During the month of May I was invited to be a judge for the Cup of Excellence Guatemala 2016. As in past Cup of Excellence events I spent some extra days in Guatemala for farm visits. This year I wanted to focus on regions that I had not previously visited. The visits did not disappoint.
My first visit was to Finca Ravanales in the Fraijanes region. The family owned farm was founded by Don Gregorio Zamora in 1894. Today the farm is run by 4th generation Rafael Ventura Zamora. Don Gregorio would be proud of the work Rafael and the family is doing with the quality of the coffee, sustainability, environment and coffee research. The original home is maintained much the way it was when Don Gregorio Zamora was alive.
For the last 50 years the farm has been working with Anacafe to research the quality and productivity of different varietals. The farm is divided into lots with each lot consisting of a different varietal. There is one new lot show casing all of the varieties called “Jardin de Variedades”; Varietal Garden.
One of the varieties we stopped at was the Laurina varietal. This is a short thin tree. It has a small flower and leaf and a low producer and is highly susceptible to disease. With all of the plants short comings one would wonder why is Laurina an important varietal. The treasure in the Laurina is its naturally low caffeine content. Laurina only has .6% caffeine while other Arabicas have 1 – 1.2% caffeine. Robusta coffees can contain up to 2.2% caffeine.
During our tour Rafael explained the different varietals, the age, production and cup quality of each lot. He knows this 370 acre farm by the back of his hand. The varietals we saw were Catimor, Cattura, Catuai, Marsellesa Sarchimor, Geisha, Mundo Novo, Enano, Icatu, Laurina, Typica, Bourbon, Pacamara, Marogogipe. With all of these varietals less than 50% of the farm is planted with coffee. The remaining farm is a nature reserve. The coffee plants and nature blend seamlessly into the horizon.
Shade is provided by native trees. Most are the Inga and Gravilea. Coffee benefits from these trees as the slow the maturation of the cherry resulting in a sweeter more flavorful cup. By planting a mix of the Inga and Gravilea trees the coffee plant roots are protected, the humidity of the soil is preserved and the nitrogen in the soil is balanced. Organic materials from the trees reduce erosion. Not only do these trees protect the coffee from the sun but also excessive wind and in rare cases frost. Finally, the farm and region benefit from these trees by providing a habitat for biodiversity and sustainability.
As we toured the farm it was noticeable that the plants were very thirsty. Due to the effects of “El Nino” the area was in a drought. Normal precipitation is 122 inches per year. Last year the farm only saw 67 inches of rain. I was at the farm in mid-May, traditionally a rainy month. This year the rain did not come until after my farm visit. When I saw Rafael later in the week he was pleased with the rain and his plants were back to normal health.
The farm has its own wet mill. The mill is designed to handle all of the different varietals as micro lots. This allows each coffee to be segregated and treated as micro lots. Typical of most wet mills during the growing season the mills are cleaned up and modernized. New equipment was being installed during our visit.
Our final stop was the cupping lab. This is where the truth comes out. How good is the coffee? The table was set with 9 varietals. All of the coffees were excellent. I was amazed at the qualities of the coffees. My favorite was a sweet floral, fruity, clean Pacamara. My second favorite was a Cattura with a caramel aroma, black cherry notes, and a bright clean acidity. I knew at that point that this farm had a coffee capable of winning a Cup of Excellence award. I purposely did not bring up the Cup of Excellence during this visit as I did not want any biased opinions being presented. I was pleased when the farm received the Cup of Excellence award the following week. Their award winning coffee was not one of the ones cupped at the farm.