Chinacla is home to a couple as passionate, positive and enthusiastic about coffee as we have met on any of our travels: Marysabel Caballero and Moises Herrera. They have around 200 hectares of farmland, an impeccable wet mill, an organised and technically advanced dry mill and an enormous warehouse to store their product.
They recently upgraded from a Honduran-made Aguapulpa, which had a propensity to damage beans, to a Pinhalense Eco-Pulper. Whilst they do some small-scale preparations of rare varieties, the majority of their coffee is depulped and dry fermented overnight for 12-14 hours, before being washed, graded in channels and then soaked in clean water for a further 12 hours.
The Plot & Washing Station
In 2019, we visited several of the plots across their estate, including El Pantanal, which has been in their family since 1995. With Catuaí planted on around 20 hectares, the plot is protected by Colpachi windbreakers and pine trees. The pine can make the soil slightly acidic and so they apply limestone to act as a neutraliser.
Once the cherries are harvested, they depulp using their Pinhalense Eco-Pulper before the parchment is fermented for 12 hours. It is then washed and at the same time floaters and underdeveloped beans are removed in grading channels. Underdeveloped, broken or insect damaged beans are more prone to float due to their lower density, which in turn indicates that they aren't conducive to producing delicious cups of coffee. They're therefore removed at this stage, siphoned off into lower grade lots so as not to taint the core production.
After washing, the beans are soaked for about 12 hours in running clean water. Utilising equipment that we’ve never witnessed before, the wet coffee is then spun in a centrifuge to remove excess water before being laid out on patios for around 8 to 10 hours to initially drain before being dried on raised beds.
Employing 150-200 pickers during the peak of the harvest, Marysabel and Moises aim to hire the same people as much as possible each year. However, many workers are actually employed year-round, fulfilling tasks such as pruning, planting, removing old or sick trees and weeding so as not to have to use herbicides. This year-round support creates a stronger social bond between the Caballeros Estate and the community of Chinacla, with Marysabel explaining how being so interwoven with the local community means that they don’t require extra security to combat coffee theft – something that's seen on many other large farms and estates in Central America.
The Caballeros are extremely committed to the environmental sustainability of their farms. A lot of their energy and focus goes towards improving the soil of their farms to ensure a healthy growing environment for their coffee shrubs. Therefore, they produce organic fertilizer made from cow and chicken manure mixed with pulp from coffee cherries and other organic material. This is used in addition to some mineral fertilizer to ensure that the coffee plants get the nutrients they need. Oranges, avocados, flowers, bananas and other fruits are also grown at the farms, but mainly for the pickers to eat and to create biodiversity at the farms that ensures good growing conditions and shade for the coffee trees.
As Marysabel said to us “You can never get bored in coffee as there are always so many exciting projects to pursue and ways to improve”. We have to agree.