of some 700 campesinos headquartered east of the Andes mountains.

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