Heading back to Guatemala in February we made an amendment to our travel schedule to explore San Marcos for the first time, after cupping some really lovely lots from the region. We were humbled to connect with one of the producers behind this small lot.
The Region & The Farms
We visited Guatemala back in February and cupped through some really delicious lots from San Marcos with Caravela at their brand new facility in Mixco. We subsequently rejigged our itinerary to spend some time getting to know the region which is less familiar to us than Fraijanes and Huehuetenango, where we typically focus our purchasing. We drove through Xela (the local name for Quetzaltenango region) and stayed in San Pedro Sacatepéquez at around 2400m, before descending to the farms the following morning. Because of the cool climate in Xela and San Marcos they grow a lot of carrots, potatoes and broccoli, as well as spectacular coffee. The soil and climatic conditions in San Marcos are particularly great for the Bourbon coffee variety.
We breakfasted with the Orozco family, Bersael and his family welcoming us with tortillas and frijoles, before visiting several farms in the local area. Whilst unable to connect personally with Eduardo Orozco we did get to meet Don Francisco Javier Gonzalez and spend some time at his farm and grandchild’s house, where he processes his harvested coffee. His and Eduardo’s farms are near the border between San Marcos department and Xela near the small community of San Cristóbal Cucho, after which we’ve decided to name this dual effort from the pair.
Don Francisco is 85 years old and has worked with coffee for 65 of those years. He has some very old Bourbon trees which is tentative to prune too heavily due to great emotional attachment. Employing around 6 pickers during harvest time (a tricky task as a lot of the viable workforce have either emigrated to the US or are working on a local road being constructed) his coffee is depulped by hand and fermented under water in either a plastic-lined tank or in sealed plastic tubs. The water helps to regulate the temperature of the fermentation stage and after 36 hours the seeds are scrubbed and washed before being put to dry on rooftop patios on tarp.
Normally the sight of coffee drying on tarp is a little frightening, as it can be used to accelerate drying, leading to cell damage in the coffee seed resulting in a more rapid deterioration of positive flavours. However, the sunlight hours are so limited and temperatures so cool that the coffee won’t effectively dry without this help. It also means that when the fog begins to roll in around 2pm each day they can easily cover the coffee over to avoid it reabsorbing moisture. He turns the coffee over by hand rather than using a rake which helps to keep the parchment layer intact.
Travelling with Ana Sofia and Douglas, the PECA representative for the region, was very fulfilling and informative. Douglas seemed to be an inexhaustible fount of knowledge, dispensing advice on everything from pruning and fertiliser application (in particular what components to alter in the mix and when to apply them, describing what each mineral can achieve from aiding flowering to building sweetness) as well as assessing the ripeness and uniformity of cherry selections, the progress of different batches undergoing fermentation and ultimately how the coffee is being dried and stored. From the ‘La Leona’ coffees we cupped, which is Caravela’s umbrella term to describe the cup profile in the lots from San Marcos, we found lots of ripe yellow fruit, brown sugar sweetness and great balance and body.
We’re finding this lot to be somewhere between what we’ve experienced before from Fraijanes and Huehuetenango, and are really enjoying the results through our espresso machine across both black and milk drinks.
San Cristóbal Cucho, San Marcos, Guatemala
Comforting flavours of golden sultanas & muscovado sugar round out a clean, balanced cup. Top notes of yellow plums & cinnamon lead to a caramelly finish.