Sourcing coffee in Coban, Guatemala.
Today we find ourselves in the region of Coban. Coban is in the centre of Guatemala and grew in the late 19th century through German migrants who bought large amounts of land for coffee and cardamon production. Coban has a really different climate to Huehuetenango and the landscape is also vastly different. It has a more rainforest-like feeling and we could see many more green fields with all kinds of fruit and veg growing. Rainfall and a lower altitude create coffees and farms with a very different look and flavour profile to those we visited in Huehue.
While we were in this area we spent time at two farms with two producers.
First was Finca Santa Sofia with Pablo Ferrigno second was Finca Santa Isabel with Luis Valdes.
Pablo José Ferrigno Figueroa, a third generation coffee grower, decided to embark on a new venture in 1991 growing only speciality coffee. Pablo’s roots are in coffee, his family comes from Italy and had established several farms and an export company. However these farms and businesses were in the coastal areas and at low altitude flavour was less important and so Pablo was really embarking on something completely new. I should mention at this point that this farm is not really in the region of Coban but is in Tactic 20km up the road.
Finca Santa Sofia sits in quite an open valley, high up at 1680 meters above sea level, it rains a lot and there is a constant breeze. This all sounds really dreamy and for me it was amazing, a cool breeze in the hot wether is really welcome however the effect on the coffee is massive. The rain creates complications when processing, the wind can damage the coffee trees and the overall cooler climate means the beans mature very slowly. Also the farm is basically vertical in some parts which makes picking really complicated. All of this aside you have to admire Pablo, this farm is far from the idea of an easy life growing coffee! All these factors however create coffee cherries that have developed slowly, beans that are ripe and juicy and to top it all off...100% speciality production.
Pablo lives in Guatemala city and when he visits the farm he lives in the farm house. This house is also part of a side line he is working on, Airbnb on a coffee farm I was ready to book up and move in! We had a tour of the farm starting at the nursery where seeds are planted and small coffee trees are brought on to keep the planting cycle fresh. Here Pablo showed us his experimental Geisha plantation. This is something I saw a lot on this trip. The Geisha wave is taking over, I have mixed views about this, it's wonderful if the farmer gets a great harvest from and of course geisha carries a huge crop value but the risk is high and the yield can be terrible. Pablo told us of friends who have ripped out huge plots of their farms to plant geisha. Geisha is a variety of tree which has a super floral flavour profile they can carry a price 10-20 times that of normal speciality coffee however they drain nutrients from the land and will easily die if the weather conditions are not perfect. In short it's a high risk strategy and if it does not work the consequences for the farm could be pretty huge.
We took a stroll around the farm, saw some of new trees which were two years old and still very much in their early years. Pablo grows Caturra, Catuai and some Catimor. He then showed us some of the older trees which are now being pruned. They do this in stages, imagine several rows of trees one row gets cut back so the rows either side get more sun light and so produce more fruit. The next year the row next to this one gets cut back and this cycle is repeated. This is done so the pruning is managed so the total harvest is still high and the quality is sustainable year on year.
Our tour then took us to processing and the patios.
The Patio is exposed and so gains from full sun light while a gentle breeze keeps the patio from getting too hot. Almost all the coffee is of washed process, however when we were there and as you can see in the photo above, Pablo and his team were experimenting with a natural process. This once milled will equate to about 420 kilos of coffee.
Pablo is building a green house to protect the coffee from the rains, which come on a near enough daily basis! As you can imagine when sun-drying the coffee rain is really NOT what you need. It's all hand on deck if the rain comes all the beans are bagged up then put back out when the patio is dry again. This is a very labour intensive process. A mechanical dryer is used to speed this process up, as during full harvest the quantity of cherry is greater than the patio space.
All coffee is kept in daily picking at all times. Once the coffee is fully harvested and processed it is kept in the farm warehouse for 21 days before taking the journey down the mountain to be milled.
Our tour concluded with a beer and a chemex! This was more of a visit not a buying trip for Round Hill Roastery, all of the coffee being harvested has already been sold to another Roastery.