Steeped in Community — Connecting Coffee and Change in Guatemala

As Told by Emma Holinko-Brossman ’20

The Block Plan is notorious for classes that are in-depth, creative, and challenging. The “Coffee Marketing Challenge” is a great example of that. Selling artisan coffee presents its own challenges, but the students’ trip to Guatemala opened their eyes to the fuller picture of the story. That story is shared here by author Emma Holinko-Brossman ’20, who took the challenge in Block 5.

The “Coffee Marketing Challenge,” with Visiting Faculty Member-in-Residence John Mann, is a farm-to-market marketing project connecting local artisanal coffee growers in Guatemala to craft coffee consumers in Colorado Springs.

Students work in teams to apply core marketing principles to define a target market, create and refine marketing concepts, and then produce and sell packaged coffee sourced from growers. Mary Jenkins ’21, one of the students, describes her experience: “It was amazing to connect with a place, build a team. This was not an easy task, but we took each mistake in stride: and celebrated each win together.” The student teams work with a craft coffee roaster in the Colorado Springs area for production and packaging.

The towns in Guatemala were all on Lake Atitlan, nestled between active volcanos, the streets were vibrant with colorful buildings, the smell of fresh tortillas, and warm smiles.

Being there for a week only made it clear that a student could spend a lifetime learning about Mayan heritage, traditions, and how coffee was ingrained in the Guatemalans’ lives. One of the many people who became part of our story of Guatemala was Petrona.

Petrona invited us and other groups involved with The Organization for the Development of Indigenous Maya, into her home. Her family, spanning several generations would be around to greet us as Petrona fed us food that was delicious and heartwarming. She became the namesake of our coffee, Petrona Coffee, because her story exemplified what it meant to be a powerful community member. She has grown her own business, she is a gracious host, and she cares for everyone as her own. She used her business to help her family with education, healthcare, housing, and nutrition. These values are the missions of ODIM, who she now proudly supports, and with whom we proudly partnered.

The coffee challenge itself created two teams, equal in coffee and experience. We both created brands, channels for selling, and crafted a story to shed light on our experiences in Guatemala. The coffee itself is amazing, a medium roasted breakfast blend, it is not too acidic, and a little sweet. Creating a business for a week is something that provides a taste of what so many small-business people do: It is thrilling and stressful wrapped in one.

Professor Mann, has spent many years working in consumer goods, beer mostly, crafting stories on a large scale. The partnership in Guatemala was started through relationships he and his wife developed working with church groups to travel there over the last decade.

He looks to this program and sees a catalyst for a much broader program, one where it isn’t about just selling coffee, but many other specialties. Imagine this program expanding into cultural heritage, environmental impacts, religion, Spanish language, and many more Colorado College programs. He says he loves the towns we have had the chance to visit and loved seeing the increased vitality in especially San Juan La Laguna. “It is cleaner and the people seem happier,” he says.