FEATURE COFFEE

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Luis Valdés (Wilco) during picking season

Luis Valdés (Wilco) during picking season

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The nursery, where new coffee seedlings are grown under shade.

The nursery, where new coffee seedlings are grown under shade.

Packed and ready to be shipped

Packed and ready to be shipped

Guatemala - Santa isabel

IMPORTER:
MCM

COUNTRY:
Guatemala

STATE:
Alta Verapaz

REGION:
Coban

TOWN:
San Cristobal Verapaz

ALTITUDE:
1400-1600masl

VARIETY:
Caturra and Catuai

PROCESS:
Fully Washed

PRODUCER:
The Valdés Family

TASTE NOTES: 
Fruity and floral with a soft buttery mouthfeel.  Notes of apricots, butterscotch and orange blossom.
 
DESCRIPTION: 
Santa Isabel is located near the town of San Cristóbal Verapaz – in the Veracruz region of Coban.  An area with remarkable mountains, a cool climate with plenty of rainfall as well as dense rainforest and impressive flora.  The 300-hectare farm sits at an altitude of 1,400–1,600m above sea level. 

The farm is a family business that was founded in 1875 when the land was granted to the Valdés family by Guatemala’s President. The coffee is in fact produced by the fourth and fifth generations of the Valdés family. Today the farm is owned by Luis Valdés, who has been running the farm since 1961.  However, the day to day running and management is undertaken by his son, also called Luis, (or, to his friends and family, “Wicho”). Wicho lives on the farm with his wife and three children. 
  
Wicho grew up watching his dad on the farm and fell in love with coffee from a very young age. After school, he went on to study agriculture, before returning to take over the management of Santa Isabel. Wicho and his family have a huge passion and love for the farm, which is evident as soon as you meet them.  They take their environmental responsibility very seriously. One-third of the farm’s 300 hectares is dedicated to a natural forest reserve, which they grow cedar, pine and mahogany trees.  This helps protect natural water resources and encourage biodiversity, providing a habitat for deer, birds and squirrels.  Macadamia nut trees on the farm, which is harvested, roasted and sold. 
 
The remaining 200 hectares of the farm at Santa Isabel is dedicated to coffee production. The plantation is made of 80% Caturra and 20% Catuaí variety trees. Wicho adopts a 3 year/3 row approach to pruning, to optimise ventilation and light (and reducing excess humidity).  It helps minimises fungal disease, including leaf rust and in turn the need for chemical applications. Inga trees are planted throughout the plantation to provide shade for the coffee trees and help enrich the soil by providing a healthy cover of foliage. Furthermore, frequent application of lombri compost, the by-products of wet-processing, has enabled them to reduce their applications of chemical fertilisers by more than 15%. 
   
A nursery is located on the farm, where new coffee seedlings are grown under shade using polyurethane bags. The farm has a weather station (funded by ANACAFE) on the plantation which helps Wilco manage the farm better by determining the best timing for applications such as fertilisation, pruning etc. 
The annual precipitation at Santa Isabel is around 3,500mm, with regular rainfall for 9-10 months of the year. With constant rain, much of it a gentle drizzle means that flowering is very staggered.  The trees produce eight to nine flowerings a year, between April and June. This results in a long harvest period which runs from November through to April. Due to the fact that the coffee ripens at different stages, Wicho instructs at least 10 passes, with breaks of up to 14 days between passes, for picking.  This ensures that only the very ripest cherries are selected. 
 
Wicho employs and trains over 40 permanent workers throughout the year, and 500 temporary workers during the harvest period.  Workers travel up to 20 miles away to work on the farm.  Many farmers in the region find it increasingly difficult to secure labour for the entirety of the harvest.  Santa Isabel has a stable and reliable workforce, despite their reputation for being very demanding with regards to selective picking. In addition to paying fairly, a picker at Santa Isabel can harvest up to 160 pounds of cherry a day, which is a high yield.  Workers are paid per pound, meaning that many of the same workers come back year after year. 

