A new vertically integrated “cultivo-to-cup” coffee company called Anticonquista Café has conquered numerous formidable challenges to finally launch in Chicago this month.
Owned and operated by married couple Elmer Fajardo Pacheco and Lauren Reese, Anticonquista Cafe exports, imports and roasts coffees grown on Pacheco’s family farm in a mountainous and remote region of Guatemala.
The coffees put forth by Anticonquista Cafe are unique in Chicago both for the personal connection and for the fact that they come from well off the beaten path, according to Pacheco.
“The Guatemalan coffee that coffee roasters in Chicago have are mainly sourced from farms in Lago Atitlán and the Antigua area near the capital,” Pacheco told Daily Coffee News, noting that his family’s farm is in the Nuevo Oriente region at the Honduras border. “The border literally is a mountain range that crosses through my family’s farm. This region is about an eight- to nine-hour drive east from the capital, so not many tourists or even coffee buyers visit this area because of the long distance.”
Reese told DCN that the technological and bureaucratic procedures involved in exporting and importing the Guatemalan coffee underscored the administrative barriers facing many coffee producers in carrying out international business.
“Before meeting Elmer and knowing his family and the farms, my concept of direct trade reflected the very much watered-down version we all hear: buyer makes direct contact with producer, contract is made, producer receives better pay, coffee shows up at roaster,” Reese said. “There is a lot we had to teach ourselves, from navigating the bureaucracy of ANACAFE (Asociación Nacional del Café) to export/import requirements, registering a business license in Guatemala and in the U.S.”
These obstacles were compounded this year by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Guatemalan government’s response, which included enforced curfews with penalties for violators. Said Reese, “Additionally, the government of Guatemala prohibited all entry of U.S. citizens into the country, which halted our plans for my visit to assist with the export process.”
Green coffees that were ready for export in March finally shoved off in September for arrival last month. The company is currently roasting small batches on an Arc Roaster installed in a shared space at the food business incubator Kitchen Chicago. Pacheco aims for balanced and full-bodied cups that highlight the naturally chocolatey flavors indicative of the region.
“When I was a boy, the way I worked with my dad was to de-pulp, wash and dry the clean coffee on our small patios,” said Pacheco. “This was the way my family had always processed and sold our coffee. When I was about 14 years old, my dad decided that the work wasn’t worth it anymore, as he could receive the same price for the unprocessed ripe coffee cherries. But even selling the coffee cherries hasn’t been enough for my family to break even on the farm for years. Our hope with this project is to make coffee growing sustainable, for my family to actually survive and live with dignity.”
The farm has returned to its old ways of processing on site in order to export finished green coffees to Anticonquista Café. The company made its first sales earlier this month as a coffee vendor for the Indoor Logan Square Farmers Market, and Pacheco said a portion of the company’s profits will be invested into the farm and mill.
The rollout of a mobile coffee bike has been delayed until next year, though the mobile retail system is still coming in handy.
“We’re able to remove the display case, or as we call it the cajón, from the platform base of the bike for tabletop/booth displays,” said Pacheco. “With cold weather on the way in Chicago and the current high COVID-19 cases, we’ve decided it would be best to delay the launch of the coffee bike until next Spring.”
The company plans to launch online sales on Tuesday, Dec. 1. With a website in both English and Spanish, the company hopes to help consumers understand the sense of urgency faced by many coffee producers in trying to maintain a suitable income.
“Our family has been struggling for a very long time, and with the current state of things pre- and post-COVID-19, not to mention Hurricane Eta and Iota, we only see the situation worsening,” Reese told DCN. “We are not trying to be the next Intelligentsia, but to first be a sustainable family business. The continuation of producers going into debt to produce coffee that only benefits consumers has to end now.”
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.