Farm Diaries: Guatemala January 2012

Our Director of Coffee, Byron Holcomb, recently got back from a relationship-building trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica. Here is Part One of his letters home.

So far this trip has gone smoothly like a waterslide lined in butter.

The weather has been perfect. The nights are cool and the mid day sun intense. The first day we spent our time cupping a couple different tables and visiting the a dry mill and one advanced farm. The dry mill has an impressive operation and incredible traceability once a coffee arrives to the mill. They set all lots to a bar code system. The coffees are cupped every two weeks to monitor the qualiy and look for defects. Then in the headquarters lab they are cupped again with only the bar code visible, then the coffee is judged and classified to fill basic stock grades: Extra Prime, Hard Bean, Strictly Hard Bean, Strictly Hard Bean Huehue and Robusta, just to name a few.

There is a bit of everything here: body driven coffees that are “cheap”, pointed bright coffees, pickers who barely speak Spanish because they are “Naturales” — a local word that refers to indigenous populations, beautifully painted “chicken buses” (old American school buses), really tasty meats, lots of guards everywhere with guns. Every single mill we visited has at least 12ft barbed wire fences, two or three armed guards who grill our drivers for info and names before they crack a smile. Why? because people steal coffee.

It is funny what happens when I read commodity reports that are saying, “Central America will ship late.” Then when I use my personal knowledge of farms and weather, I get different results – Central America should be early. And both Honduras and Guatemala are both about a month ahead of schedule. Humm… This is from the incredibly heavy rains this season. They accelerate the maturation of the cherries. I’ve lived it. It should also decrease the volume. Again the commodity reports said, volumes should be fine, maybe a touch low. And yet from what I hear and see it looks like the volumes will be greatly affected.

Today we left early and headed to the Santa Rosa area. The coffees were solid and they actually had a nice natural. The farm is massive. 700 hectares and all organic certified and Rainforest Alliance as well. When the Pacamara was blended with one of the better lots, it was incredibly balanced and delish.

I’m writing this in a truck on my way to La Tacita. Tomorrow we check out of the hotel at 3am for a 5am flight to Costa Rica. Night night.