We started down the mountainside to an uncertain appointment in Marcala. We were joining our friends at COMUCAP, the small women’s coffee and aloe vera growing cooperative, here in the mountains of the state of La Paz, abutting the El Salvador border. Even before we got to the restaurant out of town where the tasting competition was to be held, we were all curious how it would work since the word was already out that there would be no electricity in Marcala until 4PM in the afternoon. That answer came quickly with the roar of a generator when we arrived, but the rest took longer to unfold, since the brokers and the tasting committee from Korea and Belgium were late.
We didn’t mind at first because it gave us a chance to meet some of the other co-ops from around Marcala, most of which were very large. There were five Marcala co-ops in the tasting competition, so we got a better idea of the world past our normal sightline.
The brokers with Coffee Team and others had organized the tasting. The price being dangled involved something like contracts for 7 containers to Europe, but that was never expressly stated that I could hear. One co-op recognized a taster/broker he had sold to before and during the tasting, got the OK high sign from the taster after the spitting and sipping was done. The Korean women reportedly represented a group of specialty coffee shops and bought haeavily as well, but who knows. This was the brokers show and everyone kowtowed to them, including starting whenever they were ready.
We continued to learn more and with every conversation our margins of error got thinner along with everything else. It was fascinating.
After our debriefing we headed up the mountain before nightfall in an uneven, but mainly light, rain. Unfortunately way pass the halfway mark we came upon two huge dump trucks in the middle of a slippery incline. The lead truck was in the ditch and being dug out, successfully, but leaving rutted road behind him. The second truck was backing down and giving up getting by. In our little rental Toyota with no clearance the odds weren’t good. Nonetheless I tried twice to make it up the hill only to have to back down and finally abandon the notion of making the mountain this evening.
Limping back we heard from COMCUCAP that they had won several ribbons against this stiff competition and been invited to Copan for the next round. For our part we ended up being led to a $20 per night motel and pulling into the gravel lot, I joked that anyone of those pickups could have gotten us up the mountain. True indeed! A closer looked showed the same brokers running more testing trials in the rooms of the motel for the coffee men in front of their trucks.
Marcala coffee in this region according to a brochure the co-op coordinators left out has a famous and distinctive taste, slightly acidic with orange-citrus notes. I didn’t realize it before, but now that you mention it, I can taste everything from the dirt up in Marcala now.