Antigua always seems to offer a grand opening vista to Guatemala on our origin trips. Only a short drive from the capital, the towering volcanoes are set behind historic Spanish architecture, which seems to ignite a sense of curiosity and wonder. After some staring in amazement at our surroundings, we set off to meet our friends Oscar and Michele, who we have been partners with since 2016. We started with a comprehensive tour of their Wet Mill in the Department of Santa Barbara, and walked the entire process from cherry collection, pulping, through to drying stages.
This was a great opportunity for Matt and I (Quinton) to ask many questions regarding quality, and how we can better support sustainability in the supply chain of coffee. Michele and Oscar provided some fascinating insights, before walking us around their innovative farmer education centre. It encompasses a nursery and training facility, where coffee farmers are educated on the yields of certain coffee varieties, sustainability and optimal coffee farming practices.
The following morning, we managed to find a moment to explore the local café scene, and see how the specialty coffee industry has evolved since our last visit. Coffee grown in Antigua comes at a premium, partly due to ANACAFE and also due to how delicious the cup profile is. Think of chocolate. Not average chocolate mind you, but delectable dark rich cocoa that has somehow ended up in your cup of morning brew. Coffee descriptions of ‘chocolate’ have been around for eons, however no producing country better exemplifies this attribute than a traditional Antiguan coffee.
Returning to Guatemala City, we headed to one of our partners dry mills. Whilst there, we took the opportunity to cup all of LCM's current and inbound Guatemalan coffees, looking to grow an understanding of how we can continue to maintain continuity in cup profiles, whilst also investigating new developments in the region.
Day three marked the start of a questionable journey through to another one of Guatemala’s famous regions; Huehuetenango. After a rocky flight on the 8-seater Cessna, we got ready for an early start to the coming day.
We awoke early and began the 3-hour drive northwest to Finca La Bolsa in the La Libertad region. We have worked with the owners of La Bolsa, Renardo Ovalle and his family for 5 years now and our relationship continues to grow. La Bolsa is the primary farm owned by Renardo and his family (Vides 58 Estates encompasses many different farms), with the surrounding farm of Los Pinos soaring high up to 2200masl, was the icing on the cake. We had never experienced a ripe coffee cherry so sweet and vibrant.
We spent some time visiting neighbouring farms such as El Sendero and La Danta, meeting each farm manager and learning how they grow their delicious coffee on difficult terrain, just beneath the clouds. These visits helped us to discover some new and amazing coffees. La Danta and La Bolsa have been owned by the family since 1958, when Renardo’s grandfather formed the business.
With a lot of knowledge gathered, we made the bumpy jeep ride back to Huehuetenango city, arriving just before dusk. We spent the night sharing hospitality with a small producer, Marlon De Valle and his family. Marlon does not produce much coffee, but it is of exquisite quality. He explained to us what makes Huehue such a unique and special region for coffee growers.
With another Cessna plane trip, we were back in Guatemala City to spend some time in Renardo’s stomping ground. Sharing our enthusiasm for the farms in the La Libertad region of Huehuetenango, we were grateful for our friend Juan Jose for translating and introducing us to the farm managers. Renardo toured us around the very busy dry mill facility, with coffee being processed and loaded up high into the ceilings.
This unfortunately signalled that our trip had come to an end. On our reflection, we noted what truly makes this wonderful and diverse country so unique. The importance of building sustainable long-term relationships with producing partners, and the value of spending time to visit our partners, no matter how big or small their production might be. As always, we are extremely proud to share these coffees with our roasting partners back home, and know many of you also look forward to that time of year when freshly cropped Guatemalans start to land.