Knowledge shouldn’t be a privilege
Guatemala — Uniterra
Before I can open my eyes every morning, I can smell it. That aroma that welcomes a new beginning. Is kind of an addictive and codependent relationship. When I can’t sense it, I miss it. I know that I am not the only one. Others love it too. Others miss it too. It has become a celebrated aroma around the globe. Without it most people would have a bad day or their head will start to ache. Do you know that aroma? Are you part of this group of people? Do you also smile when you smell the aroma of recently grind coffee? I do, I am part of this group. Even if I am not a big coffee drinker that aroma brings me back home. A safe and comfortable zone around my love ones.
I live next to a coffee roaster. Every morning when he opens his office he drink a different variety of coffee. The aroma of recently roasted or grind coffee invades my apartment. His name is Renato Maselli a certify coffee roaster that changed his career path after leaving his native country three years ago. I met Renato, long time ago, we were never close. I never thought coffee will bring us together.
He is one of those unique characters. Full of tattoos, a big, hyperactive and charismatic guy. Working close to coffee cooperatives and not been a coffee consumer opened my eyes to a new world that I had no idea that existed. Every morning we run into each other on my way to the office, I always had a question for him related to coffee. He will always answer with smile in his face and light in his eyes. He became my mentor and guide to understand technical things about the coffee and the industry.
Since 2017, I became close to the coffee industry and market. Uniterra-Guatemala has around six coffee cooperative as partners in Atitlán, Sololá. A place full fertile hills , volcanoes, and mayan cultures. Surrounded by a gorgeous lake coffee is grown in the hills. Constantly, I visited the cooperatives to document the work that other volunteers were doing there. Every time we try the coffee you could sense a smoky aroma and burned taste. It is a good coffee but with a defective roast. Many brokers and baristas express that they should improved their roasting techniques.
Here is the thing I found out about roasting: It’s complicated! It requires practice, training, chemistry and constant reading. Most people in rural areas don’t have access to all of this.
First, it is expensive. Most roasting local schools are located in the city with fees over US$.150.00 when many of the rural roasters earnUS$.300 monthly. Who can afford it? Also, most of the master roasters are used to explain all the topics as you have any background on chemistry and physics, most people in rural areas are either never had a chemistry or physics class in their
life. Some of the only went to school until 6th grade. How are they going to be able to understand that? In addition, all the update data and investigations of the topic are only in english. So, how do we expect rural roasters to have an high quality result just with the tools they got.
Don´t get me wrong, they are good roasters with what they have learn. Good observers that have developed techniques just by paying attention to the beans behavior on the roaster. Also, by watching older people work in the roasters. Some had the opportunity to study on local roasting schools in a one or two day training program.
I brought some samples to Renato. He examined them and told me that he might be able to helped them get a better roasting technique. But in order for them to understand all the chemistry behind it. It will be more effective if he taught them directly in their roasters. I talked to the co-ops and our Uniterra volunteers in the field to arrange our visit.
With no expectation of what we were going to get out of the roaster, we started our five day field trip. We visited 6 coffee, 5 different towns, and met over 30 coffee growers and roasters. The ones th
at received a training session before, told us they learned with an international roaster. Most co-ops own local fabricated roasters due to lower investment. Unfortunately, this roasters ope
rate differently from most roasters. Also, they have some design errors that makes most coffee have a smoke aroma.
Renato explained to us that most of the local fabricate roaster have the same issues. He owns one and find out ways to us it properly to get a good roast. He gave them some steps they have to be careful in order to get an optimum roast. Women and men of the co-ops were excited that someone, an expert, visited their workplace to teach me directly how they can improved.
One of the thing
s that surprise me the most about him and his teaching skills was that he understood his audiences from the moment he walk in. He knew how to explain them with basic examples what they should do in order to get good results in their roasters. Some, have been improving their skills, but need to understand how the heat and time need to be measure. Every co-op we visited were able to achieve the roast they need for their coffee variety.
This experience taught me a lot. The thing that keeps jumping in my head is the importance of aware of your privilege towards knowledge. Been a teacher requires to be humble. In order for you teach, you have to be open to share w
ith other what you learn. A good teacher will care and make sure you understand. Will find the exact words and examples you need to hear. In the other hand, we have several professionals that will share partially their knowledge fearing for future competitions or will use crazy technical words just to pro
ve with arrogance they are better than you.
In order to provide knowledge as a volunteer requires you to be aware of your privilege. Understand how the people you are going to work with really lives. The story and tradition behind their culture. Been open to approach your beneficiaries as equals to be able to help them. Not as a charity game of power. In which you know more or they should here you first. Be aware, humble and active will help any volunteer achieve their goals during their contract.