We are still several weeks away from the very beginning of coffee harvest in Central America, but it has been a longtime plan to visit our producing partners outside of harvest season. I started in Guatemala, visiting all producers we bought from this previous year.
The drive up to the northern region of Huehuetenango is long, and traffic can sometimes be horrific, but that was my first stop on this trip, and before the crack of dawn, we took off from Guatemala City. We drove up to La Libertad, where we buy coffee from two farms: La Bolsa and El Injerto. At La Bolsa, all our coffee comes from one particular lot called Ventana Grande, and it is an exciting hike up there, including the climb through the “Ventana Grande”, the “big window”. On the mountain, big rocks once fell down, creating a tunnel, and that’s where the name comes from. The lot stretches out behind the mountain, planted with Bourbon trees, that at the high elevation they look very healthy and productive. My guide was Mercedes, the farm manager - a young woman I truly admire and respect. Her plans for the farm off-harvest are as meticulous as the plans for the busy picking season, with different chores for every week of the calendar year. Later, at the mind bogglingly well-run farm nearby, El Injerto, I finally got to see the exact lot our coffee came from this year. Truth is, I love their Bourbon. Or, I’m kind of obsessed with it, only to know all of the pure bourbon lots goes to one particular roaster in the US, and none of it is available for the rest of us. So the idea was to find a lot with many Bourbon plants, that would resemble the pure Bourbon flavour, which I think we did pretty well with the lot called #204. Touring the farm and seeing all their efforts in making the farm not just producing good coffee, but being sustainable with composting, trout farming, and taking good care of their farmers, is a humbling experience. To me, the intensity and sweetness of the coffees from these farms is amazing - so clean and bright!
Currently having the Alto Refugio available on our drip menu, it was nice to see the farm looking even healthier and stronger than during our last visit. Juan Francisco Pira is the farm’s owner, and with a background from both agronomy and producing many other commodities, his focus is on the coffee tree itself and its needs. It is a very inspiring approach, and from our previous visits, I have remarked how he is using calcium carbonate to help the tree feed from the soil when the soil’s ph is too low, and how he is managing pruning and pest control in a manner so that it is done by spot, and only where needed.
The last part of the trip was spent around Antigua, visiting our exporter there, and their mill. The most interesting part was perhaps the trip Luis Pedro Zelaya and I made to visit the producers of a lot we bought for the first time this year, called Poaquil. From tasting many coffees with Luis Pedro during harvest, I was surprised by the complexity of this particular lot of coffee, and later learned it was a blend from many small producers in an area called Poaquil. It is always interesting visiting smallholder farmers in Central America (and other places) - at origin, we work with people with very different backgrounds and opportunities, even though they are all coffee farmers. It is a different trade almost, buying from very large vs. small producers. There is reason to believe that these farmers can lift themselves up, but they have to be given the tools and incentives to do so - they need to know about husbandry practices before they can perform them, and we need to see the potential for those conversations happening through our partners in the country. At Poaquil, they are in many ways strides beyond many other small scale farming communities - they already know the key to success is picking ripe cherry!
Next stop is Honduras, more about that another day!