Guatemala Origin Trip - Recap
Nothing compares to meeting in person with our direct trade partners, seeing the farms firsthand, and physically touching and smelling the coffee cherries, and being present in the midst of the operations!
We had the privilege of returning to origin in March to visit some of our Guatemalan Direct Trade Partners. Jacob, our coffee buyer, and Joe, our coffee trainer, visited five farms and a dry mill for over a week. Joe has been patiently waiting for this trip for the last three years! Back in 2019, we encouraged our staff to volunteer at community events around San Diego, and in return, the team member with the most volunteer hours won a trip to origin. Joe was set to go in March 2020, but unfortunately, the trip was canceled due to covid. So fast forward to March of 2023, and he was off!
Hear from Joe:
"I recently had the incredible opportunity to travel to Guatemala and see the entire coffee supply chain, from seed to cup. This being my first time going to origin, I was mesmerized by the country's beautiful landscape. The vast green hills, towering volcanoes, and bright blue skies made for quite the backdrop during my trip. This was a dream come true as someone who has always been passionate about coffee.
All in all, we visited five different farms that we have direct trade relationships with. As I hiked around each farm, I talked with the coffee producers about their different growing and processing methods. I learned about the different varieties of coffee grown there and the intricate process of coffee production. I was amazed by the level of care and attention that goes into every step, from planting the coffee trees to harvesting the cherries and processing the beans.
It's easy to overlook just how much work goes into each cup of coffee while we're enjoying it at our local cafe. Specialty coffee requires a large amount of dedicated individuals at every stage, ensuring the coffee provided is of the highest quality. It requires the farmers to carefully tend to the trees, the roasters to skillfully bring out the unique flavors of each bean, and the baristas to bring out the flavor profiles they worked so hard to achieve. Every person plays a special role in bringing this delicious beverage to our cup. It truly is a labor of love. This interconnectedness is what makes specialty coffee so exceptional. Seeing this firsthand at origin was humbling and empowering, knowing my place within the chain.
However, I also understood a growing challenge facing the industry. One of the biggest threats to specialty coffee's quality is a labor shortage. The specialty coffee industry relies heavily on manual labor. As pickers move to other countries and younger generations move away from farming communities, finding workers to tend to the crops becomes increasingly difficult. This labor shortage directly impacts the quality of coffee being produced. The flavor and quantity can suffer when there aren't enough hands to pick the coffee cherries at their peak ripeness.
My trip to Guatemala solidified what I've always known; coffee is more than just a drink. It represents a connection to one another. It's the culmination of hard work and dedication that goes into creating something truly remarkable. I was inspired to see each producer's commitment to making the best-tasting coffee, despite the obstacles they face. It reminds me that despite adversity, our shared goal is quality, waiting to be savored and appreciated by those willing to seek it out." -Joe, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters Trainer
Hear from Jacob:
"The opportunity to visit and connect with our producing partners at origin is always a highlight of the year. A crucial aspect of Bird Rock's Direct Trade model is to see the progress made at the farm level and to discuss future goals and the challenges that impede those goals. More than ever, the shrinking pool of workers available during the harvest has resulted in unpicked ripe coffee cherries left in the field, reducing the overall volume of dried exportable coffee produced. While this issue has been known for some time and incrementally becoming more of a problem each year, the pandemic has exacerbated it significantly. Seasonal workers are seeking better economic opportunities in cities and migrating out of the country, leaving producers struggling to harvest their coffee. It's a complex economic issue with no simple solution, and a problem that will need to be tackled by the global industry to ensure the long-term health and availability of Specialty Coffee." - Jacob, Q Grader, Quality Control, and Coffee Buyer
Our first farm visit brings us to Finca El Retiro in Chimaltenango, near the town of San Martìn. Owned by the Alburez-Ortega family since 1832, Fernando Diaz and his siblings took over the coffee production operations in 2020. Since then, volume has increased 40% with a clear uptick in cup quality. Located on an altiplano, or "high plain", El Retiro is unique in that the farm is relatively flat with soft rolling hills, despite being located 1,700 - 1,800 meters above sea level. Varieties grown here include Bourbon, Yellow Caturra, Pache, Cimmarona, and even Geisha.
