Our plan for Guatemala this year was to visit some new regions. We buy a lot of good coffee from Huehuetenango, but we have been interested in exploring some new promising coffee growing regions of Guatemala for the last couple of years. Along the way we met some new coffee farmers and checked out some different Guatemalan coffee flavour profiles.
Our first point of call was Anacafe in Guatemala City – a facility set up to assess the coffee coming out of Guatemala and help farmers improve coffee quality. We were cupping samples collected from all the regions of Guatemala - Huehuetenango, Acatenago, San Marcos, Antigua and many more. I got a glimpse of some of the quality coming out of these regions and everyone at the time was excited as the Cup of Excellence competition was just around the corner, which Anacafe hosts every year.
Once we finished with our cupping and made our selections, we planned the rest of our travel itinerary based around what we had tasted. It was a journey that looked very easy on paper, but required many hours of sitting in the car. When I was in Kenya, you could easily visit 3 or 4 washing stations per day. In Guatemala, it can take you a day to journey up the mountain to visit one coffee farm. Travelling between regions takes days and many of our mornings started at 4 or 5 am to beat the traffic (a situation that is gradually getting worse and worse in Guatemala) and get to your destinations before nightfall. In March, Guatemala was experiencing a lot of protests against the current government, which involved the closure of many major roads. Often we found ourselves sitting on the side of a highway reading a book for hours at a time waiting.
Our first stop was Acatenango, a region familiar to us. It was here we visited Finca San Jose, in Poaquil. owned by Edwin Morales, who is also the leader of a local co-op group of farmers called La Asuncion (named after Edwin's grandmother). The co-op members are made up of 80% of Edwin’s family and have 20 farms in total. Why a co-op? There is strength in numbers. Farmers who group there farms together receive a lot more technical support and recognition. Edwin Morales is young. I asked him how at such a young age, he can become the leader of this co-op. He replied that the new generation are breathing new life into farming in Guatemala, as they are looking at new techniques, technology and getting farms together and organised. His farm is 25 hectares and grows Bourbon and caturra coffee varietals.
We then travelled to a farm in Acatenango called El Mirador (translate into 'the lookout') own by Karla Coto. She has owned the farm for 3 years and in comparison to other farms in Guatemala, it is small at 2.7 hectares. Her farm is almost 100% cattura and she has recently planted a large lot of geisha (3,000 trees). Avocados also grow amongst the coffee trees and a mountain ranged called Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes surrounds her farm. In some of the photos you can also make out Acatenango Volcano in the background, which is still very active
She explained that as a female coffee producer it can be hard to control the workers on her farm as culturally, Guatemalan men do not show much respect towards a woman as a boss. To get her demands met she needs to have a second in charge who is a man. She also explained that in her opinion, women make better pickers for cherry as they are faster and they are also better at graphing coffee trees.
After many hours of traffic and protests we made it to our next region of Coban. Finca Santa Emila in Zacapa is owned by Henry Roberto Soto, who doesn't speak any English, so communication was fairly limited. Finca Santa Emila is a smaller farm in the mountains, where mostly cataui grows and some recently planted giesha. The Guatemalans have gone geisha mad and almost every farm I visited had some 1-2 year old trees. What was interesting about this farm was that the coffee shrubs are growing under pine trees. So you've got this mix of pine needles and coffee trees. You feel like you’re in the Redwoods and a farm at the same time. Keeping up with Henry walking through the slopes of farm was tough at the altitudes, especially when communication is limited.
We then visited the co-ops in Sacatepequez, San Marcos. Most co-ops are made up with family members. San Marcos region has a total of 60 Co-Ops and I get the impression that farmers with access to limited funds form the co-ops as there is strength in numbers. Co-Ops are more likely to be granted bank loans for financial assistance.
The last stop on our list was Huehuetenango. This town is like home for us and we have been meeting up and buying from the same farmers from this region for years - many of them have become friends. This was a great place to end our trip.
Keep and eye out for some of our Guatemalan coffees that will be hitting our menu later this year.