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  • 01 Oct 2016

    Uncharted Territory, Guatemala 2016

    posted by Jamie Isetts

    View at Cortinas

    At Merit, we’re lucky to work with many producers whose reputations speaks for themselves. But for me as a buyer, the most exhilarating thing is covering uncharted territory: finding a delicious coffee that has never been isolated by its producer. Guatemala boasts dozens of well-networked, sophisticated estates that can offer the best quality in world. Robby and I made an extended trip to Guate this year with hopes of digging beyond the self-evident choices to find a brand new project with whom we could grow. This yielded Olayo and Colibrí, two coffees that showcase the contrast available in just one country. 

    Our key to finding these gems lies in our exporters. Specialty exporters are our “eyes on the ground.” They navigate the social and agricultural landscape of their origin every day, providing us with invaluable context. The exporter also plays a crucial role in the logistics of getting our purchases to us on time so that Merit can serve the coffee at its peak of flavor. We vetted several exporters during our trip. The winners not only gave us confidence, they led us to motivated farmers who have never had a direct roaster-producer relationship.

    Drying at Cortinas

    Hector Gonzalez – Caravela

    Caravela is a trusted import-export partner of ours across Latin America. Hector Gonzalez, an industry veteran in Guatemala and two-time World Cup Taster’s Champion, initiated the Caravela branch in Guatemala just weeks before our visit. Hector is hands on—he’s one part advisor, one part quality control. Most of the farms he works with are new to producing high-end specialty coffee, so obvious changes like building raised drying beds can take a farm’s coffee from great to amazing. He has the ability to sift out those farmers who welcome adaptation for the long-term reward. Through Hector, Merit will offer a lusciously fruity slow pour feature from Julio Olayo, a farmer in Sacatepequez who has never had the chance to export coffee under his own name.

    Great coffee folks at origin see the drink behind the bean. Hector takes this one step further: last fall, he opened roaster-retailer Café Divino in Guatemala City with former Guatemalan barista champion Teco Echeverria. Hector keeps a small QC lab in the back of the shop for Caravela. It’s extremely rare to see the full life cycle of specialty coffee acted out in one room: one employee milling parchment off of farm samples, Hector roasting and setting up cuppings, and Teco pulling espresso up to the standards of a US café. And we won’t lie, we loved having a great morning coffee before heading out to farm visits!

    Hector and Robby Cupping

    Paul Starry and Olga Ayau – Kofei
    The story of Kofei ties to the beginnings of Cup of Excellence in Guatemala. As an organizer for the first Guatemala CoE, Olga Ayau found that many winning farmers had no export outlet for their coffee. She teamed up with fourth generation coffee producer Paul Starry to create an export company known for its focus. Though Kofei mostly works with roasters in Japan and Korea, I had the pleasure of meeting with them to discuss a partnership with Merit. Paul and Olga were thrilled to show me their new milling operations with Beneficio Las Cruces, who had completely retrofitted their dry mill to Kofei’s specifications. Since micro lots require special equipment and extra time, only several mills in Guatemala City can process these small yields. This creates a bottleneck where every exporter of specialty coffee jockeys for a place in the milling schedule, sometimes delaying shipping by months. Las Cruces will mill exclusively coffee from Kofei and their on-site farm, meaning better quality and faster turnaround. Paul and Olga helped us find an outstanding offering from Finca El Colibrí in HueHueTenango. Our whole team is excited about this dual espresso-slow pour coffee with notes of grapefruit, pineapple, and milk chocolate.  

    — Jamie Isetts, Director of Green Coffee