By Stephanie Ratanas
Here is a brief account of Dogwood's first trip to Huehuetenango, Guatemala. We are extremely excited to offer some of the amazing coffee we cupped from farms we visited this year!
After driving across the border from a few days in Santa Ana, El Salvador, our first stop was Guatemala City and Anacafé. Anacafé is the Guatemalan National Coffee Association, which represents about 90,000 producers. When we arrived in Guatemala City at their offices, we took a tour of their offices, coffee school and lab.
The coffee school at Anacafé was pretty awesome. In addition to having several different types of espresso machines and basically every kind of brewing device I've ever heard of, they also had three small roasters set up. The school offers SCAA barista certification classes, as and now, Roasters Guild certification classes as well.
The lab at Anacafé analyzed soil in great detail, as well as studied plant disease, insect damage, fertilization, and a slew of other factors that affect the growth and vitality of the coffee plant. The kinds of things the biologist at the lab was talking about were way beyond my understanding, another reminder of how little so many of us know about the great complexity of coffee.
Anacafé's cupping lab was large and featured several cupping tables, eight Probat sample roaster barrels, and a Probatino. In addition to cupping samples for quality control and research, the cuppers also are able to provide feedback to producers on their coffees, as well as hold cupping classes centered around both quality and understanding defects.
We piled into a van after our tour of Anacafé, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sipped on juice boxes as we started on the long drive to Huehuetenango. I was warned of this long and winding yet beautiful drive from Dan Anderson (one of Dogwood's owners) who visited the Palacios family of Cafe Palmira two years ago. Much of our drive was along the Pan-American highway, which stretches from Alaska to the bottom of Argentina. We saw a good amount of bikers along the way, and Edwin Martinez Sr. (of Finca Vista Hermosa, our gracious hosts) told us stories about the community of people who bike the highway, and how they communicate about great places to eat and sleep along the route. Edwin is quite a biker himself, and it was inspiring to hear these stories--it made me want to experience biking the route myself, then I remembered how lazy of a biker I've become since I got a car three years ago. Maybe sometime far in the future....
As we drove Eddy (Edwin Martinez Jr.) talked a bit about the history of coffee in Huehue, as well as the vastness of coffee in the region. Nearly everyone in Huehue does coffee in some capacity,which was made evident by the coffee drying we saw everywhere: from large patios to small tarps with just a few pounds of pergamino. We stopped at a gas station to fill up and someone was raking coffee drying on a patio there. Amazing.
It was getting dark, but we stopped to tour a dry mill before heading to the house. We walked through all the equipment, talked about the purpose of each. As he stood under the hopper that filled jute bags with the final green coffee product, Edwin recounted how he was there, and filled many of the bags the first year the family sold coffee separately as Finca Vista Hermosa, making sure everything was perfect.
Our first night was spent at the Martinez house in Huehuetenango city. The house was amazing--extremely tall (apparently the tallest in the city), with staircases and rooms that went in all different directions. Below is a picture of the view from the very top of the house. We had a delicious dinner, and then spent some time with some producers that we wouldn't have time to visit in the coming days. They left some samples for us, which Jared and Ryan (of Caffe Ladro and Madcap, respectively) ran through the miniature dry mill on the top floor. The whirr of the mill and flickering lights eventually lulled me to sleep as they vibrated through the house.
The next morning we got up and headed out to visit farms. I'll just share some highlights from the next few days, and write more in depth about the farms and producers Dogwood has started relationships with and will offer coffees from at a later time.
Here is Edwin (Eddy) Martinez balancing on a concrete hopper for cherry at Las Aguas Altas, a farm that Madcap Coffee buys from. He talked a bit about processing, the Mendez family (thirteen brothers!) and how the coffee producing business works or doesn't in big families.
We spent the night at Finca Vista Hermosa, which translates to "Beautiful View", and is certainly accurate. Sitting on the porch of the house in January wearing a t-shirt overlooking the patios and the mountains behind was amazing; it was one of those times when I'm really confused as to why I would choose live in a city in Minnesota. I'm sure I'll remember when June rolls around.
If I can figure out how to photoshop Jared's arm out of this picture I will. He's apparently pointing at a giant spider but I couldn't see it. We stopped at Finca Las Rosas and Rolando Villatoro took us on a tour of his family's farm, which is named after the roses his mother loves so much (they're planted everywhere.) We walked through and ducked under the coffee trees, struggled up some steep hills and got separated a few times looking at many different varietals: bourbon (red and yellow), caturra, geisha, pacamara and more. I munched on a coffee cherry from each type of plant.
Driving around Huehue was pretty fun, it's definitely rugged, but totally a blast. We rode in the back of the truck, getting tossed around and attempting to snap pictures as we took in the beautiful mountains around us. One of the most amazing places we went was Finca Rosma (also one of the most amazing coffees we cupped that week). The mill is on an extremely slim ridge, it almost feels like it's balancing there. We parked up higher on the mountain and walked down to the mill, where they were finishing up a day of wet milling. The patios extended out to the edge of the ridge, and because space is such an issue there, they built additional patios that extended out of the side of the mountain, supported by long beams. Standing in the middle of the patios with the scent of cherry pulp lingering in the air, and the mountains I could see surrounding the ridge overwhelmed me. I had never been any place like it.
After a few more visits to other farms, we headed back to Huehuetenango City to spend the night and cup the samples we had gathered throughout the past few days. Jared, Ryan and Eddy had stayed up roasting the samples at Finca Vista Hermosa the night before on the little Quest roaster, partially finishing the drying process in the roaster as well since some of the samples we picked up were still far from finished with their patio drying.
We cupped on one of the the roof patios of the house, hands down one of the most scenic cupping environments of my career so far. Many of the coffees were delicious, and I'm excited to offer some of them at Dogwood later this year. I'm incredibly grateful to to Eddy of Onyx Coffee and his dad Edwin for hosting us, and I'm eager to return next harvest to continue the relationships we've started in Huehuetenango.
For more pictures from this trip, please visit our Facebook Page.