Origin Report: Guatemala 2019
The coffee harvests in Guatemala just recently wrapped up at the end of February, making now the perfect time to go check out the samples of this year’s coming crop and get a sense of which coffees we’d like to source for the club. After a full day of work packing and shipping coffee, we hopped a couple of red-eye flights to Guatemala, arriving on Wednesday morning with a packed schedule of people and places to see and coffees to cup. Read on for a day-by-day account of our trip to Guatemala.
The mill is where the most intensive quality control takes place to ensure that only the best beans are exported. Each lot of coffee is loaded into a hopper and fed through the production line. First, the parchment is removed and the green beans are passed through a de-stoner, which filters out any rocks or debris that may have mixed in with the coffee during processing.
Next, the coffee is sorted to ensure consistency and quality via a densimetric table. These function a bit like angled air hockey tables that sort the beans by density. The lighter, less dense beans are lifted farther by the air pressure from the table and travel farther down the slope while the dense, high-quality beans aren’t lifted as far and stay towards the top. Dividers at the edge of the table channel the different densities to collectors.
After breakfast, we piled into an SUV and headed toward Esquipulas, a town near the border with Honduras and El Salvador. The drive took most of the rest of the day, although we did make a necessary stop for lunch at Pollo Campero - a Guatemalan original!
We woke up early and were greeted by farmers from Esquipulas Coffees, an exclusive group of farmers committed to furthering specialty coffee production in the region. We spent the day visiting different members’ farms, learning about the local intricacies of coffee farming in Esquipulas.
At the first farm we visited, we learned about how some coffee farmers are adapting to fluctuating coffee prices. Many farmers have started planting secondary crops like bananas to have supplementary income when coffee yields or prices are low, and this farmer discovered an additional benefit. When segments of banana tree are cut and left between young coffee plants, the banana tree segments leech their water into the soil, which gives the coffee plants an added boost without additional irrigation.
Driving from Guatemala City to Esquipulas, we were struck by just how beautiful the country is. The region’s volcanic history means that there is almost always a stunning volcano in the distance, and even in the dry season, the areas we visited were full of lush green plants and colorful flowers in bloom. One thing we noticed is that many farms in Guatemala are a bit bigger than other origins. Many of the farmers in Esquipulas that we met described their 20-30 hectare farms as “just a small piece of land” - whereas in Huila, Colombia a small farm is something around 2 hectares. This means that many producers in Guatemala have the opportunity to do more lot separating and experimentation, which is definitely happening.
Everyone we met was very enthusiastic about the future of Guatemalan specialty coffee. Even when talking about challenges like the falling commodity coffee prices and their effect on the coffee-picking labor force, the focus of the conversation was always on progress and solution tactics that will build a more sustainable coffee industry in Guatemala. From Chespi’s yeast-fermentation experiments to the producers in Esquipulas trying out naturals for the first time, there’s a serious commitment among specialty producers in Guatemala to expand their skills in the pursuit of unique flavors and ever-increasing cup quality. It’s an infectious excitement that resonates even now that we’ve returned, and we can’t wait to share the next crop of Guatemalan coffees with the club.