– by Ben Romeril, General Manager Veneziano Coffee Roasters
We have been using a Guatemalan coffee as a key component of our Bella blend since we first released it. But we weren’t entirely happy with the quality of the coffee or the local broker’s offers. We wanted to go beyond the ‘supermarket’ and direct to the ‘farm’. So we thought, why not go to Origin and source it ourselves? We had read amazing things about the country in terms of its rich volcanic soil, high altitudes and lush rainforests. We had previously tasted amazing Guats so we were excited to visit this exotic place for ourselves.
Direct trade is becoming increasingly popular in the coffee industry, and it’s spoken about more often but in reality it is a difficult process to manage. You have to find an exporter who has the connections, speaks the language, knows the customs and has a road map to get you around! Plus, the ability to get it milled and exported through the region’s beaurocracy.
After many skype dates, we found Ensoluna. Owner Daniel Yancor works with some specialty industry heavyweights and their chief cupper is Hector Gonzalez, World Cup Tasters Champion 2010. We thought this was the perfect place to start so we booked flights, arranged our visas and off we went starry-eyed and very naive about the journey ahead of us.
Simo had taken out hostage insurance but neglected to tell me until we landed. Needless to say we all learnt a lot on this trip!
We clocked up some serious miles, having visited four regions in five days. We discovered a bunch of farms growing some brilliant coffee, each processing them slightly differently. Some farms were advanced with moisture and density readers and even mechanical dryers. While others were more traditional, lacking attention to detail such as tiling their water tanks or piling coffee too high on the patio. Despite this, they all shared incredible talent with the potential to produce intense and complex coffees. What they were eager for was a buyer and so were made to feel very welcome and treated as royalty.
We purchased a number of microlots but the most exciting was processing our very own experimental lot. We chose a Yellow Bourbon varietal at Finca Colombia with Réne Méndez and experimented with drying this naturally on raised beds. Réne had never done this before. Natural processed coffees are the norm in Guatemala because the weather is quite cool so naturals generally dry too slow and often over ferment.
We followed the usual recipe of floating away unripes then laid the coffee on raised beds for 18 days in a single layer. We turned the coffee twice daily to encourage even drying. The raised beds provided better air circulation to dry the coffee. It was a risk but with lots of attention to detail, we think it worked! The coffee arrived last week and needless to say we were pretty excited to cup it. It has significantly more body and fruit characteristics than washed guats and we get notes of stewed apricot, caramel, orange citrus with viscous body and juicy acidity.
We’re very happy with the result and we have a small amount available for sale, which we will release in September. Judge it for yourself; we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Here’s a short diary from our trip, and a little sneak peak into what you could expect should you join us on our next adventure…!
Our first origin trip to Guatemala. After a few missed flight connections and 58 hours of travel we got in a car and drove 5 hours from Guatemala city airport to Quetzeltanango to cup some coffee samples.
Day 1 (Quetzeltanango) – We arrived at Quetzeltanango and got straight into the cupping. In Australia we cup coffees around the world but often at origin they only cup their region, so the SCAA cupping form is great way to calibrate and ensure we’re all on the same page with regards to how we’re cupping the coffees.
Day 2 (Huehuetenango Guatemala) – from Quetzeltanango we jumped back in the 4×4 and drove 8 hours up the most amazingly beautiful but steep terrain I think I have traveled. We went up and down three 2000m high mountains on rocky dirt goat trails. We were passed by a number of trucks at a great speed along cliffs where you would swear there is not enough space and a 1000m sheer drop inches from peril!
But it was all worth it when we got to Finca Portomay and met Herbert Ruiz, the Perez family and their workers. What a view, and such beautiful warm and welcoming people. We stayed overnight, as it’s too dangerous to navigate the roads after dark. Tasty coffee as well! Yum!
Day 3 (Finca Portomay to Finca Las Rosas) – another 8 hour journey to meet Rolando the owner of Finca Las Roses. Rolando showed us around his beautiful farm where he had planted a number of different varietal lots. He pointed out the flavour and plant differences between them all. He is a very proud farmer doing some great work and as a result he placed 15th in last year’s Cup of Excellence.
Day 4 (HueHuetenango to Lake Atitlan) – So today we traveled to visit Jose Ramirez, his dad Jose and Jeremy his nephew at the Jrashawn Benefico named after Jose’s mum. Jose, his dad and his 4 brothers are all named Jose. This took another 8 hours in the car and a Miami Vice style boat ride at top speed across the stunning Lake Atitlan.
Located at Panajachel, Lago De Atitlan, this wet mill has been built over the last year by Jose and his dad to help process the cherries from close to a thousand local farmers. A while ago the coffee price fell to 40c per pound and a lot of farm owners went broke. To pay their workers they divided up their land into tiny plots (parcels) and gave each worker the title as payment for their work. As they are so small they can only produce about 3-5 bags of coffee each per year and certainly not enough for their own wet mill so Jrashawn was started. It works like a co-op but is not currently licensed as one. Jose also runs a nursery with lots of farming experiments from different varietals to pruning experiments etc and helps to teach the many farm owners how to get the best from their coffee trees. He’s doing some really cool work he and achieving some great results so far. We were the first to sign his visitors book!
Day 5 (Finca Hermosa & Finca Colombia) – Today we met two farmers making some great coffee.
Max at Finca Hermosa, Acatenango is a young guy with big plans and access to some equipment that most other farms in the area do not have such as density readers and mechanical dryers.
Réne at Finca Colombia, Antigua. This farm has over 100 years of history and is where we got to experiment with our own naturally processed lot! We set about making some full natural yellow bourbon dried on raised beds. Natural processed coffee is incredibly rare in Guatemala and we are very happy Rene let us experiment with 100lbs of natural coffee with him. Can’t wait to see how it turns out in a few months time. Another long but great day.