After picking, the red cherries are transported by foot or tractor to Santa Isabel’s wet mill where they are pulped immediately and then fermented for up to 48 hours. After fermentation, the coffee in parchment is soaked in clean water for 24 hours. It is then dried in the sun for 7-10 days until it reaches 30% humidity and then transferred to a greenhouse for a further 15–30 days to dry in full on raised beds. 
 

*Images taken by MCM

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Coffee Nursery

Coffee Nursery

Mausi and patio dried coffee beans

Mausi and patio dried coffee beans

Wet Mill

Wet Mill

Coffee Processing Machinery

Coffee Processing Machinery

Nicaragua-La hammonia, Selva Negra

IMPORTER:
First Crop

COUNTRY:
Nicaragua

REGION:
Matagalpa

FARM:
La Hammonia - Selva Negra

ALTITUDE:
1200-1400 masl

VARIETY:
Caturra and Catuai

PROCESS:
Washed and Patio dried

PRODUCER:
The Kühl Family
 
TASTE NOTES: 
Peach, toffee, floral with a buttery mouthfeel.

 
DESCRIPTION: 
 In the late 1800s, German families immigrated to the New World in search of better lives and livelihoods. On their way north to try their luck in California’s gold rush, they paused in Nicaragua and fell in love. So they stayed. And some of them planted coffee.

In 1974, Eddy and Mausi Kühl, both descendants of German immigrants, brought one of those coffee farms. They refurbished the La Hammonia farm and made it totally diversified and sustainable in less than a decade. They have preserved a third of the property as virgin forest, another third as shade coffee forest, and the last third as intensive rotational pastures for cattle and organic farming.

Selva Negra encompasses not only the farm but the lodge, restaurant and facilities.  The coffee in La Hammonia has 12 separate lots, each lot is separated by varietal that is uniquely divided into elevations ranging from 1200- 1400 masl.  The lots are shade grown and the trees are fertilized with organic fertilizer made on the farm, La Hammonia is certified organic.

The cherries are picked and then taken to the wet mill on the farm, where the coffee is processed using water from the mountain. Fermentation is 12 hours in the mucilage.  A second wash is applied before being moved to the covered drying beds. The lots are harvested individually, cupped and then blended so there is traceability of lot volumes and cup profile from season to season. Once the coffee is dry it is moved to the dry mill on the farm where it is processed and packed.  There's a nursery on the farm which is used for new tree planting, they are currently replanting 50 hectares at a time as some of the trees are over 65 years old. They are also growing and experimenting with a new variety called Marsellaza – an improved Catimor variety.

Along with growing coffee, Selva Negra has developed into a completely self-sustaining eco village.  There is a vegetable garden which provides vegetables for the restaurant, a farm of pigs, cows and chickens for meat and eggs.  There is also a bakery and a cheese making factory.  The power is generated by solar panels around the farm and on the roofs.  Methane gas is produced for cooking by using the wastewater from coffee processing.  The farm itself produces everything needed an everything has 2-3 uses.  For the workers, there is a village on the farm with housing, a school for the children, a medical clinic and a baseball diamond (baseball is the number one sport in Nicaragua), and they have their own team competing in the national competition.  The workers have power, running water and satellite tv.  They are charged $1 per year for rent so that they have legal tenancy leases. The restaurant and lodge on the farm provide a pathway for pickers to learn new skills and undertake new employment in the off season, the manager of the restaurant herself started out as a coffee picker on the farm. 

There is a huge amount of history around Selva Negra, there are walks in the forest where you may encounter ancient relics and buildings and also wildlife.  There is a family spirit driving this enterprise, that makes it a very special place.  It’s an incredible farm to visit for the experience of seeing what can be achieved with an open mind and a true goal of sustainability.  

If you want to know more about the La Hammonia farm, visit the website below: 

http://www.selvanegra.com/en/

*Photos courtesy of Tony Strickett (First Crop) and selva negra website

 

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Fernando Alfaro, owner and manager of El Carmen

Fernando Alfaro, owner and manager of El Carmen

The picked cherries are transported on the same day to the El Carmen mill where they are processed.

The picked cherries are transported on the same day to the El Carmen mill where they are processed.

