Guatemala is an amazing country to be in. It lies in Central-America bordering Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The country used to be the centre of the Mayan society, therefore there are many remains of the civilisation both in culture and in people’s names. You can see that the people are still carrying their history of the Maya culture with them.
We first found Isnul in the cupping table when we were in Guatemala and the coffee from the farm appealed to us because of its clean and balanced properties. Later, Friso drove to the farm and met the producer Danny Perez. A focused coffee farmer that keeps aiming for that higher quality and keeps trying out new methods and varieties. Next to our standard Isnul from a caturra variety, we also have the Pacamara variety which is way bigger in size, and sweeter in flavour. Danny didn’t stand still there, he planted some Gesha coffee a while ago to even exceed that coffee. During this years Cup Of excellence he achieved 17th place with that Gesha coffee.
Just like every country is different to the other in culture, habits and methods, Guatemala also has its own way of producing coffee.
In Guatemala it is regular that the farmer is the first processor as well. Just as in Colombia, most farmers have their own wet mill and make their own wetmil and drying beds or patios. This means the farmer is in control of its own flavour profile and end product. To pick the coffee, Danny uses seasonal pickers. Seasonal pickers are moving through the country throughout the year as an agricultural aid.
Coffee farmers harvest around the same months but almost never at the exact same time. Lower lying farmers harvest around a month earlier than farmers at a higher altitude. Therefore pickers can work in a timespan over the full harvest season at different farms. At the end of the harvest pickers usually move to a different type of crop such as cane sugar, fruits or nuts. This way the farmers don’t need the pickers all-year-round and all farms are able to get the pickers. This method of picking raised from the shortage of jobs, it is not our ideal ending point but it works as it does now. By focusing more on quality picking and payment, Danny will be able to get more steady jobs for these pickers.
The whole family supports different parts of organization (farms, export). Now Daniel is even working on a new farm and he does the agronomic part and sales. His wife does the quality control. And his other brothers are doing finance. And the other two handle the cafeteria in the capital.
In the height of the harvest finca Isnul employs around 350 pickers. And year round they employ 5 people.
Our Isnul coffee is washed. This means the Coffee cherries are floated, pulped, fermented, washed, dried, packed, rested and threshed before shipping to Rotterdam.
Floated: Putting all cherries in a big basin of water some coffee will float to the surface. These so-called floaters are the 3rd class coffee we do not want in our coffee
Pulped: In a depulper cherries are pushed passed two drums to push out the bean, after that the beans will pop out on one side and the skins are separated.
Fermented: Around the beans is still some mucilage, this is falling in a tank under the depulper, this can be filled with water (wet ferment) or without (dry ferment). With wet ferment you are diluting the sugars and microorganisms, so it takes longer for the coffee to ferment enough, but the sugar is evenly distributed throughout the whole batch. Dry fermentation is quicker but also less even per batch. The reason why we ferment is two folded: Firstly, it is to loosen the parchment from the bean. Secondly, it is to open some flavours that are locked inside the bean.
Washed: After fermenting you need to get the mucilage away from the coffee so the fermentation stops in the excess sugars are removed. Washing can either be through water (wet) or through friction (dry).
Dried: Later the coffee will be dried to a humidity between 10% and 12% to prevent fungus and bacteria from growing in it and to prolong its shelf life. Sometimes, coffee is dried on a patio of concrete. This dries fast because the concrete warms up by the sun quickly. Other times, the coffee is dried in raised beds about a meter above the ground. These beds dry because of the wind that blows through. Both methods are possible in Guatemala.
Packed: After drying the parchment coffee is put in Grainpro bags and stashed in the warehouse. Grainpro is a plastic bag that can breathe without getting humidity from the outside, in the bag.
Rest: In the warehouse the coffee will get an equilibrium in humidity between beans. The coffee is usually better when leaving it to rest for about one to two months.
Threshing: When the coffee is sold the parchment coffee is brought to the dry mill. Here, a dehuller gets the last husk away from the beans so only the green coffee is left. This will be packed in Grainpro bags and Jute bags to fill up the container.
In terms of thinking about the planet Finca Isnul is a farm thinking largely about the future. Danny likes to call his approach conscience, instead of sustainable. Conscience is a better label because planning for the future you are talking about Social, Nature but also efficiency. Be aware of the impact you have and act on them to improve what you can. “We all have sons and daughters so we know we have to watch out for the future.”
Examples of conscience farming is Fertiliser
- The fertilizer is exactly adequate to what the plants need.
- Everything Isnul does is preventive, talking about the chemicals.
- We keep areas open, and make barriers for the roja (leaf rust).
- Never used herbicides to prevent erosion.
- 100% re-circulation of water, 200 liters per day is sufficient to produce the coffee picked by 320 persons. The leftovers are completely filtered.
Moreover, Danny’s grandfather was fanatic about the bees, so taking care is part of his heritage and influence. How they are organized and how they are producing is really amazing. It’s also a sign that if the bees are healthy, so is the land.
At the moment the apiary has 80 beehives and over the last years they have had 140 of them. The beauty of bees is not pollination, because Arabica coffees do not have to be pollinated. It is purely the investment in nature, and nature gives something back then. Next to coffee beans they are also selling coffee flower honey. When bees eat the nectar of the coffee flowers, their honey starts to taste like the cherry blossoms of coffee. At this point the apiary is even producing 5 tons of honey a year.
Discover other stories from Guatemala...
Finca San Antonio is a family-owned farm located in the South of Guatemala. Read about Ricardo’s 100-year-old coffee production.