The Art of Coffee

Time goes by and I keep telling myself, “Hey Pablo, you need to share about one of your deepest passions;” and that is coffee. I grew up in a family where coffee is a passion, not a beverage, it is a tradition not a business, it is a livelihood, not a responsibility. Guatemala has one of the finest coffees in the world, and I’m not saying this because I’m in the business, but because internationally, we have been acquiring awards like the “Cup of Excellence” and baristas awards, to getting various specialty and gourmet coffee awards.

But how do we get to that point? How did we master the cultivation of such a fine coffee? That’s what I want to share with you, the art of coffee. But for this, I’m going to ask you to use your imagination and start from the beginning, and that is not at the cup of coffee, or to simply go to a coffee shop and sit down as we all do in the United States or anywhere else, but to the very beginning of the process.

Imagine you are in a wonderful plantation, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. You wake up in a really nice bed—you got plenty of rest as you worked a lot the day before—you can smell the coffee being roasted, and it was that aroma that woke you up and gets you ready to start the day. It is a cold morning. You go to the window and you can see fog all over the place. The fog is a mystery. Your eyes get lost in the horizon, and the fog somehow welcomes you to the coffee plantation, calling you to simply start the day.

The birds are ready to start flying around, decorating the skies, with more than 120 species in one coffee plantation. You start the day at 7am and people are already working in the plantation fields. Everybody says, “Buenos dias!” (“good morning” in Spanish), with a big smile. Many of my friends from the U.S. have come here and they keep saying, “People here are so nice Pablo!” They genuinely welcome you.

You will have a typical Guatemalan breakfast, including pastries (more than 15 different kinds), black beans, fried plantains, eggs, homemade tomato sauce and of course, coffee. After you have enjoyed the banquet, we venture inside the deepest part of the plantation, riding horses to make sure we really live the experience. We start going higher and higher into the mountains. Surrounding those mountains you see three majestic volcanoes that are protecting the plantation, they are the kings of the region. Their names are Agua (“water”), de Fuego (“fire”), and Pacaya.

Coffee plantations are never flat, they are full of mountains, hills and volcanoes, at least in Guatemala. We grow coffee from 2800 – 6500 feet, above that altitude the weather will destroy the harvest and the characteristics of the coffee will decrease (aroma, flavor, body and taste). Just to give you a tip for a good coffee, you never need to taste it, the aroma should welcome you first. I have to be honest, most of the time I laugh when I’m in the US and read that gourmet coffee is being served, specially at the 7 eleven stores. (I might say in the other hand there are a lot of really good coffee shops in the U.S) not the super chain ones. Have you ever asked yourself what a truly gourmet coffee is? What are the characteristics of a gourmet coffee? I will tell you about it in my next article.

All coffee harvested between 4800 and 6000 feet is considered first class, premium specialty coffee; that is what we export, mainly to the United States and Europe, and this coffee is processed in the U.S. We are able to directly control every step of the process. To be able to do that is a dream come true for me, you don’t have an idea, to be able to share my passion for coffee with so many people. I would love for you to enjoy our coffees; visit www.kafesguatemala.com .

We only harvest Arabica coffee beans. This is the coffee that has the best characteristics for a specialty coffee brand. Each coffee bean is expertly chosen and planted in a small plastic bag. Once the plant is big enough (8 months or so), then it is transplanted into the soil of the coffee plantation. Usually plantations are divided into sectors or areas, so each area is cultivated or taken care of separately. We divide the plantation so each area and soil gets to rest while the other is being harvested. That’s why our coffees are so good; the soil gets all the nutrients year round to simply get the best characteristics possible.

Guatemalan coffees contribute as well to the environment. We use shade trees to protect the coffee plant. You can see the trees aligned with the coffee plants to provide shelter and shade every time we get bad weather. Because of this tradition, Guatemalan fincas (plantations) produce around 60,000 tons of fresh air every day, nothing but oxygen. So there you are in the middle of the highlands, simply enjoying the landscape and allowing your lungs to breathe fresh air all the way.

