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A couple of weeks back, Howard was in Guatemala and El Salvador meeting producer friends old and new and generally having a great time tasting, exploring and talking with fascinating and engaging coffee producers.

A country with significant history in coffee, and regionally trademarked production regions. Guatemala has recovered well from the leaf rust (roya) outbreaks of 2011-13, returning to 3.4m bag total volume although evidence of the roya can still be witnessed. Speciality has made a big impression in the industry here. With good altitude & rainfall, suitable national infrastructure and with key differences in the growing regions, Guatemala is well suited to very high quality coffee production, although challenges remain.

Tuesday 23rd:

I travelled 220km north to the Coban region near the town of Pocola. It’s typically cooler & wetter than the south, which presents different challenges when growing quality coffee. The purpose of the visit was to see the Pocola school, part funded with sales of retail Guatemala Santa Paula Pocola Coffee. A classroom and the main secure store building have been built with our contributions, the school being within the farm grounds. The next project is to secure the perimeter fence so as to protect the building and resources before further investment.

I then travelled to the Santa Paula Farm, owned by our good friend Christian Schaps and his brother Oscar. We are the primary buyer of coffee from the farm and have been pleased with improvements in the quality of the last harvest. Large scale replanting, replacing Catimor plant stock with a mix of Caturra & San Francisco (a bourbon derivative) plus done experimental lots have aided cup profile & this was apparent long before our visit.

The farm has greenhouse covered drying on raised & layers beds. The goal here is to make use of warmer days and speed up the drying process to mimic outdoor drying, as to leave uncovered would mean excessively long drying time and risk of exposure to elements.

After a successful small trial of natural process coffees last year (out now on the webshop!), we have agreed to extend the selection for this coming crop (about halfway through picking at time of visit), and also have requested a small special lot in addition to this & the farm manager is excited to select for us – more on that later in the year……

Weds 24th:

A quick coffee in Guatemala City tour at Paradigma Cafe & Roastery run by Raul Rodas, WBC champion in 2012, then onward travel to El Salvador. I met with Mauricio Escalon of Cafescal, who I met last year and who’s La Esperanza coffee was used by Wojciech Tysler (Bewley’s Ireland) to finish 3rd in the Irish Barista Championship in February. Mauricio was of course delighted by this! We cupped several tables at his new lab at El Molino, some excellent coffees that we will try to secure.

Thursday 25th:

Visited one of Mauricio’s farms, where several very well scored coffees were cupped from this farm the previous day – this is also a farm with Cup of Excellence credentials. Located near the town of Ataco in Ahuachapán region, we walked the farm and discussed various & varied matters with Mauricio & Christian. Also briefly looked in on Finca Patagonia, which we visited last year. We agreed to meet again at SCAE and hope to give a tour of our Dublin Roastery in June.

Friday 26th:

Travelled back to Guatemala, Antigua to meet long-time friend of Bolling/Bewley’s Ricardo Zelaya and his daughter Katia at Finca Santa Clara. Supplier of outstanding coffee to us for 7+ years, an excellent day at the hugely impressive farm. Good altitude (1550-1880m) and shade management along with irrigation and then impressive processing facilities (including similar greenhouses to Santa Paula, but adapted to different climate), plus a new warehouse and extra colour sorting channels – showing continued investment to go along with the excellent natural characteristics of the farm. Unsurprisingly this is a farm with many successes in Cup of Excellence. We discussed some small experiments that will hopefully show dividend later this year – let’s see!

Saturday 27th:

Travelled the sort journey to Finca Filadelphia to a farm owned by the Dalton family. A fairly large farm by Guatemalan standards and with some impressive business diversification including tours, restaurant, hotel & hiking/outdoor pursuits.  Also an onsite roastery and wet & dry mill, I toured the farm up to the 1960m top coffee area. Hosted by our friend Marta, this is a farm like no other I have visited and the vision and aspiration of the development and diversification and openness should be applauded.

Sunday 28th:

Travelled to Acatanango to visit Herbert Perez’s farm El Libano, whose coffees I cupped & enjoyed last year. I walked farm & unfortunately saw some limited evidence of leaf rust, primarily caused by a neighbouring ill maintained farm, but with effort and planning, Mr Perez has managed to recover production & coffee is cupping very well again.

Returned to Filadelphia and took opportunity to visit the mill. Production expected to significantly increase in future due to new land acquisition.

Monday 29th:

An early cupping of various El Salvador & Guatemalan coffees at Filadelphia before setting off for airport.

Summary:

Coffee in Central America is at a crossroads. Cost of production, land value, security, leaf rust and environmental factors have affected production volumes & livelihoods. However, from this potential nadir is emerging a hugely dynamic loose association of progressive coffee growers whose experiments with varietals & agronomy are paying dividends in protecting or even boosting their individual production, and whose efforts to boost cup quality are yielding sustainable & progressive prices & the opportunity for re-investment. Chasing cup quality above all and they are the producers who are succeeding in showing that quality practices bring a progressive outcome in the long run.

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