The coffee are dried on meticulously clean patios and are initially turned every 20-25 minutes to ensure uniform drying.

The coffee are dried on meticulously clean patios and are initially turned every 20-25 minutes to ensure uniform drying.

El Salvador - el carmen

IMPORTER:
MCM

COUNTRY:
El Salvador

STATE:
Alta Verapaz

REGION:
Apaneca-Illamatepec, Ahuachapan

TOWN:
Ataco

ALTITUDE:
1300masl

VARIETY:
Bourbon

PROCESS:
Yellow Honey

PRODUCER:
The Alfaro Family

TASTE NOTES: 

 
DESCRIPTION: 
El Carmen Estate is located at 1,300m above sea level in El Salvador’s Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range, one of Central America’s prime specialty coffee producing areas. The estate has been owned by the Alfaro family for over a century.

El Carmen estate was founded in the middle of the 19th century when Antonio José Alfaro acquired a plot of land near the village of Ataco, meaning ‘Site of Elevated Springs’ in the indigenous Nahuatl language, and started to produce coffee. His son, Agustin Alfaro, founder of the Salvadoran National Coffee Company, followed in his father’s footsteps and established El Carmen as one of El Salvador’s leading exporters. His efforts were continued by Antonio Alfaro, head of the third generation of this coffee family and are carried through today by Fernando Alfaro, the fourth generation of his family to farm coffee.

El Carmen lies in the heart of El Salvador’s main ‘protected highway’ of forest, a part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor System that stretches all the way from Mexico down to Panama. In El Salvador, where more than 80% of the country’s coffee is produced under shade, this eco-system is based mainly in the coffee forest. For this reason, coffee farms such as El Carmen play a vital role as a sanctuary for hundreds of the migratory and native bird species found in this part of the world.

The high quality of El Carmen is due to the estate’s prime growing conditions and the family’s meticulous approach to harvesting and processing. The family place great emphasis on maintaining the identity of each lot from the moment its coffee cherries are harvested until the point when the green beans are ready for export. The estate’s coffee is produced under approximately 60% shade cover, which helps protect the coffee from the sun and ensures the coffee ripens slowly and evenly. Prior to the rainy season, shade trees are then pruned to about 40% shade to allow the access of light necessary for new foliage growth.

The Alfaro family manage the processing of El Carmen with scrupulous attention to detail. The red and orange (also known as pink) Bourbon cherries are hand-picked only when perfectly ripe and delivered on the same day to the El Carmen mill. When preparing the Honey process, the cherries are pulped, upon arrival, using no water and transferred directly through silos to meticulously clean patios. On the patios they are initially turned every 20-25 minutes to ensure uniform drying. The high altitude of the mill helps the coffee dry slowly, usually over 20 days. Using no water to depulp or move the coffee guarantees that all the mucilage is left on the coffee bean and when drying gives a special fruit driven flavour and characteristic to the coffee.

Once dry, the coffee is stored in parchment in wooden silos to protect the freshness of each individual bean, left to ‘rest’ for a minimum of 60 days under controlled conditions to reach uniform humidity. The lots are consistently cupped whilst in storage. Once ready, the beans are prepared and screened to uniform size for export to us.

*Images taken by MCM

Ricardo Ariz

Ricardo Ariz

Luciano Carranza has worked at El Aguila for 50 years. He is 80 years old!

Luciano Carranza has worked at El Aguila for 50 years. He is 80 years old!

Antonio, El Aguila’s Farm Manager trains the pickers only to select the very ripest cherries

Antonio, El Aguila’s Farm Manager trains the pickers only to select the very ripest cherries

After the cherries get pulped and fermented, it gets washed and dried on patios in the sun for 16 days.

After the cherries get pulped and fermented, it gets washed and dried on patios in the sun for 16 days.

El Salvador - El Aguila

IMPORTER:
MCM

COUNTRY:
El Salvador

REGION:
Santa Ana

TOWN:
Chalchuapa

ALTITUDE:
1500 masl

VARIETY:
Bourbon

PROCESS:
Washed

PRODUCER:
Aziz Family
 
TASTE NOTES: 
Balanced and fruity with caramel sweetness, blackcurrant and winey acidity. Soft mouthfeel with notes of plum, dark chocolate and yellow peach. 
 
