Category Archives: Daniel

Farm to Cup: Caffe Vita & Jackson 20 Travel to Guatemala

| December 17, 2014

For many years, Caffe Vita has sourced excellent coffee through our farm direct partnerships in Guatemala, one of the most prized coffee producing regions in Central America.

Coffee cherries.

Coffee cherries in Guatemala.

Usually, our Green Coffee Buyer Daniel visits the farms on his own but last week, a special guest from Alexandria, VA came along for the ride. Chef Brian McPherson of Jackson 20 has served Caffe Vita since opening six years ago. Located in the Hotel Monaco by Kimpton, Jackson 20 was named after President Andrew Jackson and is known for contemporary versions of traditional American classics.

So how did a Chef from Virginia get to spend six days in Guatemala with Caffe Vita? Long story short, our own, Bob Prince, pitched the idea to Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, consistently named one of FORTUNE’s 2014 “100 Best Companies to Work For,” and a longstanding Caffe Vita wholesale account. The goal of trekking six days throughout Guatemala together was to take a talented chef who uses our coffee in his or her restaurant on a journey to witness Caffe Vita’s innovative farm to cup process.

The first week of December, Bob, Daniel and Chef Brian visited current, former and potential new partners in four coffee producing areas of Guatemala. When the trip began last Sunday, it was clear that Guatemalan hospitality would be a common thread throughout their stay.

Chef Brian and Bob Prince

Chef Brian and Bob Prince looking tough at Finca Nuevo Vinas.

First they spent time with the Keller Family in Finca Nuevo Vias where Caffe Vita has sourced coffee for seven years. The community threw a party and roasted a pig to welcome their guests on the last day of their trip in the country, a highlight of the experience according to Daniel. The FNV coffee has been farmed by the Keller family for over 100 years, and in 2003, they made the full transition to organic farming, an expensive and lengthy certification process. This is where Chef Brian first witnessed pulping, where the seed from the coffee cherry is removed from the actual fruit. For six years, he has served Caffe Vita coffee and now he knows exactly where it comes from.


Chef Brian McPherson holds pulped coffee cherries in Guatemala.

Next, they made their way to Finca Pacamaral to meet the farm’s new owner, Sergio. Vita previously purchased coffee from this land but Daniel was looking forward to meeting with Sergio to discuss a potential partnership in the future.

After Finca Pacamaral, Valmar in Coban was next on the list, where Vita has purchased coffee for the past two years. Coban’s climate this time of year is very similar to Seattle, cold, wet and cloudy. Bob and Daniel felt completely at home surveying the property in their rain gear, and were welcomed into the farm home of the Valdez family.

Coffee cherries dry in the sun at Santo Tomas Pachuj.

Coffee drying in the sun at Santo Tomas Pachuj.

Then it was onto Santo Tomas Pachuj where Andres Fahsen grows coffee near the Lake Atitlán region, a nature preserve. Andres visited with us at Caffe Vita in Capitol Hill when he was in town for the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual event last April.

Compost with red worms at Finca Chacaya.

Compost with red worms at Finca Chacaya.

After Santo Tomas Pachuj the team drove to Finca Chacaya, a farm on the western shores of Atitlan that still grows old typica coffee, the first variety of coffee brought to the country and which is now hard to find.

Lastly, the team drove to San Juan Sacatepequez to visit the celebrated farm San Jose Ocana. Guillermo Sanchez gave a wonderful tour and provided a delicious lunch of local cuisine.

To be able to share this unique farm to cup process with Chef Brian was a fantastic experience for Bob and Daniel. Now that he has witnessed it for himself, Chef says that he plans to find new ways to use Vita coffee in his restaurant. Even bringing home dried husks to hopefully make bitters to be used in Jackson 20’s famous bar program.

Connecting with our Guatemalan farmers over long conversations, property tours, cuppings, and special meals with hard working families is certainly an experience these guys will never forget. “Every farmer we met exuded a strong sense of stewardship and pride for their land,” according to Daniel. This is something that Caffe Vita takes into account when searching for the best coffee; it’s about more than just a cup of coffee.

Learn more about how Caffe Vita meticulously sources the best coffee through our farm direct partnerships across the globe and purchase our own Guatemala Valmar single origin coffee today while supplies last.

Guatemala Harvest Report

| April 10, 2013

 roya leaf

Roya, also known as leaf rust, or Hemileia vastatrix is a highly contagious fungal disease, fed by moisture and heat, causing rust colored powdery sores to infect leaves of the plant.  Eventually, leaves drop, photosynthesis ceases, and death ensues.

It was last November that I received a phone call from Guatemala with news of the increasing prevalence of roya on the farm of our friend, Alex Keller.  Increasingly, similar reports have arrived from farms throughout Latin America with the affected range now stretching from Mexico to Peru.


A state of emergency has been declared in Guatemala with official estimates of reduction in export pegged at 15% though many expect the true number to be closer to 30%. The outlook for next year’s harvest is even worse with potential loss of up to nearly half of the harvest. The only ones grinning are the chemical companies, with their sales of potent fungicides soaring. Some conspiracy theorists have pegged these companies as the culprit, purposefully releasing a mutant strain to rake in the profits. This represents an extreme of the numerous explanations to be offered.  One thing is for certain however, that increasingly irregular weather patterns have created more ideal conditions for which the fungus to thrive.

pacamara nursery

Our Farm Direct mainstay over the years, Finca Nuevo Vinas, hails from a certified organic farm. While many farms with the required capital have been spraying fungicide to keep it under control, organic farms face a much steeper challenge.  Always a tireless experimenter, Alex conducted over 80 separate tests of organic application with hopes he could find a remedy to control the spread of the disease.  Still, the most effective combination he devised comes at a hefty cost, and must be applied every 20 days to mirror the life cycle of the roya.  If this treatment proves ineffective, there will be little choice other than to sacrifice organic certification and save the farm.   