Day two brings us to Finca Santa Ana in Santa Rosa, near the town of Pueblo Nuevo Viñas. Originally used for lumber production, the land was purchased by Fernando “Nando” Diaz’s father in 1983, and has been producing coffee ever since. Nando’s drive for innovation has resulted in the planting of new varieties on the farm including SL28 and Geisha, as well as dozens of processing experiments. One of the most successful of these experiments is the Pineapple Process, which involves using a starter of pulped pineapples to augment the microbial composition of the fermenting coffee seeds. About 10 pineapples are used per 69kg bag of green coffee!
Day 3 in Guatemala brings us to Servex, one of the two dry mills we work with in Guatemala. Dry mills serve a crucial function in the coffee supply chain and are responsible for the preparation of green coffee prior to exportation.
Started in 1997 by Roberto Batres, Servex has established a reputation for quality and dependability, resulting in their status of official miller for the Cup of Excellence in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017, and 2018.
Second-generation exporter Genaro Batres gave us a tour of the facility. Dried, unmilled coffee (referred to as “parchment”) is delivered to the mill from coffee farms. The coffee moves through a series of mechanical sorters that remove foreign debris then separates the coffee based on size and density and removes any defective seeds. The final product is then packaged and marked for export.
This crucial step in the journey of coffee from farm to cup can make or break the quality and clarity of flavors found in the final beverage.
Our fourth day and third farm visit brings us to Finca La Providencia in Huehuetenango. Nestled in the mountains near the town of San Pedro Necta, La Providencia is a stunning example of the natural beauty, resources, and superior cup quality that can be found in the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala.
Finca La Providencia has been in the Palacios family for three generations. Originally purchased by Javier Palacios in 1954, La Providencia is currently owned and managed by Javier’s grandson Maximiliano (Max) Palacios, who has worked on the farm since 1975.
The farm itself is 220 hectares large and spans an altitude of 1,350 to 1,950 meters above sea level. Coffee production begins at 1,550 meters above sea level and encompasses 180 hectares of the farm, focusing on Bourbon and Caturra varieties. This high altitude results in a slow maturation period for the coffee cherries, allowing sugars to develop and increasing complexity in the final cup!
Day 5 of our Guatemala origin trip took us further north into Huehuetenango to Finca La Bolsa, just 7 miles from the Guatemala-Mexico border. One of six farms under Vides 58's ownership, La Bolsa was founded in 1958 by Jorge Vides, the patriarch of the family.
Jorge’s passion was for health, and he practiced as a full-time traveling doctor making a significant impact on the region, eventually leading him to become the Director of the National Hospital of Huehuetenango.
After his passing in 1995, Jorge's daughter María Elena Vides and her son Renardo “Nayo” Ovalle Vides continued his legacy and created four community programs: the La Bolsa school, the La Bolsa day-care center, the Vides 58 Coffee School grant, and the Qawale (“partner” in Mayan) program initiative.
Day 6 and our final farm visit took us to Finca El Socorro, located near the town of Palencia in the Guatemala Department of the country.
El Socorro has been in Juan Diego de la Cerda’s family for generations. Under Juan Diego’s tenure, Finca El Socorro has become synonymous with Specialty Coffee in Guatemala. Having first won the Cup of Excellence in 2007, Juan Diego managed to do so a second time in 2011 and again in 2020 with his Geisha variety. During this time, Finca El Socorro has had consistently strong showings in the competition, often placing in the top five. If you’re drinking a cup from Finca El Socorro, you can be certain that you’re experiencing some of Guatemala's finest coffee.
In total, the farm is 700 hectares large, but only 175 hectares are reserved for coffee production, with the remainder dedicated as a nature reserve for migratory birds and regional species. The altitude ranges between 1540 - 1860 meters above sea level, making it ideal for growing dense, hard bean specialty coffee!
That concludes our 2023 Guatemala trip recap! We are so excited about the offerings we found and to share them with you next year. As you know (or may not know), like all fruits, coffee has seasons. At Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, our offerings follow the season. In general, Central American coffees are harvested in the spring, South American coffees in the fall, and African coffees in the winter. Although it can be sad when one’s favorite coffee is no longer in season, there’s always something new to look forward to.
Posted by Carrie-Saccone Simms on Apr 28th 2023