Olor de Café

Joe Giallo - Ecuador

November 5, 2010

Well, today, I worked with AACRI, my new employers, for the first time, and I’ll be the first to tell you it was an experience. As part of our (Liza and I’s) first month of training and initiation, we spent the day in la planta, the factory where all of the coffee that AACRI produces and packages is handled. We toured the facility in aprons, floppy, hair-catching hats, and face masks, and we saw firsthand how a fair-trade factory is run. Machines are few, people only slightly more numerous. There’s no real rhyme or reason to the order where stations are placed in the building, so I’ll just go through as I remember them.

There was the section where bulk, unroasted coffee beans are kept in giant bags, and sorted along a grade of quality, which spans A+ to C, and the prices on each bag fluctuate accordingly. Here, all of the negotiations are done on the sales of bulk coffee to other coffee-producing entities. Next we have the bean sorter, which sorts beans into appropriate size categories, so that the beans roast more evenly, and don’t burn based on differences in size. Then we have the largest core of people in the factory, the defect-identifying center (aka quality control), where a team of about six people sort through every bean that passes into AACRI’s possession, looking for any one of twelve to fourteen defects, and discarding them to be used by coffee companies with lower quality coffee.

Then came the packing, roasting, and grinding center, where I spent most of the day with Liza and the daughter of my next door neighbor, Sonya, roasting, grinding, and packaging coffee beans for the multitudinous orders that come to AACRI every day. I didn’t actually touch the roaster, and most of my work was divided between grinding the beans, medio y expresso (spelled correctly, as in Spanish, it is actually expresso, not espresso), and sealing the bags of coffee and beans that were passed to me by Liza, who spent her time filling these bags full of half and full pounds of coffee and beans.

Then we labeled the bags with AACRI’s logo, information, prices, etc., before putting it all in giant bags to be shipped to buyers on the local, national, and even international markets. The work is tedious. The room is constantly sweltering hot, due to the presence of the two roasters. Definitely not something I’d enjoy doing every day. But it’s really important, I think, to understand it. No matter what I end up actually doing (I’ll have decided by the end of the month), I’m not going to forget what it’s like to work in a factory, and the knowledge will certainly affect the way I handle whatever work I finally decide to pursue.

The really important thing is I smell like coffee right now, and the jury’s out on whether or not this is a good or bad thing.

Joe Giallo