sheep poo

With the tragedy that has hit his farm, among the many others, we feel fortunate to have secured some excellent coffees for the upcoming year.  Fresh crop Finca Nuevo Vinas will be returning to our lineup shortly, though Finca Pacamaral’s harvest was so poor that it will not be.  In an attempt to find another beautiful coffee to showcase the diversity of profiles in Guatemala, I travelled for the first time to Alta Verapaz, a lushly tropical region situated roughly in the middle of the country.

airplane in coban

We arrived in Coban by small airplane, greeted by Luis ‘Wicho’ Valdez, fourth generation farming enthusiast, and gracious host. With the harvest still underway, we set out to his family’s farms, Santa Isabel and San Lorenzo.  The climate of this region is drastic, with temperatures reaching freezing at times and humidity hovering above 90%. These conditions, coupled with a precise, highly unique system of processing have yielded a tremendous coffee, replete with flavors of black currant, orange, and melon. We have secured this coffee for upcoming release at which time I will share more about the Valdez family and their impressive coffee.

wicho valdez

Sulawesi Travelogue

| March 5, 2013



Late last year I embarked on a whirlwind trip through Papua New Guinea, Java, Sulawesi, and Sumatra.   Though the whole trip was memorable, my time in Sulawesi was magical. Besides the fact that it is a place of remarkable beauty, culture, and coffee, I also consider it home.  Having spent most of my childhood in Sulawesi, I am always thrilled to return. 

I arrived with an empty stomach on the first flight of the morning so I asked my host, Darwis, if we could head into Makassar for a bowl of coto before the 8 hour drive to Toraja.  One of the awesome things about Indonesia is that practically every town has a unique dish (or two) that it is known for.  Makassar – its coto. Here it is :

Coto is made with beef or water buffalo. The broth utilizes rice water for

Traditionally made with water buffalo. A hearty broth with your choice of variety meats. Served with sticky rice steamed in coconut leaves, a spicy fermented soy sambal, and fresh limes.

Satiated, we hit the road.  First up the coast through Pare-Pare and then a turn inland and up through the ‘spine’ of South Sulawesi: passing through Enrekang, Makale, and finally arriving in Rantepao late in the night.

The steep rocky hills were a bit much for our ride.  We broke down in this village north of Rantepao.

The steep rocky hills were a bit much for our ride.

The following two days were spent traversing the windy steep hills north of Rantepao.  We set out to meet some of the most respected farmers and producers in Toraja, observing the fascinating system of trade and processing.  Coffee is mostly sold at the local markets, in a semi-processed state.  Because this coffee hasn’t been completely dried yet, it is of the utmost importance that a close inspection verifies that the coffee is free of mold and fermentation – two common culprits in these humid highlands.

Harvesting ripe cherry

Harvesting ripe cherry

The remaining processing determines a great deal of the flavors in Toraja coffee.  Traditionally, the parchment (the layer between seed and fruit) is removed while the coffee is wet and then dried on patios.  This process, giling basah (wet-hulling), results in a heavy bodied, earthy, and spicy cup – such as is the case with our delicious Sumatra coffee.

Hand sorting wet-hulled coffee, at the home of a farmer.

Hand sorting wet-hulled coffee, at the home of a farmer.

There is one producer that has developed a different method of processing, drying the coffee completely before hulling. This is common practice for the washed coffees of Central America and East Africa, but relatively rare in Indonesia. In addition, a painstakingly thorough system of quality control ensures that only the very best coffee makes the grade.

Coffee arrives as wet parchment, measured by the liter. The coffee first must pass a visual inspection.

Coffee arrives as wet parchment, measured by the liter. The coffee first must pass a visual inspection.


If the coffee passes the visual inspection, the drying is finished in one sample roaster. After hulling, the second sample roaster roasts the coffee for cupping. After passing the sensory evaluation, the coffee is purchased.

If the coffee passes the visual inspection, the drying is finished in one sample roaster. After hulling, the second sample roaster roasts the coffee for cupping. After passing the sensory evaluation, the coffee is deliveried to the drying facility.

This is one of the most elaborate systems of coffee process I have ever witnessed.  Needless to say, the results are fascinating – a cup with some of the character you might expect for the region: spicy, complex, and heavy, but with a distinct sweetness, brightness, and clarity unusual for Indonesian coffees.  We secured the purchase of a fantastic peaberry lot from the height of the harvest which is available now at all Vita locations and online.

Vita Featured in Fresh Cup Magazine

| November 30, 2011
Our green buyer Daniel Shewmaker visits Papua New Guinea.

Our collaboration with the Woodland Park Zoo was recently featured in Fresh Cup Magazine:

The story behind Caffe Vita’s…Papua New Guinea coffee starts with a marsupial.

The animal in question, an endangered species called the tree kangaroo, resembles a bear shrunk to the size of a squirrel. It’s not a creature most coffee drinkers have likely heard of, but its habitat in the high-elevation jungles of Papua New Guinea’s Huon Peninsula happens to also be an area where Arabica thrives.

A recent initiative from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and Vita’s buying and roasting team aims to stabilize—and increase—the tree-dweller’s numbers by helping indigenous villages in the area earn money through their distinct-tasting coffee rather than selling their land to timber and energy companies. “This gives us an opportunity,” says Danny Samandingke, a farmer and teacher from the area who was at last month’s Coffee Fest Seattle, standing beside Caffe Vita baristas as they brewed samples of the region’s product. “There are so many challenges in the country, but this gives us hope.”

Read the full article here

Zoo Special Reserve is now available at all of our cafes and in our online shop.