By the time we get to the top of the finca, you will be falling in love with the landscape, the site seeing and, of course, the coffee environment. The birds are welcoming you. It is the perfect place for you to enjoy life and get rid of some stress. The horses are tired and we need to stop to check some coffee plants and check the coffee beans. As we start walking in the plantation, you can tell how organized and well distributed the coffee plants are. Every plant has its own personality, and every bean as well; some of them are green while some others are red, ready to be handpicked. Whether they are ready or not depends on the altitude, and remember, every sector of the plantation is in a different stage of growth.

Once the area is ready to be harvested, we begin the handpicking process. Many workers, usually entire families, are hired to do this process. Many of these families have been doing this for many generations, and they are hand picking masters. We get pleasure from the laughs and joy of the children of those families on those days. They enjoy running around and helping mom and dad. (We do not hire children; instead, we are supporting children through an educational program called Kafes Kids. Please go to http://www.kafesguatemala.com/kafeskids.html for more information.) For me, and I need to be honest with you, every time I come to the U.S. to do coffee business I think about those families and feel a responsibility to them, and I’m not saying this as a marketing strategy.

These families precisely pick ONLY the red beans (coffee cherries) that are ready. The remaining beans they leave to be harvested and picked in another season of the harvest. After the coffee has been picked by hand, we take them to the wet and dry mill where we make sure the coffee skins are removed so we can dry only the coffee beans. Many people do not know that the red coffee bean, or cherry, has several layers of protective skin, before you get to the final bean. If you do not remove these layers, it is not 100% coffee.

Once we have done that, we are ready for lunch and we enjoy watching the coffee drying process. We dry the coffee in special patios that are in the same plantation. As a family tradition, this is a fiesta as we invite friends and family to come over and enjoy the day. Of course this process is not finished in one day, but we have specific days that we invite people. The main reason for our fiesta is to share our happiness, in that after one year the coffee is almost ready to be roasted and enjoyed. In 2008, we are putting together an entire coffee tour package so people from the U.S. and elsewhere can come and live the plantation coffee experience. I will keep you posted.

Once the coffee has been roasted, it is typically packed in 69 kilos sacks, and is then ready to be shipped overseas or to be consumed locally. Kafes Guatemala is no longer doing that, as we have our own coffee roasted and ready for you in the U.S.

In my company, Kafes Guatemala, we make sure that the entire process is precisely taken care of. We work only with the best Guatemalan coffee growers, and because of that we have a team of people that are experts in the ART of coffee. Did you know that in order to have a high quality control standard, we have coffee tasters with over 25 years of experience that ensure that EVERY batch of coffee that has been roasted or flavored maintains the same characteristics of aroma, taste, flavor and body?

Because of this entire experience, Kafes Guatemala is one of the few companies in the United States or Canada that can offer to share this experience with you. You can come to the plantations where the coffee is being harvested and processed to simply enjoy the entire magic of growing coffee. We have the freedom and pleasure to introduce you to our team in Guatemala. And while you do that, you get to stay in a 5 star hotel in the plantation, in the middle of the most exclusive high mountain regions of Antigua Guatemala. If you want to know more about coffee, coffee tours and our passion, please visit www.kafesguatemala.com .

Like we say:

“Straight from the plantation to your cup…live the experience.”


Best Regards,

Pablo Castaneda

Views: 24

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Comment by Hugh Mooney on February 27, 2008 at 8:10pm
Well written, like being there - well, not quite. Like Rich said - bring on that great breakfast, I'm ready for it. My wife and I are "horse" people, I'm sure we would love the ride and the experience.
Comment by Rich Westerfield on January 7, 2008 at 9:19pm
That would make a nice trip... and after reading about the breakfast I'm hungry. Well written article, thanks for sharing it.
Comment by Ray Hencken on January 6, 2008 at 5:08pm
Excellent article Pablo. Thanks for the amazing read. My wife and I would love to come down there to visit the plantation some day.
Comment by Troy-La Crema on January 3, 2008 at 7:46pm
Hola, when do you think the " tour" might be?
Comment by peg bono on January 1, 2008 at 3:31pm
Pretty amazing, Pablo. Thanks for the tour of your plantation- even if only a virtual one, it was wonderful!

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