DESCRIPTION: 
 
Finca El Aguila (‘the Eagle’) is located at 1500m – 1720 above sea level nestled between the La Ranas and El Aguila volcanoes near the town of Cantón Ojo de Agua, a municipality of Chalchuapa in the Santa Ana department of El Salvador. 


The farm 63 hectares in size, 44 of which are planted with coffee with the rest dedicated to a natural reserve.  It has the perfect conditions to produce exceptional coffee, with high altitude, rich volcanic soil, plenty of rainfall and temperatures of 18 – 24 degrees Celsius. 


Today, the farm is run by the fifth generation coffee farmer, Ricardo Ariz. Ricardo only recently took over the farm and is relatively new to coffee. He has fond memories of being at El Aguila from an early age with his grandfather, Miguel Angelo, a passionate and curious farmer. Ricardo’s grandfather passed away in the late 60s, and Mauricio, Ricardo’s father, took over the farm. He was very young at the time, having just finished college. Mauricio managed the farm for 15 years until 1980. At this time the Civil War erupted in El Salvador, and the country saw extreme violence for next 12 years. During ‘The Lost Decade’, the farm was practically abandoned. Mauricio and his family moved to the States, and the farm was managed at arm's length via engineers who visited the farm 4-5 times a year. 

In the 1990s, when the Civil war ended, the Ariz family started to recoup the farm and hired people to manage the farm on a daily basis. However, the farm's remoteness and inaccessibility made this difficult. It was not until 2010, after the passing of Ricardo’s 88-year-old grandmother, that the family decided to actively invest and manage the property. 
It was at this time that Mauricio (who had built up a successful business in the US and had no intention of returning to El Salvador) approached Ricardo to run the farm. Ricardo, who has a Masters in Economics and Finance had spent most of his adult life in venture capital.

Since taking over the management of El Aguila, Ricardo has surrounded himself with a strong team of experts who have helped him ensure that they engage with the best possible farming practices on the farm.  He now has a team of 7 full-time employees, including a full-time agronomist. He also employs 60 pickers during the harvest.  In addition to employing local community members on the farm, the Ariz family also supports the Ojo de Agua community with workers and materials to maintain two access roads, as well as providing a water supply to the community from their water reservoirs. Hopefully, in the future, they will be able to facilitate access to electricity for this community as well. 


Ricardo’s staff have helped him build an inventory of what is growing on the farm. In total, they have discovered 7 unique varieties which have been gradually separated and tested for both cup quality, resilience and yield. Of the 7 they have found 3 that are commercially viable – (I.e. they cup well and produce enough coffee). In addition to these varieties, the plantation has mainly Bourbon planted throughout it (around 80% of the plantation), and some small plots of SL28, SL34, Pacamara, Yellow Caturra and Geisha. Ricardo and his team are now working out the best places of the farm to plant each variety so that it thrives. 
Annually, Ricardo and his team plant around 8500 trees per year. Trial and error have seen them gradually find the optimal places to grow each variety and armed with this knowledge, Ricardo is gradually mapping out a long term plan for the farm. Planting new varieties has become a priority, especially those that appear to be unique to the farm. 


Ricardo admits that the quality of El Aguila’s cup is largely due to the unique microclimate of the farm.  Ingas and Copalchi trees have been planted to provide share and protect the coffee trees from direct harsh sunlight during the peak of the harvest. Fertilisation is only performed after careful soil analysis by the farm's agronomist, and weed control is performed manually to avoid the use of herbicides. Other practices on the farm include erosion control using vegetative barriers, and the composting of pruned branches to create more organic matter for the farm. 


This particular lot purchased from Ricardo is 100% Bourbon. It was carefully handpicked under the supervision of the farm’s manager, Antonio, who ensured only the very ripest cherries were selected. It was then delivered to the mill at El Carmen, where it was pulped and fermented for 18 hours and then washed and dried on patios in the sun for 16 days.

*Images taken by MCM