The road from Guatemala City to Huehuetenango is long, especially with the traffic for Holy Week. After 165 miles and 7 hours of lurching through traffic later we reached Huehue. We were greeted by the “Villatoro Boys” (Rodín, Jenner, and Dennis) and welcomed into their home. After some introductions they offered to set up a cupping (Coffee term for evaluating coffee). They proudly presented some of the coffees from their farm (Finca Villaure) providing some background on each lot.
On the table were a variety of coffees ranging from their larger lots to some microlots comprised of 2-4 bags of total production. After a couple of rounds of cupping and discussing the tasting notes, it was evident that these men took great pride in their coffees and were eager to hear feedback. The quality of each coffee presented was exceptional, and we were able to narrow down and discuss how certain lots could meet our customers needs and fit perfectly into our lineup for summer/fall.
After cupping, Rodin and his entire family were gracious enough to serve us dinner and make room for us in their home to spend the night. Being hosted in the Villatoro home was an absolute highlight for us and something we will not soon forget. They are a family marked by hospitality, tradition, hard work, and a deep love and honor for coffee. It shows in all they do.
The next day, we loaded up the car (probably max capacity) and headed to the Villaure farm in Hoja Blanca with Chris (our awesome importer from Onyx Coffee), Rodin, Julio, Jenner, and Dennis. Hoja Blanca sits right on Guatemala’s northern border with Mexico. It’s another 3 hours (60 miles) from Huehuetenango. The first half is paved and the second half is dirt roads through the mountains. The road is rough and steep. The terrain is rugged. The land is beautiful.
After we arrived at the Villaure farm, Petronilo Jr. (Rodin’s uncle) took us to visit an area of the farm where they were still picking coffee cherries. Petronilo also showed us his nursery where he has some beautiful pacamara getting ready to plant this summer. The plants won’t produce any cherries for at least 2-4 years depending on the climate.
The land is steep among the coffee shrubs but the pickers move through it like they are walking on flat land. It is amazing to watch them carry 100+ pound bags of coffee cherries down the side of a mountain.
The pickers come from the surrounding villages (usually as entire families) to work the Villaure farm harvest. The pickers are educated on how to collect only ripe coffee cherries. They collect the cherries into baskets, then transfer them into bags that they carry down the mountain to the farm washing station.
Almost every producer has their own benificio (washing station) here in Hoja Blanca. At the benificio, the coffee cherries are delivered, weighed, and the pickers paid for their work.
The cherries are run through the depulper and pushed down to one of the holding tanks. Once in the holding tanks, the coffee seeds will be allowed to ferment for a period of time. Petronilo allows his coffee to ferment for 80 hours.
At this point, each seed is still covered in parchment (the protective layer around each seed). The seeds are layed on a flat drying patio. On the Villaure farm, these patios are the roofs of their homes. The coffee is turned (with rakes) often to allow the coffee to dry evenly throughout.
This is a processing method called “natural” processing (instead of washed). The seeds are dried in the cherry on raised beds in direct sunlight. It often results in a sweeter, more fruity profile. Rodin Villatoro has a degree in Agricultural Engineering, and is putting his knowledge to use in pushing the Villaure farm forward in best practices, varietals, and processing methods.
Next, the coffee (still in parchment) is transported to the mill where it is then stored until milling. Milling removes the parchment and allows for sorting and grading of the coffee.
Onyx handles the exporting and importing to get these beautiful coffees to us. When we receive it, it is still a seed in unroasted form, what we call “green”. From there, it’s up to us (Edison) to roast it thoughtfully, and to bring out the inherent characteristics that are sown into each seed during farming and processing. Our goal with each batch of roasted coffee is to honor the hard work of these producers and highlight the natural characteristics of the Huehuetenango region. There is a lot of science and fun that goes into that, and we enjoy every moment of profiling and cupping to get it just right for our customers.
Our hope is that this would give you a small glimpse into the process of getting a great cup of coffee into your hands. As shop owners, baristas, and roasters, we often get focused on all the details of our side of the process. But as you can see from this story, we are a small part of the equation and the real magic happens long before our hands ever get to serve the final product. We can say without a doubt, getting the opportunity to ethically source coffee and be a part of the bigger picture, will continue to change us and mark our business with a gratitude and desire for excellence in all we do. As Edison customers, you are part of this journey too. And we love sharing every minute with you!
James Edison McWhorter (AKA “J”)
and The Edison Team
A quick (but huge!) shout out…
Chris and the amazing Onyx Coffee importing team are on the ground in Guatemala year round working to build and maintain relationships with the farmers and provide resources during the process. Brianne Trafton (also with Onyx), coordinated this trip for us, and we could not be more grateful for her hospitality. Our favorite thing about this industry is getting to share coffee and experiences with others. It has been nothing short of a joy and absolute honor to work with the Onyx team and these producers. One of our goals is to do things locally that honors things globally, and these folks help us do just that.