An Origin Story
Even though coffee has been grown for thousands of years, coffee did not come to Guatemala until Jesuit monks started growing it in the 1700s. It was not until 1859 that the first 50,000 pounds of coffee was exported from the country, For four generations the Argueta family has been growing coffee in the western highlands of the country. Abner founded Argueta’s Coffee in 2015, bringing the beans he grew up harvesting as a kid to upstate New York.
Abner’s great-grandfather Valentin Ceballos established Finca Alta Luz (translated as Highlight) farm which was later renamed Naranjo in the region of Huehuetenango. There, 6000 feet above sea level, Valentin and his son-in-laws would tend the small farm, transporting the beans by horses on dirt trails the 30 miles into Soloma, the nearest town.
By the 1950s the family farm had moved. On the new farm Abner’s grandfather trained and rehabilitated about 3,000 difficult horses during his lifetime, but there was still about four acres devoted to coffee. There was a plot for vegetables for the family kitchen and sugar cane to sell at the market.
“When I got home from school I would help my Dad with the farm,” says Abner. On the weekends, from the age of about 10, I learned how to hoe and till the soil. We pruned with a small saw and cleared weeds with a machete. I’d help de-pulp, harvest, wash and dry the coffee. Everything related to running a coffee farm. And it has always been my dream to go back to the land, my roots, and have my own plot to grow coffee back in Guatemala.
Now Abner roasts the small batches of coffee beans himself, from a converted living room at his house painted chili-pepper red. His cousin, Manrique Lopez, sources the beans from farmers the family has known for generations and ships them to Ithaca, NY. “I can’t do anything without Manrique,” says Abner. “He is my partner on the ground, in charge of everything in Guatemala.”
On the shelf are dishes made of seed shells or pods from the Jicaro trees. “When I was a little boy, that’s what we used to put the coffee in during harvest time.
“I really didn’t know how much of a difference there was in coffee until I came to the US,” says Abner. “In Guatemala, we don’t appreciate what we have, because we grow it right there. To me, coffee was coffee. But it’s not the same: I didn’t know until many years later that we were always drinking really good coffee.”