Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Coffee Tour in The Highlands

I just love coffee! I like it medium roasted, freshly ground and freshly brewed or pressed, and absolutely black. What can I say? It is my first thing every morning and it has been that way probably forever. So, how could I resist to take us through a coffee tour in Huehuetenango? From the information I compiled about this region, I learned that Huehuetenango produces some of the finest coffees in Guatemala and that is what today's trip is going to be about.
On our way, at an altitude around 11,000 feet, which is too high for coffee cultivation, we are going to see some of the most typical scenes in The Highlands, sheeps and shepherds.
As you may have already noticed, Guatemala is as diverse in its landscape as it is in its culture and people. In this case, what captured my attention was this enormous rock on one side of the road from Huehue to Barillas, where we are going to make a stop at one of the Asobagri Co-op member-farms, Nueva Esperanza (new hope). The farms are organized around the small towns-villages, and each small group of farmers has his own plot of land but aids the others in cultivation and processing.
At this time of the year the coffee cherry is still green, but fairly well-developed in size. There are still blossoms on the branch, and as you can see this healthy cluster indicates good things for the next crop. But the cherry is on the branch so long (4-6 months) and so many things can go wrong! Drought, frost, hail... 
Here is a healthy tree of the traditional Arabica Bourbon Typica. It is not as handsome as newer varietals in terms of leaf color, etcetera, and is less productive in terms of coffee cherries per tree.
But you can see that a healthy tree in healthy organic soil can be very productive nonetheless!
The entire village of Nueva Esperanza is based around several generations of the same family, all coffee farmers and members of the fair trade co-op. With the outside aid of co-op representatives and the help of others in the village, they share organic farming information, improve their process, and they collectively mill the ripe cherry into parchment and dry it on their own patios.
Because coffee prices have been so poor (even though the co-op is organic and fair trade) some farmers also raise Cardamom, mostly for export to the middle east where it fetches high and stable prices. Cardamom is ground with coffee in making Ibrik or Turkish coffee.
The next farm that we are going to visit is El Injerto, a beautiful, large, traditional coffee farm in the town La Libertad. It is a third generation Finca, managed by the grandson of the original settler, who is a trained agronomist and makes every decision about the coffee farming and milling based on methodical testing, and with the benefit of newer coffee technology.
He uses his own wet-milling process that separates ferments and aqua-pulps (the mucilage) from the parchment coffee, patio dries and/or mechanically dries based on weather conditions, and has a complete dry-mill and bagging operation. The farm demands a lot from workers, but pays 50% more during harvest for each Quintal (Imperial hundredweight) of cherry picked!
For what I read, the multiple awards winner El Injerto is the most pristine and orderly coffee farm one can ever see. Every step of the process is perfected and in addition to that, they are serious about the use of vermiculture (worms) to improve composting of the coffee cherry fruit layer (skin and mucilage) after the coffee seed is removed.
Today's last stop will be at the farm Huixoc, which is an old family farm with an Hacienda, founded in 1911, some 20 years after El Injerto but still quite early for this region of Huehuetenango.
Huixoc, along with El Injerto, El Injertal, and other Asobagri coffees, has received awards for having one of the best Guatemalan coffees. Huixoc is located on a west-facing hillside adjacent to El Injertal, and like El Injerto has all its own milling and drying facilities on the premises.
It's hard to look at images of such a lush and diverse farmland and not to think that this is also a great bird and animal habitat. These farms are surrounded by pristine and uncultivated forests and the farmers who cultivate them, are more than ecologically sensitive because after all, they have been farming the same soil for 120 years, and want to continue to do so for many more generations to come. I think these farmers offer all of us  an ecological lesson, and inspire us to take better care of our Motherland!

Historia del Cafe en Guatemala (Spanish Edition) Coffee Bean Direct Guatemala Huehuetenango, Organic Fair Trade Whole Bean Coffee, 16-Ounce Bags (Pack of 3)

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