Coffee Travel Diaries: Winter 2014

We would never let Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, visit so many of the beautiful farms with whom we have relationships without promising to write home about it. Here is his first of two coffee travel diaries from his recent winter harvest trip to Central America.

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El Salvador. Photo by Dan Streetman.

 

Day 1: Arrive Santa Isabel
I arrived in Guatemala today, and had lunch with Alex Keller, owner of the Santa Isabel farm, and his brother. I have been learning a lot about their family history. We also made a brief stop at ANACAFE, which is the national association of coffee growers. They have a lot of tools for coffee growers, and was very cool to see.

We arrived at the Santa Isabel farm around 5pm tonight, and took a quick tour of the nursery and the mill before it got dark. They are mostly done with harvest but still processing a little bit of cherry.

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Coffee being dried at Santa Isabel. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Alex and I spent the whole day walking the farm, and he was showing me the effects of Roya. They have been really struggling to keep it under control. He is trying many different things with the soil to try and fight it. I saw all of their composting processes, and some other things they are working on. However they, also believe that they need to move towards rust-resistant varieties to fight the infection.

We did a cupping in the afternoon, and 2 of the rust-resistant varieties cupped out ok, but still about .5 to 1 point lower than the coffee that is being shipped to us this year. I am hoping that we can work with Alex to find a solution, so that we can preserve the quality of this coffee in years to come. However, they are already replanting large portions of the farm with rust-resistant varieties.

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Alex Keller on the farm. Photo by Dan Streetman.

After the cupping Alex and his brother Martin showed me their roasting facility, where they produce coffee for the Guatemalan market. They have 3 custom-built roasters, and I spent some time roasting with them. It was pretty. Their roasters are crazy, and require two people to operate, calling out commands to each other, and running around.

 

Day 3: Arrive Guadalupe and El Molino
Today I arrived in El Salvador, this morning we toured Guadalupe and El Molino. It looks much better here…but I am off to cup right now…so we’ll see how it goes…

I have very good email access here.

 

Day 4: Touring the Guatemalan farms
Brief update from El Salvador. Yesterday I arrived across the border at 8am, to meet Jose Antonio Jr, and Andres. We went from there to Guadalupe and El Molino to visit the farms. Here, they are doing a great job fighting the Roya, and have only suffered about 5% crop loss from last year. You can see that the fungus is present and trying to attack the trees, but they are doing a fantastic job of controlling it. I was probing to find out the biggest difference between here and in Guatemala, and through that, it came out that our long-term commitment, and premium outright prices have enabled them to invest in the farm, without fear of not getting a return. The business proposition of investing lots of money in the farm to fight Roya, with no guaranteed return, seemed to be Alex’s biggest concern.

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Jose Antonio & Andres. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Afterwards we came to the wet mill at Las Cruces, and cupped through coffees. I cupped Guadalupe with two different washing processes. Unfortunately I think the roast was a little off, and they were not cupping the way I expected. We are going to re-cup them tomorrow morning. I also cupped the El Molino, and it was tasting fantastic as usual.

Last night another group came in from Royal in California, they have been traveling for 2 weeks, and we swapped “war” stories.

This morning we went to visit San Francisco farm, which we don’t buy any coffee from, but I got to watch the pickers, and shoot some video/photos. I haven’t really watched pickers in action before and it was pretty cool to watch.

After we dropped the other group off, we went to visit an organic farm that they own, as I wanted to see if they were having similar success there. I have considered asking if they could move Guadalupe to organic in the future, if we wanted, and they have always said yes. However I wanted to see the differences in the farm. They are managing the organic farm using a lot of different methods, including planting many different varieties there. Icatu, Pacamara, Bourbon, Catimor, Yellow Icatu, and Sarchimor just to name a few, along with experimenting with the Agobio method on Bourbons.

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A coffee tree grown in the agobio method. Photo by Dan Streetman.

Agobio is when they allow a tree to grow for 3-5 years, and then they bend the tallest part of the tree to run horizontally. This encourages the tree to grow more verticals. Each 5-10 years, they will bend a new vertical to make a new horizontal, and you can have 1 tree that will produce as much as 5 trees. The advantages of this system are that the trees have a much deeper and broader root system, and can pull up more nutrients from the soil. You can also manage the vertical growth, with pruning, and maintain the amount of production coming from each tree. Also, it is easier to apply spray to the leaves which help leaf rust and other diseases. I have seen these trees that are 80-100 years old, and still healthy and producing good harvests. The downside is that it takes a long time to get the system set up. Also you can plant less trees per hectare, so if one of your Agobio trees dies you can potentially lose a lot of production.

Now we are back at Las Cruces, and I’m sure the mill will start whirring any minute now. Tomorrow, I am cupping here and then meeting Mayita to cup this year’s coffee from Natamaya.

Saturday morning we will head to Honduras!

Stay tuned for the second installment of Dan’s winter harvest time diaries!