During Aida Batlle’s visit to Melbourne, Bureau Collective hosted an event named a “Spotlight on Aida Batlle” where Tim Williams asked about her work in coffee. This blog post captures a few highlights (lowlights) of the Q&A and the responses that silenced the warehouse.
Coffee Rust – La Roya
Tim asked Aida about coffee rust and in 2012, its impacts on Salvadorian coffee producers.
Aida was able to use this question to highlight the true disconnect between consumers/buyers and farmers. Because it was at this time, that producers who used to produce 250 bags of coffee a year could only produce 25. And for them, this was their year’s work.
Coffee is about lives, it’s about babies and it’s hard because when something like this happens it’s devastating for a producer, but for the buyer it’s easy for them to just “turn a blind eye” and buy from another origin.
On Aida’s recent Forbes article on gang violence in El Salvador, she gave replied that
It’s a problem, that the US government was deporting Salvadoran criminals (because why wouldn’t they?) and they weren’t being rehabilitated. On top of that, there’s no support for producers. She has to work with 25 other neighbouring farms to hire security (which isn’t cheap) to protect their farms, because if not – in the middle of the night, a truck full of pickers will drop by the side of your farm and clean out your crop.
When she returns to El Salvador, she has a bulletproof car; a trained K9 and two bodyguards.
This response stunned the room silent.
In a ‘matter of fact’ manner she confessed that being a coffee producer is a “dirty, nasty, magical and beautiful thing.”
How to train coffee pickers?
Tim introduced the audience to her work in Mexico, how she was training pickers to pick ripe cherries (to increase the value of their crop) and how through her Aida Batlle Selection process, she was in some ways the “Beyonce of coffee.” He asked her “How did you do it?”
She said at first, she didn’t know.
Her family had been in the coffee industry for four generations and yet, in those years they had never drunk their own coffee. A producer tasting and cupping their coffee is a new thing.
When she first started out, she had 60 pickers and they were told to pick all the cherries off the trees and then manually pick out the ripe ones at the sorting station.
The next day, only 30 pickers returned.
At this time, she knew, that it was only time – that they too were going to walk out.
So she asked them, what would be the best way? They responded with “we only pick the ripe ones?” – “ooooh.” (chuckles from the room). As Aida explained, she said that this whole ripe cherry picking – it’s a new thing – sure it’s commonplace now, but back then it wasn’t. We have to remember Specialty coffee is a young industry.
Today, to teach new pickers, she compares a ripe and unripe banana.