Empowering Guatemalan Women, One Coffee Bean at a Time
When Maritza Roque de Martinez looks out over her coffee fields located in southern Guatemala, she sees her dreams and hard work blooming far beyond what she initially imagined.
Over 20 years ago, Roque and her family began a long journey of building a coffee-growing business from scratch with little technical knowledge of, or experience in, this vast field. As the head of this venture, Roque has led with a steadfast commitment, but was often fraught with doubt. She would question its viability when faced with volatile price market swings and other production challenges.
Along the way, Roque also overcame one of her hardest personal challenges when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. It was her dedication to her land and the relentless love and support from her family that renewed her purpose and commitment to her dream to become a high-quality specialty coffee producer.
To support the journey of Roque’s coffee production company, Chica Bean, USAID-funded Partners of the Americas’ John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer to Farmer (F2F) Program has played an instrumental role since 2018.
To date, Chica Bean has hosted nine F2F expert volunteers bringing in the latest knowledge and technology covering everything from barista fundamental skills, to developing roasting profiles, to creating a robust marketing strategy. Today, Chica Bean includes a vibrant coffee house brewing its own select, in-house roasted and ground coffee sourced by six female coffee producers from Jalapa. Women lead the way throughout the entire coffee value chain, delivering high-quality production, processing, roasting, packaging and service.
Throughout Guatemala, increasing emigration trends to the United States continue carving out new roles and responsibilities for women as the new heads of families while men generally depart, seeking better job opportunities. Increased agricultural stressors from unpredictable climate change impacts heighten crime, and ongoing poverty leaves few viable options for Guatemalan families to thrive. According to the Migration Policy Institute, an estimated 1.3 million Guatemalan immigrants live in the United States, which is a 44% increase since 2013.
A shortage in the male labor force places more economic and domestic pressures on women with very little formal education and limited opportunities. Enterprises such as Chica Bean provide a pathway of learning, training, support and, ultimately, a job for these women. With a renewed sense of hope and purpose, Guatemalan women from Jalapa and beyond are pursuing their dreams to improve their lives.
Planting opportunities for women
Evelin Tupuli, age 24, knew nothing about the world of coffee prior to crossing paths with the Martinez family close to 10 years ago. Tupuli worked as a child caretaker for the Martinez family for several years before she was invited to join Chica Bean’s team as a coffee roaster.
The Martinez family supported her in completing a coffee roasting course, and eight years later, she is the head roaster at Chica Bean.
“I have learned that I am capable of this and much more … I have learned that women are capable,” Tupuli said. “There are not many of us female roasters in Guatemala.”
Tupuli said that in Guatemala, what seems like 90% of the coffee roasters are men. She has only met three other female roasters. Chica Bean now operates with two female head roasters, producing coffee with Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) scores of 86 and above, nearing premium perfection. This is no small feat for any smallholder coffee producer, and a true testament to Chica Bean female producers' commitment to excellence.
Nevertheless, Tupuli quickly understood that the first coffee roasting course she took was only the tip of the iceberg into a vast coffee universe. In true Chica Bean fashion, Tupuli was eager to learn as much as possible, and quickly.
One of the first volunteers to support Chica Bean was Brian Babock, a career coffee roaster, who intensively worked one-on-one with Tupuli, walking her through every detail of coffee roasting and quality control and answering all her questions about roasting. Encouraged by this support, her skill level and confidence jumped exponentially. From this volunteer experience, Chica Bean now operates with a coffee specialty software, replacing their handwritten notes system, to document and control roast profiles. In fact, due to F2F support, Chica Bean developed roast profiles for the first time.
In addition, the producers gained invaluable human resources experience from F2F volunteer Osmara Rivera, who worked with Chica Bean staff to create their first job description profiles. With these in place, Tupuli, for example, now clearly understands her roles and responsibilities and how they differed from her respective teammates and co-roaster. This experience also aided the team in improving their communications while identifying training needs, opportunities and anticipating challenges. They upgraded to operate a more professionally run enterprise.
