Sunday morning coffee harvest today. I picked coffee from just one specific tree, a Garnica Arabica variety. We have about 14 different Arabica varieties growing on our small Costa Mesa coffee farm. The Garnica tree was full of ripe, sweet fruit, of which the seed is the bean one makes coffee from.
The Garnica variety is a hybrid that was developed in Jalapa, Veracruz, Mexico in the 1960’s. That region is now the only place it grows commercially.
We are told it is a hybrid of Arabica varieties, Mundo Novo, and Caturra. Its fruit is particularly sweet, which inspired me to do an isolation on it so that in about four to six weeks when it’s ready I can roast and cup the results to see exactly what the Garnica tastes like. The coffee needed to come off the tree anyway, because the tree is setting up for a massive flowering to produce next year’s crop. One wants to have the tree able to focus it’s energy on the next crop, not the previous. In the meantime, this morning’s three pound picking yield is now fermenting. In about 48 hours I will wash it, then sun dry it for a week. Another two weeks of resting, then it will be ready for roasting and cupping. More later………..
We have been a bit remiss in chronicling our Kean Coffee origin trips over the past several years…just too darn busy roasting coffee! At some point we will backtrack and share more of our adventures. But here, at least, Shawn Anderson, our wholesale division roaster, has shared some of his experiences on a recent trip he and Martin made.
My First Origin Trip
When we (Martin Diedrich and I) arrived in Guatemala City the first evening, I had no idea what to expect. After all, this was my first origin trip and, as I would soon find out, Guatemala City is in no way a fair representation of Guatemala and the beauty it holds.
Our first day began with meeting our wonderful host, Renardo Ovalle (of the Vides family which owns the La Bolsa farm in Huehuetenango). Renardo and his lovely wife own Genera Café in Guatemala City. After a tour and cupping at Genera Café, we took a tour of the impressive facilities at ANACAFE (Asuncion Nacional de Café), the headquarters of Guatemala’s National Coffee Association. Then we were on our way to Huehuetenango to visit the La Bolsa farm.
Huehuetenango was the most distant and remote region we were to visit on this trip. It took us an entire day of driving through some of the windiest and roughest roads I’ve experienced to reach the La Bolsa farm. Located in the Cuchumatan mountain range, these coffees are gown in the highest elevation the country has to offer. Though the drive was long and rough, it was well worth it. I couldn’t have asked for a better farm or hosts for my first coffee farm visit.
The La Bolsa farm is breathtakingly beautiful and seemingly secluded from the world. It was getting dark when we finally arrived, but we were still able to take in the stunning view. Nestled in the Cuchumatan Mountains, the farm manages to be both vast and humble at the same time. The Vides family has a lovely little home built on the same patio where they dry the coffee. Standing on the patio, surrounded by mountains filled with coffee trees, I couldn’t help but feel blessed to be there.
Our first day on the Farm began early, with a delicious home cooked breakfast and a walking tour of the farm. We saw the coffee being laid out to dry on the patio after being processed as well as the actual wet mill where the processing occurs. We then hiked through the mountains to see the coffee trees themselves. I had no idea how hard these farmers work until I was actually there. Just getting to the trees can be exhausting and I wasn’t even working! The elevation is extreme and the slopes are daunting at best. Each and every tree at La Bolsa is visited at least 15 times a year; 3-4 times for fertilization, 3-4 times for pest control, 3-4 times for pruning and at least 4 times for the actual harvest. Everything is done by hand. Everything. The same can be said for every other farm we visited on this trip.
The following morning we met up with colleagues from other coffee companies to continue our tour into Atitlan: Ian Kluse from Olam, Darrin Daniel from Allegro Coffee and John D’Roucco from Mr. Espresso, among others.
Our drive through the hills of Atitlan provided us with stunning views of the three volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan: Atitlan, Toliman, and San Pedro. As we drove through the countryside on our way to Lake Atitlan, we had the pleasure of visiting a few very small farms in the Atitlan region. Each of these farms worked together to form a Co-op. We met many of the farmers and villagers, posing for photos, answering questions and just getting to know people. We then reached Lake Atitlan and Finca La Providencia, owned by the inspiring Juan Francisco Pura.
Juan Francisco began his coffee career at the area’s wet mill, which he still owns and operates, before he purchased Finca La Providencia. Located directly beside Lake Atitlan, this farm is beautiful and unique. Unlike the La Bolsa farm in Huehuetenango, there are no drastic slopes to overcome. The farm is flat and easily accessible.
