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Coffee in Guatemala

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FINCA TATIN, on the Rio Dulce, Guatemala- Some of the best coffee in the world comes from Guatemala. Coffee from the hills of Atitlan is exported around the world for foreign people in foreign lands to sip with their breakfast pastry, cake, toast, eggs, whatever they happen to be eating in conjunction with their morning cup of coffee.

But Guatemalans don’t readily drink the stuff.

From my observations, the most popular kind of coffee in Guatemala is clearly water soluble, instant coffee which is probably imported from Colombia. This is the type of coffee that is most popular in the grocery stores, the restaurants, and the homes of Guatemala. I asked a Guatemalan friend why this was, why there is really good quality coffee grown all around us but only this NesCafe crap on my breakfast table, and she replied simply, “Nescafe is cheaper, sometimes people have one cup of good coffee in the morning, but we mostly drink NesCafe.”

The idea that products are often abundant and cheap at the source is often a myth. The idea that a type of commodity which is exported readily is plentiful, available, and consumed regularly in the place where it comes from is often not true. There are exceptions — people in Hangzhou really drink Longjing tea, the Japanese really consume Japanese rice — though there is a rough pattern for the flow of goods around the world: exported goods are exported, local goods are consumed locally.

It has been this way for a long time, merchants can make more money exporting their goods to the other side of the world than peddling it locally for a pittance.

Exported goods are the ones that you often identify with a place: Darjeeling Tea, Port wine, Mandarin oranges, Guatemalan coffee. Local goods are carrots, chickens, some textiles, a cow or two.

People in the USA drink Guatemalan coffee. Guatemalans drink instant coffee.

It is true that that locally grown and produced coffee is sold in Guatemala, it is not rare, but for every bag of good Guatemalan coffee that you see in the grocery store there are a couple dozen jars of NesCafe to match it. Guatemala is a coffee drinking culture, each morning I have receive coffee with my breakfast, but not once has it ever been the coffee that is grown in the hills around me, no, it is always freeze dried instant coffee from another land.

“Instant coffee is cheaper . . .”

This is the way of the world.

In Darjeeling, people drink Lipton tea.

Port wine is on the bottom shelf of grocery stores in Portugal.

Nobody really wears silk in China.

I have lost count of the disappointed travelers that I have met who have tried to stock up on cheap silver in Mexico.

Australians seem proud when they say that they don’t drink Foster’s beer.

Only an American with an iron gut and no money drinks Budweiser.

Heineken is regarded as piss beer in the Netherlands.

I was just talking to a traveler from Madeira last night. I asked him what the major industries of his island homeland are. He replied, “We have Madeira wine, but nobody drinks it there.”

It is only for export.

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Filed under: Central America, Coffee, Economics, Food, Guatemala

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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