For Elmer Fajardo, coffee means family.
“When I see a hot cup of coffee, it reminds me of my grandpas because they always drink hot coffee … they don’t care if it was in the morning or in the afternoon, it was just a hot coffee to have a conversation and share time together. So that’s what coffee means to me.”
Fajardo was just 17 when he made the trek from his family’s farm on the mountainous border of Guatemala and Honduras to Chicago in 2011.
"I grew up in a very, like, rural place. The name of my village is Aldea Valle de Jesús, and I remember that we didn’t even have like electricity until I was like 8 years old,” said Fajardo. “My grandpa, he used to grow a lot of not only coffee, but he used to grow tobacco, corn, beans, sugar cane.”
Today, Fajardo’s business Anticonquista Café sells locally-roasted beans from the Fajardo farm. But when he came to Chicago, Fajardo was just hoping to find work that would allow him to send money home and keep the farm afloat. It was in Chicago’s coffeeshops that Fajardo says he had a wake-up call.
“When I came here in 2011 and I saw … the prices of coffee in my town and when I went to those, like, fancy places to drink, I’m like, there’s something wrong, because they are using our coffee, but we are not receiving money and they have been like selling this coffee like for this expensive price.”
Fajardo says that in Latin America, even cooperative farming models often end up undercompensating farmers for their beans.
“These multinational corporations say, ‘we have these people on our coffee, we already have the coffee in advance,’” said Fajardo. “That means that [farmers], even if the price is high, they are not going to see more money, they already owe their coffee to these multinational corporations.”
In 2019, Fajardo and his wife Lauren Reese developed a business model that cuts out the middleman between farmers and consumers.
“It’s coming directly from my husband Elmer’s farm and I work directly with his brother, my brother-in-law Emilio, and we basically talk every day, especially when it’s during the harvest season. I am his point person with helping sort of steward the coffee from the farm all the way up here to Chicago,” Reese says.
At the family farm, Emilio Fajardo describes long days in the field — often 12 hours or more — during the harvest season for himself and the workers preparing the beans for shipment to Chicago.
“With the coffee that we prepare to send, we have to pick it, sort at the farm and depulp it, then wash, dry to a point and from there mill it. Normally it will then be classified in order to send over there,” Fajardo told Chicago Tonight: Latino Voices in Spanish.
Once the beans have made their own trek from Central America to Chicago, they’re roasted in small batches in a West Town shared kitchen space. They sell their coffee beans by the bag and brewed coffee on their website and at farmers markets via their coffee bike.
“There are so many coffee shops that, you know, but not like what they’re doing, which is pretty amazing that they have a direct line to the farm, that it’s a family business that drew me in because I love a good story,” said Nicole Benjamin of the Lincoln Square Farmers Market. “So the story kind of sells the product and then the product just delights you.”
Reese says their ultimate goal is to open their own storefront that keeps the needs of the immigrant community in mind.
“I don’t really see cafes open in the evening when working people are more available. And so for us to be able to create the space that’s open in the evenings and to be able to support the immigrant community is definitely a goal for us,” said Reese.
And Fajardo says that being able to share his family’s coffee with Chicagoans has helped make this city his second home.
“There is a lot of nice people in Chicago, a lot of Latinos in Chicago, that have been receiving my coffee with love and that’s what that means for me, because it’s just like something of my family.”
Anticonquista Café will be at the indoor Logan Square Farmers Market on Sundays starting Nov. 21 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2537 N. Pulaski Rd.