We walked with Juan Francisco through the farm, looking at the different varietals he’s growing as well as some very interesting, new growing techniques he’s trying. I believe the fact that he entered into farming from the processing side of coffee has given him a unique approach to his work and an innovative spirit. After our tour, we drove to his wet mill and cupped some lovely coffees from both his farm and the local Co-op. He also showed us the new raised drying beds he’s been experimenting with. 45 pounds of coffee are in each raised bed, all of which are micro-lots. Juan Francisco and his friends joined us all for dinner before we turned in for the night.
The next farm we visited was as beautiful as it was massive. Ran by Andres Fahsen who jokingly refers to it as a “Natural Reserve which happens to have a coffee plantation on it”, Santo Tomas Pachuj is basically just that.
Pachuj (which means “Place of Mist”) is a stunning 370 acres, 70 of which holds the coffee farm itself. Each coffee tree on this property is visited once a week, which is incredible considering the fact that the 70 acres of coffee are not all together, but sprawled out amongst the total 370 acres of land). Though all the work is done by hand, workers drive 4 wheel drive trucks and a giant old Mercedes UniMog to access their coffees and wet mill.
Like La Bolsa, there are many steep grades on this property. To support the trees and soil, they plant grasses between the rows of coffee. The deep roots of the grass help stabilize the soil. Once the grasses grow tall, they’re cut down and left as mulch for the coffee trees. It’s a simply but ingenious approach.
Santo Tomas Pachuj scored an almost unheard of 97 points with the Rain Forest Alliance and won’t rest until they become the first farm to score 100. Besides the 300 acres of natural reserve, they have 400 bee hives on the property which produce some of the best honey I’ve ever tasted. They also manage to produce 100% of their electricity from solar power. Their commitment to preservation and sustainability was truly inspiring.
The last farm Martin and I visited was Bella Vista in the stunningly beautiful city of Antigua.
Antigua sits in a valley enveloped by the Agua, Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes and coffee farms scattered throughout the foothills. It is one of the most renowned coffee producing regions in the world due to the volcanic soils and climate.
The Bella Vista farm and mill ran by Luis Pedro Zelaya, a fourth generation coffee producer, miller and exporter. Bella Vista is a massive facility with a farm, wet mill and dry mill on the property. It was here, on our final day, that Marin and I really got serious about cupping coffees. Over the course of the day, we cupped 60 different coffees, with nothing but a small lunch break midway through. For me, the cupping was a combination of intimidation (due to the quantity, seriousness and the fact that I was cupping with Martin), excitement and well… just plain hard work. Luckily, we found some exceptional coffees and were lucky enough to secure 274 bags out of our favorite picks.
I embarked on this, my first origin trip, with a bit of trepidation not knowing what to expect of what I would get out of it. I came home with more knowledge than I could have hoped for as well as a newfound passion and excitement for the work I do. It’s hard to explain what it feels like to meet the people who labor year-long to produce the coffees I’m so lucky to roast every day. I’ve spent the last 5 years roasting the coffees produced by these great people and it was an honor to finally meet them and see the life of these coffees before they get to me. These people live and breathe coffee every day. They put their literal blood, sweat and tears into their craft and, without them, I wouldn’t be here.
It’s easy to take coffee for granted. We don’t expect people to understand that 450 pounds of coffee cherries only produce 80 pounds of green coffee to roast and that those 80 pounds will only yield about 67 pounds of roasted coffee. It’s easy to forget how much work goes into providing the “convenience” of coffee. It’s something I’ll never overlook again.
This origin trip was truly a life changing event for me. I have always been proud to be a coffee roaster, but I never felt as much responsibility to be great at my job as I do now. Seeing how difficult it is to produce these amazing coffees, I can’t imagine letting any of their potential go to waste by not roasting them to the best of my ability. I’ve never felt more inspired or motivated to perfect my craft and I can’t wait for my next trip to origin.
There is a special magic wafting through a room filled with passionate coffee professionals intent on finding the absolute best coffee from Guatemala’s crop this year. Every sniff, every slurp is carefully evaluated and scored- descriptions of honey, cherry, chocolate, caramel fill the margins as each coffee gets a meticulous assessment before moving on to the next possibility.
I was fortunate to return to Central America to be a judge for Cup of Excellence Guatemala. Our 22 member international panel hailed from Japan, Germany, England, Australia, Russia, Korea, Canada, Morocco, Norway, and the U.S. Our purpose was to identify the best examples of Guatemala coffee that year so we could buy it and bring it home to our customers, and also to recognize and reward the efforts of the producers who developed a truly stellar coffee. The top 20 coffees chosen from the over 300 entries are sold at auction. The winners get the best price for their crop, as well as respect and admiration from their peers. The biggest winner, however, is the coffee consumer, because the methods and care the producers employ to produce a competition quality coffee raise the quality of all the different lots coffee on their finca (farm) and translate to a better cup in our coffeehouse at home.
