Farm visits in Huehuetenango
Before I start on my time in Huehuetenango, I want to explain a little about Guatemala (in my view) and my reasons for taking a trip there. Guatemala is relatively small but diverse country for coffee as well as climate and culture. As with any coffee producing country there are many regions and sub-regions all of which produce excellent coffee. All these areas offer different flavour profiles and cup qualities. This being said my general view of Guatemalan coffee is nutty, sweet, balanced, chocolate. I love to buy Guatemalan coffee as this general flavour profile makes for fantastic espresso and milk based drinks as well as super moreish filter coffee. Finally these regions are relatively speaking close together so a lot can be seen and tasted in a relatively short time if you can handle the roads!
With this in mind we planned a trip with our import company Mercanta. We had three days in Guatemala then we planned to jump across the border to El Salvador for a few days (which I am currently writing about). Three days three regions! I have decided to split this blog into four parts so I can give a more detailed account.
Huehuetenango in west, to visit Finca la Maravilla - Western Highlands
Tactic in the centre of the country, to visit Finca Santa Sofia - Rainforest regions
Coban in the centre of the country, to visit Finca Santa Isabel - Rainforest regions
El Salvador to visit Finca El Carmen estate, and Finca Montes Urales - Santa Ana
We meet up with Cas our Guatemalan representative in the Holiday Inn car park and we are in good spirits for a long drive. He says, "we have to push on, no time for breakfast as the city is waking up and so is the traffic!" Guatemala City is not the picturesque tourist city, and if you have ever traveled to Guatemala or read a lonely planet guide book the first thing they say is move out not much to see. This being said, I found the city really interesting, booming and bustling with people and a street hot dog is 70p. The salvaged 1950's American school bus solution for the movement of millions of people is quite a sight!
A local "Chicken Bus"
Anyhow, we are passing through on the 300km drive all the way to the border with Mexico and the highlands of Huehuetenengo pronounced way-way-ten-an-go.
I have always adored coffee from this region, they have a slightly winey acidity, and a berry like sweetness. The general cup profile is sweet and cocoa like. The main reason we came to this region was to visit one farm. A farm I have never tasted any coffee from and it was also a fist for my Import company Mercanta. New faces all around! After a short 5 hours in the car and some eggs and re-fried beans for a late breakfast, we arrive at our hotel where we are met by Maurico owner and producer at Finca la Maravilla.
Back in the pick up truck and one hour of off roading up a mountain we reach our first farm. The farm ranges from 1600 meters above sea level to 2000 meters above sea level. Maurico mainly grows:
The high altitude and vertical conditions mean the coffee cherry quality was stunning. Guatemala has been hit very hard by a fungus called roya. This fungus causes the leaves of the tree to form yellow spots form on the under side. This in-turn means the tree cannot produce fruit and the whole tree can die. The worse part is the disease is spread via contact and also via the wind. I was amazed to see such healthy trees on Maurico's farm a sign that the farm is well looked after and he will yield a lot from this land. The farm was around 30 hectares which quite seizable but quite small for Guatemala. All the processing is done on the farm, again common for this region and Guatemala. I am pretty sure that all coffee is of the washed process on this farm. Picking and processing happens every day at about 3pm. We were lucky enough to be up in the trees as the horn sounded and cheers could be heard across the mountain (positive cheers). The pickers were indigenous families, of Mayan culture. This farm is very much a family affair. Maurico and his son manage the farm and the local families pick and process through the main harvest. Teams of pickers were picking while their children ran around playing making me feel so unfit as I was struggling to walk up the mountain side yet alone run! The site of children on the farm was something to get used to. I want to stress there are no children working at all. However both mum and dad are working on the farm and so the day care is under the coffee trees.
Our time was ending on the farm however we had time for some lunch together and this was a great opportunity to learn more about Maurico and his son Luis. Luis will be taking over the farm as Maurico will be working less. However this will be quite a challenge as Maurico is so in love with coffee farming. He plans to fly to the global expo in Seattle this year to meet with some of the roasters out there buying his coffee. They were both fascinated to know that we at Round Hill Roastery do not currently blend coffees and we like to focus on the farm and farmer as they are the story and where all the magic happens. We did not get the chance to taste any coffee from Finca Maravilla and I still now almost two months on haven't seen or tasted a sample. This is not uncommon and it's all part of making new relationships. We may have to wait until next year but I am still dreaming of those super ripe cherries.
From left to right:
Ida and Eddie (Round Hill) Maurico (Finca La Maravilla) Jamie (Mercanta)
This is the first part of my Blog about Guatemala.