By Kate Vanskike
Belize was incredible – a slow pace, incredible natural wonders, uncrowded beaches, and a lovely mix of culture from Creole, Mayan, Garifuna, and Latin influences.
However, its coffee life left me bewildered.
I’m a big fan of beans that hail from Latin American nations, so, naturally, my December 2021 vacation to Belize had me just as excited about coffee as about beaches and sunshine. On the Yucatan peninsula, Belize borders Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras – three of the world’s top 10 coffee exporters.
It’s good that some advanced planning alerted me to the limited opportunity I’d have for seeing the source of coffee in Belize. I found only one active coffee plantation (Gallon Jug Estates), and it did not make it onto my final itinerary. Despite this forewarning, nothing could have prepared me for the distinct scarcity of coffee in paradise, especially on the islands.
The coffee pots Americans are accustomed to seeing at every type of hotel accommodation were missing. No free cups in the lobby – even of the cheap, mass-produced variety. At one resort, nestled at the north end of Ambergris Caye, I finally asked the barkeep where I could get a cup and he suggested the restaurant. Imagine my surprise when he informed me that they serve Maxwell House. That would not do. Not on the Yucatan peninsula. Not when I’d just spent a day 8 miles from the Guatemalan border, home of some of the best beans on the planet!
I set off on a golf cart and headed north on a narrow, bumpy dirt pathway to a resort boasting a café called Chat & Chill, which sounded perfect for a sunny morning on a day with no plans. I arrived around 9 a.m. to discover they wouldn’t open until noon. That wouldn’t do either, so I took a 35-minute bumpy cart ride south into San Pedro instead, after begging acquaintances in a Belize tourism group on Facebook to give me the inside scoop. Lavish Habit Cafe came highly recommended, and rightfully so.
For the last few days of my trip, I had two lovely coffee options within walking distance of my modest accommodations on Caye Caulker. Ice ‘N’ Beans is locally run, and while the wait is longer than the typical American tourist would expect, the shop’s service and location simply can’t be beat. Given my impression that the island didn’t really wake up and move until midday, I was glad to learn Ice ‘N’ Beans stirred at 6, and told the barista I’d be back when they opened the next day. I arrived at 6:20, and a friendly voice chirped, “Miss Kate! You’re late!” I enjoyed a free shot of their cold brew and a fresh croissant on the beach under palm trees while waiting for my drink.
The other notable shop was Namaste Café, offering quaint seating areas on the first and second floors and an open-air yoga studio upstairs. It’s owned by and popular among ex-patriots making Belize their home. (It features a full menu of hearty, healthy breakfast meals, too.)
Belize is better known for its many varieties of rum, and its decadent chocolate. I made sure to bring home plenty of samples of both, and one lonely bag of coffee from Gallon Jug Estates (purchased at a grocery store). I’ve enjoyed it as a daily reminder of the time I practiced the Caye Caulker’s “Go Slow” island motto to the best of my abilities. (I think I need more practice. “Hello, Expedia? I need a deal!”)
Now, lest I sound only like a spoiled, privileged coffee snob (which I must be), I do believe in finding the coffee source for good reasons: I want to support the small farmers who are laboring hard for their profits, and I want to consume coffee from roasters who’ve established good relationships with those farmers. For stories connected to those endeavors, and experiences in Guatemala and Dominican Republic, subscribe to wordsncoffee.com.