A Note on Photography at Origin:
Maybe it’s because of my cultural studies background, but I have always done a sustained eyeroll at the images used to market coffee. Anonymous hands cupping ripe coffee cherries; the roaster amongst coffee bushes as if just waiting for the exact moment of ripeness to hand-pick each precious cherry. These images suggest that the roaster is the discoverer of coffee, as if it weren’t there before, as if the roaster were somehow responsible for the existence of the coffee bushes. These images commodify the experience of generations of producers to benefit the roaster.
Proximity to the labor of coffee producers does not lend the roaster authenticity. Trips to origin do not of themselves contribute to the wellbeing of coffee producers. Visiting origin does not make our coffee taste better.
And yet, coffee is sold under the assumption that all of the above is true.
Travel to coffee countries is tremendously enjoyable and educational, and we have been lucky enough to have connections in several countries and the privilege to travel and meet producers. Should having such good fortune be a prerequisite to being a great coffee roaster? We don’t think so.
That said, I am writing this as a foreword to a blog post sharing photos from origin. We visited Marco and Tito and their family finca in Tlacuilotepec, Puebla, last month. As I stood taking pictures of producers, they stood taking pictures of me (many coffee producers have cameras and smart phones, contrary to popular perception). We’re all, in fact, just trying to sell more coffee, to market our product better, to earn more market share by creating desirability. The ability to build and sustain a mutually respectful relationship between producer and roaster can be a wonderful part of a healthy business culture. But the power differential means that I feel a responsibility to place origin photography in its commercial context—to acknowledge the ways roasters benefit from controlling the narrative.
In any case, in my own context as a buyer and roaster of coffee, I have access to such educational opportunities, and I am happy to communicate my experiences and observations to anyone who is interested in finding out about what a (beautifully run) finca looks like.
Without further ado, some travel photos:
We visited Cafe Don Cos in Tlacuilotepec, on the border of Puebla, Hidalgo, and Veracruz states. The finca was healthy and so pretty, untouched by leaf rust, and the cafeteros had recently received high scores at the Cumbre Latinoamericana del Cafe. They had also been doing experiments with honey-processed coffees, which they gave me so I could sample roast! It was a highly educational day and we were so grateful for the opportunity to visit and shop coffee.
Let’s follow the journey from seed to prepared green bean!