Guatemala Part III: Starting a Relationship
One of the main reasons for visiting Guatemala in the first place was to establish a direct relationship with some of the coffee growers. What does this mean? We're not coffee importers; we just like to roast beans. We also want to support small, high-quality farms like the ones Blake visited on this trip; in return, we'd like to get access to their best beans each year and help them invest in improvements to make their coffees even better.
The coffee we sell as Guatemala Bella Carmona is actually a blend of beans from two related coffee estates, Finca Bellavista and Hacienda Carmona. Both are owned by the Zelaya family, which has been growing coffee and working in the coffee business for over a century. Luis Pedro Zalaya, a 4th-generation coffee guru, owns and manages the operations at the Carmona Mill, and is responsible for much of the farming business as well. He took some time out of the busy harvest season to allow Blake to tour both estates. Hacienda Carmona is owned by Luis's aunt, Maria Zelaya Aguirre. She also raises cattle, which are all named for friends of hers. We can only hope to have the drive and energy she exhibits.
So many terms are thrown around these days: Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Bird Friendly, USDA Organic. These are all types of official certifications for coffee and coffee growers, and they all have pluses and minuses. Our Direct Relationship agreement with the Bella Carmona farms is not a certification. It's a message to our customers that we know a lot about this coffee. We've visited the farm personally and learned what makes their coffee fantastic.
It's still going to be purchased and imported through traditional channels. The difference is now we know we're getting our beans from people we've met, and if there's any change in quality or cupping profile in a particular harvest, we're going to hear about it. We try to buy the second and third harvests of the season which we feel offer finer acidity and rounded sweetness. This is probably due to first harvest being done on plants grown at somewhat lower altitude. On their end, the Zelayas know they have buyers committed to their coffee and to spreading the word about how great it is.
So how great is it?
It's pretty darn great, actually. We use Guatemala Bella Carmona exclusively for our cold brewed iced coffee. Think liquid coffee nips on steroids. It's consistently a huge hit at the farmers' markets. Traditional hot brewing methods yield a balanced cup profile with moderate acidity and a rounded sweetness that is outstanding.
What's in it for me?
As a customer of Night Owl Roasters, whether you buy a cup fresh-made from our market booth or order your beans over the internet, we can answer any questions you might have about this coffee. Sometimes it's nice to slow down a little and wonder about where things come from. What's it like in the mountain valleys where this coffee is grown? When and how is it harvested? At what altitude? Do they use fertilizer? Is it grown in the shade? If I were to visit, would I have easy access to fried chicken? In this age of impersonal technology and mass-production, we think having those answers adds a little extra dash of satisfaction to your daily cup of coffee.