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Last Year's Sister Winter, This Year's Sister Winter, Next Year's Harvest

by Kevin N November 09, 2017

Last Year's Sister Winter, This Year's Sister Winter, Next Year's Harvest


Kevin here yet again getting nerdy about roasting and green coffee, though I hear there's a home brewing post coming up somewhere in the works!

Anyways, let's chat about Guatemala. Seems like we're always chatting about Guatemala, I know, but we're a small company, and AProCafé is one of our first and certainly our most developed relationship at origin. As we grow (and slowly carve out a bigger travel budget) we're looking to expand this type of relationship to other growers, but we intentionally decided to dig in hard with a tight focus first, make a real impact rather than just visit and take photos, and learn from our mistakes with a group of farmers we're lucky to also call friends.

Every year a portion of our Sister Winter blend goes back to those friends at AProCafé, and a good part of my visit in October was to spend some of those funds from last year for this coming harvest. It's kinda a strange thing to have 3 years worth of coffee rolling together at once: We're currently roasting 2016-2017 harvest coffee from AProCafé (see Don Pedro and Sister Winter), we're still distributing funds from 2015-2016 harvest coffee that we roasted last year, and we're using those funds to prep for the peak of the 2017-2018 harvest.

Some of Sister this year went to leaf rust treatments, some of those funds sent AProCafé's agronomic advisor Danilo Cholotio to the Specialty Coffee Association's Avance Conference in Guatemala City this fall. I was there to help the association build raised drying beds and talk about preparations this coming harvest.

Danilo Cholotio on one of the farms that makes up Familia Sosa, microlot #2 coming late November

Most farmers in Latin America, including AProCafé, dry their coffee on concrete patios. Most coffee farmers in Africa dry their coffee on raised beds, basically mesh nets, raised off the ground. I might be wrong about this, but it seems like the regional tendencies have as much to with custom as anything else, and there are pluses and minuses to both approaches. If you're trying to dry a lot of coffee during peak harvest, patios are efficient, absorbing the sun's heat to dry the coffee quickly. Raised beds, with airflow rather than absorbed heat, dry the coffee slower, but also more evenly. A plus to roasters and coffee drinkers is that this coffee tends to taste better for longer after harvest, and a plus to growers is that when harvest is over, you can move the beds and use that land for other crops, not just sunbathing and basketball, or more likely nothing, until the next harvest.

Peanuts right now, coffee beds in December.

We're not asking AProCafé to dry all their coffee on raised beds, but Danilo, cooperative head Pedro Isaias and several farmers are interested in improving quality, so we spent some time sourcing materials in San Pedro, built bed #1 at Pedro's house, then headed up the hill to build more beds with two of the more remote growers: Manuel Tzic Saso and Carlos Sabala. I got sunburned as all hell, Manuel told some very inappropriate jokes, and we nailed a lot of pieces of wood together. We built 10 beds to start, and Pedro's in charge of the rest between now and late December, when the good coffee starts rolling in.

Danilo, Carlos, Manuel, and Pedro ask: "How much coffee can we fit?"

We also spent some time pow-wowing about the harvest. How does under-ripe vs. ripe picking affect roasted coffee? How many beds will the growers need to dry how much coffee? Is there a better place to find materials? Will AProCafé do anything differently for this harvest? Where are we gonna dry mill (prep the coffee for export) this year, and can we get those single farmer microlots to ship sooner? How many beds will Huckleberry pay for, and how much are we going to pay for next year's coffee?

We don't need to bog down in the exact answers to all those questions, but here's the basics. After Avance and leaf rust, last year's Sister Winter funds will cover roughly 3/4 of the beds AProCafé will need to dry its single farm microlots and Huckleberry's main Atitlán el Grano for this harvest. We're factoring in the rest of those costs into that main lot price, and paying a bit more on top of it. Pedro gets to use us as a low-risk test mule to see if it's worthwhile to expand raised beds beyond Huckleberry's coffee next year, and he's promised us top tier selection, from only high altitude farms on days when the cherry picking is as red as it gets. As a result, we think that this next year's crop of Atitlán el Grano will be the best yet, and the growers have an opportunity to earn more without taking on huge financial risk.

So, that's how we use that $1/lb from Sister Winter. For the coffee we're roasting right now, I have a feeling we'll re-focus on leaf rust a bit more again after the end of this harvest, and there's a slight chance we might divert a tiny bit of those funds towards our friends at Long Miles in Burundi. We'll see though, a few months after we're done roasting this year's Sister Winter.

Tastes good, does good, get some.

Kevin N
Kevin N


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