Fresh crop Guatemalan coffees are in the house, including this month’s featured microlot from La Cumbre in Huehuetenango. To celebrate, we’re taking a look back at our sourcing trip in February and March of this year. I’d been to Guatemala for the first time less than a year earlier for the Cup of Excellence and was excited to get back during peak season to observe the harvest, better understand the supply chain, cup some fresh coffees—and of course to catch up with old friends and partners and meet some potential new ones.
I arrived and immediately headed out to Acatenago to visit Anabella Meneses at Santa Felisa. Only a couple hours from Guatemala City, Acatenango town sits in the shadow of the Acatenango volcano and is known to produce excellent quality coffees in its nutrient-rich soils and unique microclimates. Established in 1904, Anabella and her brother Antonio represent the fourth generation of coffee growers at Santa Felisa and they have changed the game considerably during their time with the reins. With over 30 cultivars, excellent plant genetics, and state-of-the-art processing techniques, Anabella has elevated Santa Felisa’s reputation for rare and unique nanolots, and a yearly auction for their top coffees often fetches record prices. They have won numerous international awards, including eight top-20 finishes in the Cup of Excellence dating back to 2016.
But aside from producing some of the world’s best coffees, what really stands out when visiting Anabella and her team is their true love, compassion, and concern for their community. They have established and supported numerous social programs over the years with a particular focus on caring for the children of coffee workers through improved housing, education, and daycare. Over lunch, Anabella told me the story of a well-known coffee roaster from Asia who came to visit the farm and was surprised by the modest facilities and infrastructure. “You produce some of the highest quality and most expensive coffees in the world. I expected a palace,” he said. Her reply was simply that they put every extra penny back into the farming operations and community programs, and there isn’t a whole lot left for luxuries.
It’s difficult to write about this type of thing without appearing self-important or feeling like you may be exploiting poverty in order to market coffee, but the conversations I had with Anabella about the state of her community—and especially the impacts of the last few years—were genuine, honest, and frankly heartbreaking. She admitted that her work as a coffee producer is often more frustrating than rewarding because there is never enough money or time to do all the things she wants to do for both the farm and the community, and that progress, on many fronts, is often slower than she would like. Her main objective now, she says, is to re-open the daycare that they were forced to close during covid and make sure that the workers on the farm have proper supervision and education for their children during the work day.
After a wonderful morning touring the coffee fields, visiting with Anabella’s team, and getting a general feel for the property—Santa Felisa encompasses three farms: Santa Felisa, El Paraxaj, and Los Jutes—we headed back to the lab for an incredible cupping. Since it was early in the harvest, some of the coffees still tasted a little “fresh,” and the best lots were yet to come, but the wide variety of cultivars and processes, including a natural Pacamara that I can’t stop thinking about, served as an excellent snapshot of the state of the harvest and surely a preview of some of the special nanolots that Anabella will feature in this year’s 13th Edition of Santa Felisa’s Reserva Especial Auction. We will host a preview cupping of these coffees here at Little City on Thursday, May 24 at 11:00 am. For more information and to RSVP, click here.
After Santa Felisa I had a lovely day off in Antigua where I was able to connect with some old coffee friends and meet quite a few new ones. Conveniently located near Guatemala City and in the heart of the central coffee growing regions, the colonial tourist town is packed with industry types during the harvest, and running into someone you know from the coffee business is not only common this time of year, it’s inevitable.
Next it was time to head up to Huehuetenango, the origin of some of our favorite Guatemalan coffees and a region world-famous for its remarkably sweet, bright, and clean coffees. We’ve carried some coffees from Huehue in the past, but this was my first time visiting. Organized by the awesome team from Primavera Green Coffee and their in-country wing, La Central de Cafe, we met at the airport early and boarded a twin engine prop plane for a memorable sunrise flight to Huehue City. For the aviation geeks who must know, it was a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, and I loved every minute of the low altitude flight, the incredible mountain views from the tall windows, and the unobstructed view into the doorless cockpit. Some of the more anxious flyers were understandably less enthusiastic about the experience.
After arriving in Huehue City, we headed northwest to San Antonio Huista, our home base for the next few days. About 20 kilometers from the Mexican border and located centrally among some of Huehue’s key coffee towns like San Marcos, Jacalentenango, and La Libertad, San Antonio Huista is also home to La Central’s main bodega, or purchasing station, for the region. Typically, in Huehue coffees are washed and dried on the farm or at the producer’s home, and the pergamino, or parchment coffee, is delivered to the bodegas for evaluation and purchase.
Of the many visits that we packed into the next few days, among the most inspiring was Jovemcafe, a twenty-member women’s cooperative in the town of Com, where, in addition to producing high-quality coffees at over 2,000 meters, the group has constructed a large hen house to support their growing egg and fertilizer businesses, and they are working with Primavera and The Chain Collaborative to build a tree nursery to provide native forest trees to the community for the purpose of reforestation.
Another impressive operation we got to see was Cooperativa El Sendero, in Concepcion. Historically an agricultural savings and loan co-op, about half of Sendero’s 700 members are coffee farmers, and in the past few years their business has really started to take off. We got to tour their brand new warehouse, opened just a month earlier, where they will have plenty of room to receive and store all of their members’ coffees during the harvest, a big change from previous years when they had to rent extra space or store coffee in members’ homes.
They’ve also built a new lab and are investing in training for some of their members to become roasters and cuppers. This will empower the co-op to evaluate their coffees in-house and rely less on third-party interests to determine their quality and value. Additionally, they purchased a roaster and packaging equipment and will start a line of roasted coffees, which will provide a high-margin income stream and another outlet for members to market and sell their coffees.This kind of vertical integration is becoming more common at origin, which is inspiring as it represents a shift in equity toward coffee farmers and their communities, a side of the chain that has historically shared a disproportionately low return given their hard work and importance.
The next day we visited Rosendo Domingo and his family at their home in Petatan. This is our second year buying their coffee but the first time visiting, and it was such a pleasure to meet them and get to see their impressive family operation in action. Rosendo primarily handles the field work (planting, harvesting, crop management, etc.) and the marketing and sales of the final product while his three sisters oversee the post-harvest washing and drying of the coffees. Each sister is responsible for processing the coffees of a different parcela, or plot, including Lupe, who handles the coffees arriving from their highest parcela, the origin of our featured microlot, La Cumbre. You can read much more about Rosendo, his family, and their amazing coffees in our May Featured Coffees Blog.
On our final morning in Huehue we learned that there was a regional cupping competition happening in San Antonio, put on by METIC (Mesa Técnica Institucional del Café), a trade group made up of eight cooperatives and associations in the area, and that we were invited to judge that day’s cupping. We evaluated 20 coffees, which were chosen from an initial group of 54 entries and in this round would be narrowed down to the top five before the final round, which would unfortunately take place after we were gone. This was a welcome surprise on our way out of town and an amazing opportunity to taste the current state of the area’s harvest and get to know a few more of the farmers responsible for producing some of Guatemala’s best coffees. I’m not sure who the ultimate winners or intended buyers for these coffees were, but I have requested to learn more and perhaps participate in the competition again next year.