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Hernan Perez from El Zapote farm in Guatemala

People

Finca El Zapote can be found high up in the mountains of Huehuetenango, on the border with Mexico near the small town of Aguas Dulces. The coffee from Hernan Pérez has been a steady contribution to the assortment from The Coffee Quest. Starting out as one of the first Guatemalan coffees imported in 2016, and now with both an Estate lot and price winning Geisha’s. 

Over time we have noticed a good consistency in quality, thanks to the high production standards, altitude, segmentation of varieties and the steady weather conditions high up in the mountains. After discussing our findings with Hernán Pérez we were able to set a profile with a signature farm blend for The Coffee Quest, combining the beans from his Catuai and Bourbon plot (sometimes adding some of his Caturra). This unique relationship with the Pérez Family helps us to find the blend that fits our customers.

El Zapote is a family story: they transmit at each generation the passion for coffee and the pride to grow better quality. Hernan is the fifth generation from the Perez family owning El Zapote. With his father, they share the managing tasks of the Finca: Hernan takes care of everything related to the logistics, the quality control, the marketing, the sales and some strategic decisions like the choice of new varieties. His father supervises the plantations, the harvesting part and the processes.

The Perez family acquired El Zapote y Anexos in the late 1950´s, the production of green coffee was around 20 qq (907 kg). At the beginning they only grew Typica Coffee, in 1960 they started introducing new varieties like Red Bourbon and Red Caturra.

El Zapote y Anexos is now 80 (ha) of coffee plantations from varied varieties: (40%) Red Catuaí, (25%) Red Caturra and the rest are Red Bourbon, Yellow Catuaí, Villa Sarchí, Gesha and A-14.

El Zapote lands are divided in the main Finca and different annexes: El Roble, El Güishnai, Ponderosa, Rincon…. Each annexe has some distinctive features: the varieties, the altitude, or specificities such as the shape of rock or a tree species. An annexe is for example called  El Naranjo and one of the coffee lots from El Zapote imported by The Coffee Quest this year is also called El Naranjo because on this piece of land are growing orange fruit trees.

The Hernan Family lives in Huehuetenango City most of the time, and moves to the farm during the harvest (between January and April, during the dry season). During the harvest season, El Zapote hires between 150 and 200 people depending on the trend of high or low harvest. They mostly come from communities near the farm. Pickers are usually men, women tend to stay at home and take care of the household. Some women are hired to harvest fruits and very few are coffee pickers. 

Harvesting is the important time of the cultivation cycle. The harvest begins in the low areas of the farm, where the coffee matures earlier. Hernan’s father makes sure with the pickers that the cherries are picked at their optimum point of ripeness, without cutting green beans or camagües (unripes), avoiding hurting the coffee plant and leaving no beans lying on the ground that may attract pests.  

In the same neighborhood as El Zapote is Family Bond’s San Antonio from whom we also source coffee. Both families are the result of a long coffee tradition in Huehuetenango. Together they share experiences and knowledge in all processes, to improve and seek sustainability so that future generations can continue to produce unique, distinctive and exotic coffees.

The new challenges of growing coffees for Hernan and his family are the same as most of the coffee producers in Central America: the low prices of the coffee on the C market and an unstable climate with heavy rains in the Huehuetenango region.

Product

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In 2020 we were able to diversify more in terms of specialty lots, seperating a Micro lot, but also receiving his Cup of Excellence Geisha remainders. His Natural got him the 7th place (Ponderosa), while his Washed scored 20th place in the 2020 Cup of Excellence. 

Hernán won second prize in the 2018 Cup of Excellence with the first harvest from his Washed Geisha lot. The majority of his coffees are traditionally washed using fermentation pools and washing canals, only recently he has been experimenting with natural processed coffee. He only produces a limited amount of these fruity exceptional lots. The results are there to show.

Hernan likes to explain that El Zapote location is perfect to grow quality coffee: The coffee plantations are sown in an altitude that goes around 1500 to 1900 masl. The weather is between 18 to 22 Celsius degrees. Having around 1,500 to 2,000 mm of rainfall each year, surrounded with mountainous terrain, on clay loam soil, and blessed with different micro-climates that has allowed different coffee varieties growing in the perfect weather.

The fair distribution of the rain throughout the year is excellent for the bean development. The temperature is low enough for the coffee to ripen slowly, but also to generate a very slow drying process, which complements the complexity in the cup. According to Hernan, this specific terroir makes his coffees unique with some overall dried fruit flavours, citrics, intense and long lasting.

This year we have the pleasure to offer both washed and natural Geisha from El Zapote.

The Catuai/Bourbon (sometimes some Caturra) blend that is selected by The Coffee Quest has a combination of the traditional spices and bakers chocolate flavor found in Huehuetenango, but with an additional layer of vibrant acidity to complement the sweetness in the profile. Finca El Zapote has few direct sun hours, and the high altitude makes for low temperatures. On some days the coffee is turned 4-6 times, which is extremely low frequency. A good indication for a slow and controlled drying process.

Price

We believe that through a fair payment to our collaborators we can help increase the productivity,  the quality and improve living conditions of the family’s social environment. 

Planet

El Zapote is a hidden natural gem. A part of the Finca is a nature reserve, essential for the Finca’s ecosystem balance. For Hernan and his family, trying to be more sustainable is logical in such a natural wonder, but they also see it as a way to maintain and improve the quality of their production.

El Zapote is quite a remote Finca, in a little region named Agua Dulce, Cuilco, near Mexico’s border representing one of the most important coffee zones in Huehuetenango known as a Highland Huehue (348 km from Guatemala City). It’s very far to reach, about an hour and a half from Huehuetenango city, or at least that’s where the dirt track starts. From there it’s still two and a half more hours to the town of Agua Dulce near the Mexican border. 

To keep the natural balance of this small paradise, Hernan and his family grow coffee using some specific practices. They know those practices will have a direct effect on the quality of their cup: the coffee plants grow near shade trees like ingas, grevilleas and other native species. 

This harmony with the vegetation around is also to be found in the name itself of the Finca.  “El Zapote” name actually comes from a fruit growing on the Finca. Also known as “sapote” , derived from the Aztec “tzapotl”, the fruit grows mainly in Central America. It’s brown on the outside, orange inside with a kind of sweet pumpkin taste; giving to our coffee’s terroir a very inspiring gustatory background.

The Perez Family  uses organic materials from the forest to fertilize the soils and the cascara for compost. For recycling the waters from the washing process, they treat it with calcium hydroxide in order to make the Ph of the waters less acidic. The Calcium hydroxide use is a good example of the Perez family’s way of producing coffee: allying ancestral knowledge with new techniques. The calcium hydroxide or “cal” was used by Native Americans, most of all while cooking mais to make it more tasty and easier to digest.

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