This past harvest we travelled to the tropical highlands of Alta Verapaz to visit the farms of Luis Valdez, Finca Santa Isabel and San Lorenzo. During our visit we were thoroughly impressed with the technique the family has developed to produce exceptionally sweet and complex coffees. My host during our visit was Luis ‘Wicho’ Valdez III, who oversees much of the day to day operations on the farm. With an education in agriculture engineering, Wicho takes a methodical and precise approach towards coaxing the most from his family’s land.
Due to the extremely high humidity and cold nighttime temperatures, the farm maintains good ventilation and sunlight through the implementation of a unique pruning cycle. As a result, the coffee shrubs remain healthy and productive for many years. During harvest, ripe cherries are selectively hand-picked in the morning and delivered to the wet mill in the afternoon. The mill is constructed on a hill, which allows gravity to assist in moving the coffee through the process.
A series of siphons draw off any ‘floaters’ , which can include under/over-ripe cherries and debris, such as twigs and leaves. The de-pulping machinery then removes the skin and flesh of the cherries. This pulp is composted with the assistance of red worms and then used as organic fertilizer for the farm.
The coffee, which at this point is still covered in sticky mucilage, is then deposited into pristine fermentation tanks. Overnight, naturally present microbes interact with the sugars on the coffee and a set of complex acids are created. After the mucilage is broken down, the coffee is washed in channels, and then placed in another tank, submerged in water, for another night. This secondary, wet-fermentation is not common in Central America, and no doubt contributes to the complexity of acids and sugars present in the Valmar.
All caturra (a cultivar of Arabica) is tracked and sun-dried on the patios, which takes a little over a week. Each of these caturra lots is sample roasted and scored by the experts at Anacafe, with the highest scoring lots receiving special designation. While the coffee (still in parchment) rests at the farm, the moisture content is monitored closely. We pulled a handful of the highest scoring lots back to our cupping lab in Seattle, where we discovered that three days in early March had yielded some remarkable coffees. With the assistance of our exporter in Guatemala we had this coffee shipped directly to our warehouse here in Seattle.