Category Archives: Daniel

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.

Conservation Coffee

| August 17, 2011

photo courtesy of Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo

We have received an encouraging report from our partner in Morobe Province that the first load of YUS conservation coffee has been safely flown from the Sapmanga airstrip to Nadzab and is now being awaiting its sister shipment at a facility in Goroka. The remaining coffee is being stored at Yawan, but due to unfavorable weather it has yet to be picked up. Sapmanga and Yawan are the two villages in the Uruwa that posess airstrips – making them the vital hubs of transport for this coffee. As I witnessed first hand, the flights out of these grass, muddy airstrips can be highly irregular due to the weather and whims of the aviation company. Our hope is for the remaining coffee to be picked up from Yawan and delivered to Goroka, where it will be milled and bagged for a scheduled September shipment across the Pacific to Seattle.

For those of you not familiar with the project, Caffe Vita has joined the Woodland Park Zoo to work towards strengthening the longevity and success of the first ever conservation area to be established in Papua New Guinea, the YUS Conservation Area. Named after the three main rivers that flow through the area, the Yopno, Uruwa, and Som carve majestic valleys through this rugged terrain- one of the most biologically diverse in the world. The conservation area was only made possible by the cooperation of over 35 villages in the region and the landowners who have agreed to set aside their valuable resources for future generations. In addition, we are donating $1 to the Woodland Park Zoo for every bag of Zoo Special Reserve coffee beans we sell at our cafes or online.

The people of YUS are primarily subsistence farmers, cultivating an array of sweet potatoes, taro, cassava, greens, and fruits. In addition, a few cash crops such as tobacco, betel nut, and coffee are grown, but finding a potential buyer can be a challenge. YUS is remote, no roads lead to this region, so all goods heading towards the market must be flown (or walked). The cost and availability of airfrieght can make selling these crops close to impossible, yet currency is necessary for education and healthcare. For the improvement of these communities and the preservation of their land, we aim to provide a consistent market for their remarkable coffee.

Our goal is to establish the structure necessary for the transport of this coffee out of YUS and onwards to Seattle, where we hope the roasted coffee will find a following — the success of this project depends on it. For a sneak peak of the flavor profile you can expect when the coffee lands, we will be hosting a cupping of the coffees from each of the villages we visited. Details to be posted on this blog soon. In the meantime, you can enjoy this slideshow from our recent trip.