Farm: Finca Santa Paula, Coban
Varietal: 80% Caturra; 20% Catuaí; 2% Catimor
Processing: Fully washed and dried on raised beds
Altitude: 1,375 metres above sea level
Owner: Oscar and Christian Schaps
Town / City: San Pedro Carcha
Region: Alta Verapaz, Cobán
Finca Santa Paula, Coban - Guatemala
Finca Santa Paula lies at around 1,375 metres near the small town of San Pedro Carcha, in the cool, humid Alta Verapaz region in north-central Guatemala. The area is known locally as Tezulutlán and is still populated by indigenous peoples who live and work the land using traditional methods.
Coffee was first planted here in the mid-1990s by the farm’s previous owner, Sharón Echevarria: prior to that, the farm was home to dairy cattle and was used mostly for subsistence farming. When the current owners, brothers Oscar and Christian Schaps, took the reins in 2006, they immediately set about making some pretty big changes. When they purchased the farm, the land and its coffee plantations were in excellent shape...however all the plantings were of Catimor. The Schaps brothers - fourth generation coffee farmers with a significant pedigree in the Guatemala and El Salvador coffee context - are committed to improving coffee quality on all of their farms. They decided to pull all the farm’s Catimor out little by little and renovate the farm’s 85 manzanas (65 hectares) completely. Today the farm’s production is roughly 80% Caturra, 18% Catuaí and 2% Catimor (which is not long for this world), all of which grows in the shade of native Inga and Pepeto trees. The brothers have also introduced a small plot of the lesser-known Híbrido San Francisco, a natural hybrid of Pacas and Old Bourbon that first appeared in El Salvador. The variety performs well in Cobán’s cool, humid climate, and the brothers plan to plant the variety on an additional 4.5 hectares.
The farm is managed on a daily basis by Don Aldalberto Reyes, who first came to the farm in 1995. Don Aldalberto grew up working in coffee in his family’s own farm, where his family still lives (some 100 km away). It is with Don Adalberto’s sage advice and hard work that the Schaps are working towards developing a 100% sustainable farm. The man isn’t just a coffee expert, though! Don Adalberto speaks four languages: Spanish, Q'eqchi', Pokom’chi and Achi. In this region of Guatemala, it is vital to be able to speak at least one other language besides Spanish, as all the local indigenous communities communicate in their own local languages.
Cobán is known for being very, very wet despite the lack of above ground water sources in the region. Constant rain (much of it gentle drizzle accumulating to 3,000 to 4,000 ml a year!) means that flowering is very staggered, with 8-9 flowerings per year. Due to this prolonged flowering season, coffee ripens at different stages, which means that up to 10 passes (with breaks of up to 14 days between passes) are needed to ensure that only the very ripest cherries are selected. The accompanying low temperatures ensure a long and steady maturation of the coffee cherries, allowing the coffee to develop a complex and distinctive cup profile.
Due to the lack of above-ground water sources, the water that the farm uses for its wet mill comes from purpose built lagoons that capture rain water and remain nearly full for at least 10 months out of the year. Coffee is selectively harvested and hand sorted before being pulped and left to ferment for 36 hours. Coffee is then selected again (using water) according to density and size before being delivered to dry.
The washed coffee is then pre-dried for about 8 hours at a constant 40˚ C before being moved to the farm’s extensive greenhouse for approximately 21 days. In fact, there are no patios at Santa Paula due to the constant rain in the region. Controlled pre-drying helps prevent over fermentation, and the Schapp’s greenhouses are sealed at both ends with adjustable vents in the roof, which ensures more control over air circulation and, thus, drying.
The mill currently has the capacity to process 500 quintales of coffee a day, though they have yet to achieve that volume. Normally at the peak of the harvest about 120 quintales of coffee are processed, and total production hovers around 800 bags of green coffee annually.
The organic waste from the pulped coffee is recycled, in part, using lombriculture, whereby earth worms transform the organic waste into compost that is then returned to the farm as fertilizer. However, unusually, a part of the pulp is applied directly to the plant un-composted. Due to the wet conditions, this is actually the better way to fertilise in this area as it prevents the nutrients from dissipating to quickly.