For some coffee we buy, a single smallholder producer is featured and separated as a single origin. For much of it, however, we rely on growers who often have less than a handful of hectares, and sometimes the land area is so small it is best calculated in producing trees. For our first fresh crop release from Guatemala for this past harvest, we headed to the area of San Jose Poaquil. This drive should be only 30 minutes or so, but most often it pushes 3 hours, thanks to the industrial traffic in Chimaltenango.
This coffee is an important part of the spring menu each year, and this is the earliest we've had virtue of landing this coffee for you. Mainly indigenous producers are in this area, and all are growing coffee alongside crops of blackberries, different hot peppers, and my favourite fruit of all time - Granadilla. In Vancouver, these orange orbs often look sad and bruised, and cost $5 at specialty grocers. Here, intercropped with Bourbon and Typica, they are abundant, and so juicy, the spongy white husk inside keeping each juicy seed protected and intact.
This area holds undeniable potential, with farms soaring above 2000 meters, just outside Antigua, where multi generational colonial plantations are the name of the game and the altitude doesn't get nearly that high. Our producer partners at Bella Vista process the cherry that is harvested daily and picked up by truck. It is kept separate and processed at the mill, separated into day lots. I asked Luis Pedro, who makes getting this coffee possible, if there was any thought around a project for fermentation tanks and drying beds out in this area. I asked this for a few reasons.
1. Quality can deteriorate FAST when cherry sits and fermentation is delayed.
2. When a smallholder farmer sells cherry, they receive a fraction of what the coffee ends up being worth when it is converted to exportable green coffee.
3. If producers began processing their own cherry, they would be able to be real players in the specialty coffee market, and we would be better able to sell their coffee individually and pay premiums that would reach those who are doing a great job with their coffee.
This seems so simple at first glance: just provide the tanks and the beds, right? But there's a bit of cultural sensitivity to work through. According to my talks with Lukas and other producers in the area, they really appreciate that we buy the coffee, and are genuinely surprised and excited by the fact that we visit, but ultimately, they see it as a crop, just like the granadilla and the blackberries. They see it as a commodity, but they are not to blame for thinking that way. It is simply culture and tradition at work. The way things always have been.
One way to break through the barrier, and begin inciting change, is to set up a model system to give the producers access to see how processing coffee is done - effectively creating curiosity and buy in. Luis Pedro expressed interest in doing this (though we aren't sure of the timeline just yet), and since he is already running a few farms with excellent attention to detail (including our San Juan), there is no better person to lead the charge. It's a great idea to ensure quality continues to increase, and for socio-economic reasons as well.
Our lot of Poaquil is sweet, clean, and full of apricot and stone fruit flavour. It's a great example from the area, and ushers in spring - it's finally here!