Whether it’s ecotourism or direct-trade business relationships, more and more coffee consumers are making the pilgrimage to origin. But international travel isn’t cheap and you want to make the most of your experience. More importantly, you don’t want to be the stereotypical ethnocentric Westerner that offends the locals while making a buffoon of themselves. Lucky for you we’ve compiled five tips to maximize your experience.
You’re going to a coffee farm, not Paris Fashion Week. Don’t fall into the trap of lugging around more than you need. Pack a small carry-on with just the essentials. Roller bags are useless in most developing countries, so stick with a duffel. When it comes to clothes you’re going to want long pants that you are comfortable hiking in (shorts are a faux pas in many countries, not to mention the bugs and brush you’ll encounter on the farm). We’re big fans of Outlier for technical clothes that still look great at the hotel bar.
Most agrarian societies are event-oriented, not time-oriented. That means if they tell you the cupping is starting at 10:00, they probably mean “We’ll start getting ready for the cupping sometime around 10:00.” The coffee farm that is “about two hours away” might be four. Remember, you’re a guest in their country and shouldn’t expect them to operate according to your cultural values. Just go with the flow and you’ll enjoy your experience more.
Eat the Local Food
Forget McDonald’s. The only way to travel is eating the local food. Whether it’s Ethiopia’s injera or Peru’s lomo saltado, every coffee producing country has a culinary specialty that you don’t want to miss. More importantly, it’s a great way to bond with your hosts. Don’t be overly concerned about sanitation- the only time I’ve ever gotten food poisoning overseas was at a fast food chain!
Learn the Language
You’re probably not going to master Spanish in a week and you can forget about Amharic. Even so, you’ll be surprised how far a few phrases will go in building relationships and communicating a posture of humility. Do you know you’ll be visiting a country next year? Start studying the language now. Find a native speaker in your city, they’ll probably love to help you learn their language.
Go With the Right People
Unless you’re a seasoned green coffee buyer (which means you would have no interest in reading this article), you would be silly to try to plan your origin trip by yourself. My recent trip to Peru benefitted from the years Cafe Imports has spent building relationships with producers and cooperatives in the region. More importantly, you’ll always remember the first farm you visited and the first coffee cherry you picked. When you’re making these kinds of memories you want to be with friends.