The judging is exhaustive. By the time we get to the final top ten round at the end of five days we’ve cupped each of the coffees four separate times and huddled up in the conference room after each round to compare (and defend) our scores. Judging Guatemala coffee is particularly challenging because each of the eight producing regions- Antigua, Huehuetenengo, Coban, New Oriente, Atitlan, Fraijanes, San Marcos, and Acatenengo has a unique and delicious flavor profile. Because of Martin’s history and relationships in Guatemala coffee we’ve had many examples of different regional coffees from Guatemala in the coffee house, as many as five at one time.
We also took time to visit the producers and fincas, and see some of the sights. In the old city of Antigua beautifully restored churches seem to be on every corner. The cobblestone streets of this former capitol of all of Central America weave through a town with absolutely no billboards, neon, or any of the trappings of our everyday life. I felt transported back in time strolling through the charming central plaza.
Visiting the Zalaya Family Fincas in Antigua was especially moving for me. The Zalayas have been producing coffee for generations, and we’ve had many of their coffees at Kean since we opened. We toured through finca Santa Clara and viewed the Bourboncillo (dwarf Bourbon) plants as well as the wet and dry mill facilities. I am always struck by the amount of passion, care, and hard work that go into each individual 132lb bag of green coffee.
We also travelled east to visit the Keller’s finca Santa Isabel. Like Martin’s family, the Kellers began producing Guatemala coffee four gene
rations ago after emigrating from Germany. They operate an organic farm, creating their own compost and natural fertilizers and keep their rows of coffee within the natural rainforest that grows around it. They’ve also set aside a large nature preserve adjacent to their finca to retain the habitat for the indigenous flora and fauna of the area .Although we are familiar with the concept of parkland, the Guatemalan government is not. The Keller family paid for and set aside this land because they feel it’s the right thing to do, just as they’re committed to organic practices. We’re currently using two of their coffees in our line-up, as a decaf, and in our espresso.
Before heading home I took a side trip to Martin’s childhood home of Panajachel on the shore of Lake Atitlan. The charming village and breathtaking view of the lake with the two volcanos on the distant shore were worth the twisting, jolting, careening 5 hour bus ride from Guatemala City. My hosts the Jones (Jones Coffee Co, Pasadena) family showed me around the town and gave me a tour of Pana Kids, a multi-lingual school they support in the village. The school teaches Spanish, German, English, and the Mayan language to the children, most of them of Mayan descent. The Mayan language is becoming lost as Spanish and English become the lingua franca in the area, and the school’s aim is to preserve the Mayan culture and heritage while giving the students the tools to be integrated in the modern Guatemalan world. As I showed my photos to Martin and Stephen they recognized a few of the sights from their childhood- the churchyard where they played soccer, the marketplace, and the shambled docks on the lakefront.
On my journey home, my bags brimming with samples of green coffee to cup with Martin, I was again struck by the connection we have to the people a half a world away that nurture a seed from the earth that eventually becomes the cup of coffee that creates the community we enjoy at Kean. All the toil, the planning, the relationships we develop serve the village we’ve created in the heart of Orange County, and most importantly- in our hearts.
The steep, rugged Haraaz Mountains of Northwestern Yemen are a world apart from the rest of the country. The terrain is dramatic, wild, rocky, and often inaccessible.The area has resisted the modern world and in the hinterlands one can still feel the pulse of medieval times. Ancient fortified hilltop villages of stone houses cling to the steep slopes, creating a near bibilical panorama.
Rocky mountain slopes are carved with ingenious centuries-old stone terraces to preserve the scarce soil and precious rain in this dry region, in order to grow coffee.
Approximately 500 families, living throughout the region, continue an unchanged tradition of coffee farming that goes back well over a thousand years.
Yemen is the origin of Coffea Arabica, which derives its name from Qahwa Arabiyah. For centuries, Yemen was the world’s only source of coffee which was exported from the Port of Al Makha and when permanently lent the name “Mocha” to the coffee of Yemen origin.
A FAIRLY TRADED AND ORGANIC COFFEE
The small holder farmers that grow the Yemen Haraazi Supreme that we are offering for 2011 are being rewarded for their coffee quality and efforts with a fair price. They are also getting agronomic and technical assistance to support the production of quality. These efforts and the fair prices are also supporting new wells, water treatment facilities, access to health care, and education in these communities.
Though not certified, this coffee is 100% organic. Coffee farming in Haraz is organic by default because there is no convenient availability of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The coffee is farmed in traditional ways that have been practiced for hundreds of years – all by hand. This is in part why the coffee is so unique.