Jessica González, Chica Bean’s head barista, came on board through Tupuli. González knew nothing about coffee, nor had she ever imagined being part of this world before Chica Bean. Starting as a coffee packer and working in general support services, González incrementally gained interest in learning more about the world of coffee.
Harnessing her eagerness, Chica Bean invested in González through training to become a barista and tend to customers upon Chica Bean Café’s opening in late 2020. Through this experience, González has overcome her self-described introverted nature, opened herself up to engaging with customers and teaching others about coffee products.
With F2F’s support, González worked with seasoned barista and volunteer, Lanisa William, from Los Angeles, California, who taught her about different steaming techniques, how to check proper liquid temperatures and how to make a wide assortment of coffee beverages. Alongside William, González learned about latte art, leveling up her presentation skills, as well as how to detect different flavor notes and the various coffee processes, such as washed, honey and natural. The world of coffee service through F2F volunteers opened González’s heart and mind to bringing joy to customers through a cup of coffee.
“When the coffee shop opened in 2020, I began learning, and now I can’t live without it, drinking it and preparing it for others,” González said.
Boosting coffee quality through transformative, regenerative farming practices
F2F also reaches directly and deep into the fields of Chica Bean’s production line. Production costs in the coffee market, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, run increasingly high for smallholder farmers, to the point that they consider themselves lucky if they break even. The arrival of F2F volunteer Dr. Michael D. Read, a retired career agronomist, to Roque’s coffee farm in Jalapa introduced innovative ways of thinking and practicing farming by maximizing home-grown inputs to cut costs and increase quality.
During the two-week stay with the Martinez family, Read worked shoulder-to-shoulder with them on integrating regenerative coffee practices at their farm. Read firmly believes that by adopting some simple, regenerative agricultural practices, small-scale farmers can yield high-quality, nutritious products while combatting climate change challenges, such as erosion and soil degradation. During this visit, Read introduced bokashi composting by using farm by-products, such as coffee husks, wood ash, simple yeasts, a mix of microorganisms and other natural wastes, as the formula for an organic, nutrient-dense fertilizer.
In addition, Read recommended planting cover crops like legumes or fruit trees (avocado, oranges, bananas, etc.) to help prevent erosion, provide shade for coffee plants, increase biodiversity and enrich the soil quality. Read also suggested that in the future they introduce small ruminants that could eat the cover crops when clearing was needed. They also offer supplemental food by-products (milk, cheese and yogurt) for consumption and commercialization.
With simple techniques, such as bokashi composting, the Martinez family and other Chica Bean producers can now rely on accessible organic waste material and plant by-products found on their own farmlands.
Implementing an integrated farming system advances solid sustainability while protecting and nourishing the environment and improving families’ health. It breaks away from traditional small-scale farming models, which implemented slash and burn techniques, ultimately contributing to increased deforestation, erosion, nutrient loss and biodiversity loss.
“I brought a lot of new, important ideas to them,” Read said. “I was excited about them getting excited about picking up these new ideas and moving with them.”
Nurturing aspirations beyond coffee
Women like González, Tupuli, the six Chica Bean female coffee growers and Roque are Guatemalan groundbreakers in the coffee industry. As mothers, leaders and growing professionals, these hardworking women are paving new pathways to continued growth and improvement through training and practice. Chica Bean is an employment generator opening doors for women in a male-dominated industry. With employers like Chica Bean, more Guatemalan women learn valuable, professional skills within the coffee sector while becoming economically self-sufficient.
Tupuli is working her way up to one day become a Certified Q grader, a highly valued professional skilled in sensory evaluation of green coffee. Beyond this, Tupuli’s aspirations include studying law to represent women’s rights in Guatemala. Similarly, González is highly motivated to continue to expand her skills and knowledge as a head barista and even participate in competitions one day. Roque’s deep passion and drive continue to fulfill Chica Bean’s mission of delivering high-quality coffee produced, processed and prepared by women. Today, Chica Bean is one of the few Guatemalan coffee producers distributing to the U.S. market. With this model and Roque’s unending commitment, a new generation of emboldened Guatemalan women is building a new world of possibilities for themselves and their communities.