I arrived in Guatemala City on Saturday 3rd May with 2 main objectives; one was to visit and give our gratitude to our Guatemalan growers on behalf of our coffee roasting customers and the team at Mercanta the Coffee Hunters; the second was to take part in the International Jury at the Guatemala Cup of Excellence 2008 competition. Christian Schaps (Mercanta Central America) kindly organised the farm visits and drove us around the entire country. We endured hours of driving to very remote, but nevertheless fascinating villages and towns.
The first stop was dinner at the home of Don Sergio Barillas, owner of Finca San Francisco Tecuamburro, in the Santa Rosa region, where his wife Marion and son Sergio Jr prepared some traditional dishes. With Sergio we discussed his farm, microclimates, coffee varieties and some potential projects to be carried out.
On Sunday 4th we departed to Sierra Las Minas, just after the town of San Agustin Acasaguastlán, to visit the very special farm, Finca Entre Rios. The farm is owned by Anneliese Wintzer, who has been running it for the last 15 years. On the way to the farm the landscape was very arid and the road was tough. The only vegetation is cactus but this is also the habitat of the national bird of Guatemala, the Quetzal (now in danger of extinction). After two hours driving, the landscape transformed into a paradise forest surrounded by balsa trees 50 metres high and small streams that turn into rivers during the rainy season in May/June. The farm is organic certified and has more than 20 hectares of natural forest reserve, protected by the Guatemalan government. With Anneliese, we had a fantastic time and discussed our long-term relationship, organic production and the future of speciality coffee.
On Monday 5th May we left Guatemala City at 5am for Huehuetenango to visit one of the most wonderful women in coffee; Doña Miguelina Villatoro de Mérida, owner of Finca El Paternal (Cup of Excellence finalist in 2001). We were thrilled by the hospitality of the family. Finca El Paternal is located 15 minutes from the town of La Mesilla on the border with Mexico, where there is a 3 metre wide line that divides the two countries. The farm has a state-of-the-art traditional wet mill and is a pioneer in the purification of the waste waters – known as aguas mieles – that are left over from the washing of the wet-milling of the coffee cherries. Doña Miguelina and her son, Daniel, run this farm with love, faith and attention to detail. The farmhouse is also used by the local Catholic/Christian community to run seminars, conferences and church activities. We at Mercanta have known Doña Miguelina since 2001 after we bought her Cup of Excellence lot, and we feel honoured to be a part of her success over the last 7 years. Doña Miguelina hosted an excellent lunch at the farm with her family and also invited 3 members of Anacafé (Guatemalan National Coffee Association), who give her advice on wet milling, soil analysis, quality control and a fertilisation program. At the end of the evening, I sat with Doña Miguelina and had a very gratifying conversation with a woman that has gone through terrible tragedies in the past, yet still continues day by day, with great strength, to produce one of the greatest coffees in Guatemala.
We also stopped for two hours to visit Finca El Injerto in La Libertad, Huehuetenango (winner of this years Cup of Excellence and finalist in every Cup of Excellence they have entered). Owned by Don Arturo Aguirre, this farm is run with great care and diligence. The mill – or ‘beneficio’ – is very well-organised with different warehouses storing compost, fertilisers, protective equipment for the workers and a room with an electric plant to run the wet mill if electricity fails. Although Don Arturo was not there to see us due to his son’s wedding, his team showed us around and were very hospitable.
On Tuesday 6th we drove from Huehuetenango to El Quiche to visit Finca La Perla, owned by the Arenas family – a farm with a vast history that has been in the top 10 in three Cup of Excellence competitions. The farm is located between the towns of Chajul and Nebaj, in the Quiche province. Christian Schaps, who runs our Mercanta Central American office, is also the Director of Agriculture at Finca La Perla and kindly took us around the farm and explained the plans for the future. They are working to diversify in terms of new coffee varieties, wet milling practices and ecological projects. It is estimated that nearly 3,000 people live on the farm. Most of them work on their own plots of land and also help during the coffee harvest in production at the farm. It is important to mention that the armed conflict that occurred in Guatemala and which ended only recently took place on and around this farm and the Arenas family have worked very hard in the last 10 years to help the people affected in the conflict to return to a good standard of living. We had an excellent time in Finca La Perla and on Wednesday 7th we headed back to Guatemala City to get ready for Cup of Excellence.
On one of the free afternoons during Cup of Excellence, we managed to arrange a farm visit to Finca San Francisco Tecuamburro, in Pueblo Nuevo Viñas in the Santa Rosa region. Our hosts, Don Sergio Barillas and Sergio Jr (at whose house we had previously dined) very kindly showed us the farm, which has as a principal characteristic its location inside the Tecuamburro volcano. The farm also has a small church where the town of Pueblo Nuevo Viñas meet for cultural, musical and religious festivals. This year Don Sergio submitted a small sample of 100% bourbon to the Cup of Excellence program. I personally found this lot exceptional and a great representation of the Tecuamburro terroir – a very bright and clean cup with pronounced sweetness, silky mouthfeel, notes of dark chocolate and sugar cane. The lot made it through to the 2nd round but it just missed out on the international auction by a very small margin.
On the last day, in the morning, I managed to arrange a visit to Subeneficio – the dry mill in charge of preparing coffee for export for Finca Las Nubes (Esquipulas), Finca San Francisco Tecuamburro (Santa Rosa), Finca El Paternal (Huehuetenango), El Platanillo and Finca El Bosque (Amatitlán). Subeneficio has been the preferred dry mill of Cup of Excellence and Anacafé to mill and prepare the lots for export since 2001. We had a very interesting meeting with our friends Don Humberto and Loyreth, where we discussed the importance of the dry mill in the value chain. Don Humberto has started to experiment with vacuum packing for micro-lots with very positive results.
The rest of the time from Thursday 8th to Monday 12th May was spent cupping at the Anacafé headquarters. The national jury and the team at the Anacafé lab did a superb job. The coffees were very special and showed the quality of this year’s crop. Last season crop suffered from cold weather conditions and a lot of rain during the harvest which affected the overall quality, however this year the crop is proving to be a classic. We at Mercanta have noticed this with our new arrivals and pre-shipment samples. In all, 44 coffees made it through to the international jury, of which 25 progressed to the international auction that will take place on June 12th.
This trip has highlighted the importance of the relationships and commitment to quality between our growers and us at Mercanta, which will enable us to promote these coffees to our discerning coffee roasters throughout the world.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to the following people for making this trip very special and for their hospitality:
Christian Schaps & Ericka Cabrera of Mercanta Central America
Sergio, Marion & Sergio Jr Barillas, owners of Finca San Francisco Tecuamburro
Anneliese Wintzer, owner of Finca Entre Rios
Miguelina Villatoro de Mérida & family, owners of Finca El Paternal
Arturo Aguirre, owner of Finca El Injerto
Ricardo, Enrique & Roberto Arenas, owners of Finca La Perla
Fabio, Sonia & José Solis, owners of Finca Las Nubes
Roni Ascencio, owner of Finca Santa Ana La Huerta
Humberto Vargas & Loyreth Sosa at Subeneficio