Let's Drink: Chapin Coffee

 Sustainable Coffee Review | Chapin

Chapín Coffee is a young company based out of Chicago, Illinois, committed to selling socially conscious, sustainably sourced coffee. The company's heart sympathizes especially with the impoverished and malnourished children in Guatemalan coffee communities which is why Chapin has decided to buy three meals for these kids for every one bag of coffee sold. After only 15 months since their first sale, Chapín has gifted almost 6,000 meals! But before we get into that, let's go back to Guatemala. 

If you were to mention this country to me last week, it would provoke images of rainforest-canopied land (which is accurate), little Maya children in bright colors (which is accurate), rows of coffee trees producing world renown, full-bodied, citrus-forward coffee (which is, aside from my obsessively organized vision of "rows," accurate), and coffee farmers coming home to their brightly donned kids (mostly accurate) and a hot dinner of tamales and plantains (...not so accurate).

I did some reading to test my assumptions. First I learned (thanks, Google maps!) that Guatemala is closer to Los Angeles than New York. We're pretty much neighbors, which makes me slightly more disappointed in myself that I knew nothing before now of Guatemala's dismal history.

Europeans began colonizing the country, displacing the indigenous Maya population (what a surprise), in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the mid-1800s, after its dye exports became obsolete, the country wisely invested in the fashionable rising exponentially in popularity: coffee; and in 1859 the government funded the planting of half a million coffee trees. From this point forward, coffee was Guatemala's most lucrative crop and biggest hope in making themselves a powerful and wealthy nation. The gradual displacing of the Maya became an aggressive conquest while Europeans made way for their coffee plantations. The Maya were further manipulated and exploited for labor, building a solid social foundation of inequality, racism, and oppression.

For the next century, government officials held close ties with plantation owners and depended on their cheap, high-volume production for the country's wealth and international status. They, therefore, supported the massive exploitation that made coffee plantations run so efficiently. This trend was interrupted when two successive leaders attempted to reform the status quo. They instated labor laws, initiated health and education programs, and required idle land to be redistributed to the poor. This reform, of course, threatened the riches of the rich including the U.S.-owned United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Banana). After ten years of hopeful reform, the U.S. orchestrated a coup d'etat to overthrow Guatemalan leadership and put corporate allies back in power. This reversal instigated the Guatemalan Civil War which lasted 36 years (until 1996) and was more-or-less a series of massacres and "disappearances" targeted at the Maya (scapegoated as "the enemy of the state") by the government's military and police regime in order to incite fear in the people and keep the poor "in their place." Depressing.

Crippled by centuries of oppression, Guatemala, though rich in resources and maintaining a respectable G.D.P. (the highest in Central America), also boasts one of the most unequal land distribution patterns in the world and a poverty and malnutrition rate that easily rivals our image of the starving African poster child. Fifty percent (80% in some rural Maya populations) of children experience chronic malnutrition. Consequently, these children experience extreme physical and developmental stunting that limits their potential to be contributing members of society and threatens the future of the country as a whole. Super depressing.

Which brings me back to the good news. Meet Carlos and Jennifer, and their business child: Chapín Coffee. Carlos grew up in the U.S., but spent most summers with family in Guatemala. There he witnessed the paradox between the exquisite process of cultivating coffee and the poverty so prominent in those same coffee growing communities. Further disheartening was the lack of food and near starvation that, in these poor communities, kept kids from their childhood and squandered much of their future potential. Fueled by these grievances, Carlos began dreaming the framework for a company that would be the means to a nourishing meal for a child while also shedding light on the common injustices behind most Americans' morning beverage of choice. After meeting (and eventually marrying) Jennifer, and after more years of thoughtful planning, Carlos and Jennifer made Chapín Coffee a reality. Chapín Coffee sells specialty coffee (that's really tasty, but we'll get to that) from the Huehuetenango and Atitlán regions of Guatemala and donates three meals to Guatemalan children for every bag of coffee sold. What's even cooler is that by partnering with the non-profit Pueblo a Pueblo, the donated meals go directly to children in the exact coffee regions Chapín sources beans from!

Though the health and nutrition of children is both inherently valuable and crucial in the long-term sustainability of communities, there are many other injustices that strip coffee families of power and lead to the breakdown of coffee communities. By partnering with Pueblo a Pueblo, Chapín supports the non-profit's mission of holistically improving the lives of coffee families through education programs, integrated community, and by promoting core values like self-respect, collaboration, and personal responsibility. Additionally, Chapín purchases beans that are organic and Fair Trade certified. This serves to preserve the land the farmers depend on and guarantees fair wages for farmers, respectively. Most of Chapín's beans are from Nahualá Co-op, an innovative coffee cooperative whose families have improved their standard of living by diversifying their income (through raising bees and growing bananas), using Fair Trade premiums to provide educational opportunities, and by taking on projects to clean up the rainforest and river near their community. To even further empower coffee families and support the work of women artisans, Chapín buys handcrafted bolsas and includes one with every purchase of their Signature Roast coffee.

Even though centuries of oppression have painted a bleak picture of Guatemala, Chapín shows us that by working together, images of fed children and hot dinners of tamales and plantains in coffee communities can become an accurate and transformative part of Guatemala's story. I'll be back soon to talk about why Guatemalan coffee is so good and to focus on two especially tasty Chapín roasts: Lago Azul and Luz de Vida!!