Continued from part 1 – The next day we had the opportunity to visit two wet processing mills and one farm in the Nuevo Oriente region. The first mill, El Boqueron, was a large, impressive commercial mill. They receive huge amounts of coffee and when we arrived the patios were practically overflowing with parchment, not to mention their mechanical dryers were going non-stop. In fact, we were told that they had too much coffee – some of it was beginning to turn all moldy and gross. Anyway, since we had already been to a wet mill, it was easier to understand what was going on, albeit on a much larger scale. Their mechanical dryers were housed in a very dusty, very loud building; in Guatemala most specialty coffee is patio-dried while commercial and domestic coffee is put through mechanical drying.
Next stop was an epic journey in rugged Toyota Hiluxes up the bumpiest terrain my ass has ever had the misfortune of encountering, past a beautiful and very stinky sulphurous lake to the heavenly El Retiro Estate, a villa nestled between 5 farms amongst mountainous forests and wildlife. After a brief tour of farmer José Herrarte Osante’s villa and a light lunch, we headed back to the pickups for a more leisurely trip to one of his “farms”. It is difficult to call it a farm because it looked just like a forest. The coffee trees were dwarfed by 400-year-old shade trees that provided a towering, lush green canopy. There is no “managed shade” here. Mr. Osante does not plant trees on his Rainforest Alliance-Certified farm – they grow naturally. If one happens to fall he does not have it moved; it will provide habitat for the creatures residing there and eventual fertilizer for other trees. In addition to this, he showed us quite a few coffee trees that have been in production for over 60 years! Most farms re-plant trees after about 10 years after their production drops off. What I
remember the most about this farm is how tranquil and quiet it was. Like stepping back in time to Jesus riding a velociraptor. Or Ferngully. It was like that but more awesome.
Then Mr. Osante took us to his very own wet mill. It was a much more modest operation than El Boqueron, but just as impressive. He had beans of differing quality on different patios, and it was quite illuminating. The specialty beans were a gleaming white-tan colour while the commercial beans were specked with black and green. Then he took us through the workings of his mill (he had started using more water-efficient eco-pulpers) and revealed that he was also in the process of building his own dry mill and applying for an export license. He seemed to be very eager to step up his game and to try new things in order to improve the quality of his coffee. He could be considered a good candidate for a direct relationship. A girl can dream!
On the way out we spied some more construction going on, in addition to the dry mill. In a clearing not too far from the drying patios I saw some raised African drying tables being constructed. Perhaps Mr. Ossante wishes to experiment with Honey Process or Natural Coffee? Only time will tell.
Stay tuned for part 3, where I don’t answer the above question but instead take you to a very special school in Acatenango.