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The musings of Pour Richard

Coffee Journey:Guatemala


This past May, Rich headed to Guatemala for a direct trade trip organized by The Perfect Daily
Grind (an online magazine and coffee marketing company) and ANACAFE (the National Coffee
Association of Guatemala . There, he met 40 roasters from around the globe, and visited
numerous coffee farms in the Antigua Valley.


Rich was hosted by the amazing San Miguel Farms (SMF), a family business since 1890 (that’s
129 years ago!) with a range of landholdings, from just a few cuerdas (a traditional unit of land
area equivalent to 1089 sq. m) up to almost 40 cuerdas - and most of it stretches up the slopes
of Volcán de Agua! Every day was filled with informative sessions of the fields, climate, grafting,
their mills, warehouse, composting, and, of course, lots of coffee cuppings and tastings (about
39 coffees were tasted)!!


SMF has become a large, highly successful operation that connects coffee farmers, mill
professionals, and coffee roasters. SMF not only has their own farm and mill but they have
reached out to over 400 farmers from the eight growing regions in Guatemala to help them with
all aspects of the supply chain. SMF actively educates other farmers about ways to improve
their coffee to obtain “specialty coffee”. They give them new seedlings to plant in their fields,
supply them with compost and other soil amendments, show them how to better plant, prune
and prevent disease. SMF also teaches the pickers selective harvesting through hand picking to
increase the quality of the final coffee. Furthermore, SMF cups and scores the coffee to ensure
that it meets Specialty Coffee standards (must receive a score of 86 or better), identifies
prospective purchasers, and bags and delivers the coffee to the port for shipping. All aspects of
the business are conducted in a financially transparent manner so that farmers who work with
SMF understand all aspects of the services offered and can utilize any piece they find
supportive.


So, how does SMF manage this business model? Well, they started a project about 40 years
ago to partner with other farms to try to actively improve the way Guatemalan coffee was being
produced. SMF believed the only way that this could be accomplished was if everyone worked
together. In order to get all on board an atmosphere of open communication, and respect for all
involved needed to be created. SMF put their employees first, made salaries higher than the
average in the industry, and created incentives for their employees to find ways to make coffee
processing run more efficiently. This inclusive business model created a welcoming atmosphere
which promoted creative thinking. SMF’s composting program is an example of this.
25 years ago, SMF began to compost using a red worm composting process because one of
their employees had heard of its success. Compost is very important to the sustenance of the
coffee plant. SMF uses an African Red Worm composting process which breaks down food and
waste efficiently, yielding nutrient rich soil. SMF red worm composting has been so successful
for their business that they now supply nutrient rich soil to nurseries and garden shops
throughout Guatemala. This has become another income source for SMF.
Coffee farming at SMF is supported not only by Guatemalans, but also by seasonal migrant
workers. During the picking season SMF employs approximately 700 to 1,000 migrant and
Guatemalan workers to pick ripe coffee cherries. These workers are paid a higher rate per
pound because the ripe cherries produce higher scoring (and higher priced) coffee.
In an effort to make coffee processing less weather dependent, SMF built indoor drying racks
and heated chambers to control the drying process. 300 staff people manage and maintain the
processing year-round where they process coffee varietals such as Bourbon, Caturra, and
Catuai. With this, their employee retention is impressive. About 80% of their employees have
worked with them for at least 15 years!


SMF makes it a priority to focus on sustainability to improve and streamline the coffee
infrastructure within Guatemala. Additionally, they welcome farmers, roasters and importers
from all over the world as they believe these relationships lead the way to a more
environmentally responsible and economically sustainable future for the coffee industry.
During the final days of Rich’s trip to SMF he attended the Producer Roaster Forum
( https://producerroasterforum.com/ ) which connects coffee producers and roasters in an effort to
encourage direct trade relationships. Rich met other farmers and roasters, who share Pour
Richard’s Coffee Co.’s commitment to coffee, and who have now become friends. The fruit (er,
the beans 😉) of these relationships can be experienced on our seasonal menu. In fact, out of
all the high quality Guatemalan coffees we tasted, we decided upon a washed pache from
Linda’s Maria’s farm in San Rosa and a washed crop from Huehuetenago called COMPYE.
These coffees have just arrived and we are so excited to get them on our menu after trying
some different roasting profiles (look forward to tasting them with us during one of our Sunday
cuppings!).


We are so incredibly impressed with what SMF is doing. The energy and drive that they put into
producing coffee is unrivaled. Our goals when going on these direct trade trips is to increase our
knowledge while forming new relationships that support specialty coffee and economic freedom
for the farmers. Thank you SMF, and thank you Guatemala for a wonderful experience! We
hope to be back soon!


Posted 9 months ago by Richard Berman
Coffee Journey