Beneficio Valle de Eskoll
Hi there everyone,
Guatemala is a place that's near and dear to my heart, and I just got back from my second trip there as a part of the Huckleberry family. I lived on Lake Atitlán for the better part of a year in 2010-2011, and it's always great to see old friends, see new views of a landscape I love, and learn more each time I go back.
2017 will be the third year we've sourced coffee from the AProCafé el Grano growers association, and if you count a year before the group split off from a larger organization, I think we can safely call it four. While I had a chance to try other great coffees on the trip, one of which may make it to our offerings this year, I'd say this trip was less about sourcing new coffees than it was about digging in with AProCafé.
I started out the trip cupping some new coffees with the good folks at Truth Trading Company, a relatively new export outfit that primarily works with growers from the Antigua and Acatenango regions. As these growers are a bit more established, a bit better connected to the US specialty coffee industry, and can assume a bit more risk due to firmer financial standing, we were able to taste through several lots with experimental processes and variety separation, including what will probably be our first single origin honey-processed coffee from Finca Monte de Oro.
Day 2 was a day of cupping, talking business, and traveling with El Grano. El Grano is a group that helps the growers of AProCafe market their coffee to US roasters, and provides AProCafé key pre-financing that allows the association to pay farmers full market rates at the time that they hand in their coffee cherry. AProCafé then redistributes its premiums (the above market rates we and other roasters pay for organic certification and quality, among other considerations) at the end of harvest, after costs are taken into consideration. Many cooperatives with less robust pre-financing can only pay their growers a below-market rate when they hand in cherry. So smaller producers are often faced with a difficult choice: hand in cherry to the coop at sub-market rates and hope the premiums are worth the wait, or sell their coffee to an intermediary known as a coyote who pays higher in the moment, but won't distribute any premiums collected when the coffee is milled and exported. Thanks to El Grano, AproCafé farmers are able to earn more during the harvest, and still collect premiums afterwards.
Anyways, cupping. On Tuesday I tasted familiar coffees from Manuel Tzic Saso, Lucinda Puac Perez, and Pedro Trejo alongside Antonio, Oscar, and Jose from ExportCafe, an exporter who works hand in hand with El Grano. The cuppers at ExportCafe - and other exporters - are unsung rockstars of the coffee industry. Personally, I feel worn out when I have to cup more than 30 coffees in a day, and most of what I taste is high-quality, specialty coffee. These guys cup an average of 150 and up to 250 samples per day in harvest, from all wavelengths of the quality spectrum. Export cuppers play a huge role in getting good coffee into our roasting room and into your cup, keeping my tasting list relatively short, and letting me choose between just the good and the better.
After a discussion with Carlos Rustrian and Inginiero Anolo Moralez at El Grano about how we'll ship our coffees to the US this year and how we can better work with AProCafé, it was off to the lake. I've mostly traveled by chicken bus in Guatemala (basically an old US schoolbus, with a few extra rows of seats crammed in), so it felt like a luxury to get a ride to the lake from Carlos Rustrian. Rather than a 5 hour trip without breaks, thinking about whether my bag was still where I put it or how much I already needed to go to the bathroom with 3 hours to go, it was nice to be able to relax, take in the views, and spend the trip talking to Carlos about coffee, AProCafé, and Guatemala in general. I don't want to get used to that level of luxury for next trip, but I certainly didn't mind.
That afternoon Carlos dropped me off in Panajachel, where I hopped on a boat called a lancha to get across Lake Atitlán and spend the next 4 days with AProCafé. More on the coffee fields coming soon.