As if by Magic

From the last post I talked about Costa Rica, and as if by Magic, the following press release came from Cup of Excellence


MISSOULA, MT (January 19, 2007) – The Alliance for Coffee Excellence, Inc. (ACE) is pleased to announced the addition of Costa Rica to its prestigious Cup of Excellence® competition line up for 2007. The Specialty Coffee Association of Costa Rica (SCACR) recently announced its plans to hold the international cupping week during May 14th to 18th and the auction June 21st. Cup of Excellence supporters are already signing up to be included on the jury and to bid at the auction.

“With the new joint venture between COE and the Specialty Coffee Association of Costa Rica we are looking forward to motivate the Costa Rica coffee producers to continue improving their agricultural coffee practices and milling, that as a result will turn into exceptional coffee quality lots,” explained Gema Siri the SCACR Executive Director. “Through the COE Program we hope more international roasters fall in love with the quality we are producing and also open new opportunities for specialty coffees of Costa Rica to be known worldwide as one of the best coffees of the world,” she continued.

Five Central American countries are now part of the Cup of Excellence program which manages the selection of the country’s finest coffees during a very stringent 3 week process involving 2 different juries. “Costa Rican coffees are known world wide for their quality and are an important part of any specialty coffee company”, explained Susie Spindler, Executive director of ACE. “These coffees will be an exciting addition to our exemplary coffee line up and will bring many buyers to the auction”.

The winning farmers will be presented their Cup of Excellence award during an emotional awards ceremony on the evening of May 18, 2007 when farmers, press, dignitaries and the international jury anxiously will await the winners’ names to be announced.

The Costa Rican program will mark the thirty-third competition for the Cup of Excellence program since it’s beginnings in 1999. Other current countries to host the program include Brazil, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia. The Cup of Excellence program is managed by the non-profit Alliance for Coffee Excellence, Inc, The state of the art Cup of Excellence auction has been managed in partnership with CommoditiesOne, a leading software development firm since 2002. For more information about the Cup of Excellence program, to become a member and to learn more about Costa Rica’s finest coffees log on to and

Today I get to go to El Bosque

So today is the day I get to go to El Bosque. This is the one Guatemalan that for me has improved so much. Our importers Mercanta have had a relationship with these guys for a while but last years (which is current crop) was fantastic.

This is the Journey from hell, over 5 hours on a bus to get to mill. Add to this we get stuck in a huge traffic jam. I’m not a patient traveller but manage to get through without throwing the dolly out of the pram or biting anyone’s head off. The traffic jam just grinds to a halt, so Christian says it’s within walking distance. You couldn’t get more urban if you tried so I thought this was another its only a “Guatemalan hour” “its only just down the Guatemalan road”. But sure enough by the main road, behind a petrol station there was this wet mill.

Here I meet Julio, Mario and Giancarlo (I think so any way, I’m so rubbish at names), all brothers that own the farm mill and the petrol station . We were shown around the mill, then we then all piled into the back of a pick up, to brave the traffic jam. I’m not sure if the locals have seen to many ginger headed pale white skinned English man with a bright green t shirt on before, but they certainly kept double taking and having another look.  I smile wave and nod.

The farm is in the mountain overlooking the built up urban city, but it couldn’t be further away in terms of quietness, beauty. You could have been transported to another world.

Because we had been travelling for so long, time was not on our side, so the brothers arranged for us to have some food up on the plantation a picnic you could say, but with some beautiful chicken and awesome steak it was a feast more than a picnic.

They then arranged for us to have a picking competition, to see who could get the most cherry’s in a basket in ten minutes. We broke into three teams but I think the others teams must have not been buying this coffee. Richard in particular now known as “mr green unripe bean” seemed to have the philosophy “never mind the quality look at the width”. On a more serious note it made me realise how much work and how difficult selective picking is. It also made me realise how therapeutic it can be in our mad world of rush, rush, busy, busy just being out there with nothing but the sun and your own thoughts.

The three brothers were awesome and so friendly, there keen for me to send them our customer comments about the coffee and they were so pleased to hear how much the coffee is appreciated. So if you have treid this coffee and want me to pass on any comments let me know.

The great news is this year they have broken down the picking into area’s so this year we expect some special boutique lots from them, which will make it even better.

From here, back onto the bus to Anacafe’s offices in Guatemala city, and when I saw this on the program, I wasn’t how sure what kind of place it would be, small, large, modern, old, plush, run down. Well the offices were huge, and very plush, the training facilities were some of the most advanced I’ve seen. And a cupping room that I’d be very proud to have at the roastery.

We were greeted by the Chairman of Anacafe Billy ahhh surname (sorry told you I was rubbish with names). We were taken to the boardroom for a very informative presentation about the work they are doing. Long time readers will know I’ve been very impressed with the work that El Salvador has been doing to raise their game. Well I left the boardroom with the same warm feelings for Guatemala. For years they have sold coffee on their Hue Hue’s and their Antiguas and have sat there saying our coffees good. On the whole they were but its not enough in the modern market you need more.  You can see this very clearly in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican model for me has meant they have dropped down the specialty pecking order to the poitn I rarely get exited and it has become very one dimensional. Guatemalan coffee has a lot more to offer in terms of Varity of tastes and I think they are building on that.

In fact after this presentation we were given a chance to taste the different regions at the cupping table. And I’d say the variety we saw there was ahead of anywhere outside of Ethiopia. Some stunningly different tastes and a very interesting exercise.  I applaud Anacafes efforts and wish other countries would approach their coffee in the same way.

The evening we rushed back 20 minutes to get ready then out the door for another meal with some producers. Here we got to meet our guests for tomorrows visit to San Francisco Teckonbourogh (sorry if that’s spelt wrong it’s a guess) and also Mario came along from El Bosque.

Tomorrows meal we have the owners of El Salvador La Fany (a big favourite of ours) and El Borboullon a coffee we adore and hope to do a lot more with this coming crop. Also we have the farmer from Guatemala Entre Rios organic. I guess I’m going to have to visit the gym when I get back Guatemalans love their food (and if I’m honest I love their food too much)

Anyone who tells me these trips are a holiday are wrong, I don’t mean they’re not fun, because trust me I’m in heaven, but the schedule is punishing, and the pace is 100 miles an hour. Any one who knows me knows I like a party, but this night after the meal its an early night for me I’m a spent fource.

Unfortunately I have a bad mix of over excitement (as I say I’m in heaven) and a brain full of ideas and developments for has bean, I sleep for around two hours after a lot of reading and thinking and a bit of CNN.

Part of my reading was Barista Magazine, something I’ve really got into of late. For me Baristas are the cool guys of the industry, and the ones with the greatest power to empower consumers with knowledge and expertise. Luckily they also seem to be some of the most passionate people about specialty coffee. Anyway I’m off track I was reading the magazine and what do I see but this very blog getting a mention from the dwell time boys. Big shout out love and respect to you I’m pleased I have at least one reader who’s kind enough to own up in a publication : )

One last thing before I go, I’m very sorry about the spelling in these postings. I’m not the greatest speller at the best of times but a lot of these “reports” have been written in the back of a bus over some of the worst maintained roads I’ve experienced so its quite difficult to write and to proof read. So sorry and I hope it hasn’t spoilt your enjoyment too much.

The final day is upon us tomorrow I fly home Saturday (arrive Sunday), sad and happy at the same time.

El Bosque
El Bosque 2

el Bosque

El Bosque

El Bosque

El Bosque

El Bosque

Guat and the beat goes on.

Today funnily enough was another day of sitting on the bus. We visited some small produces in
Atitlan called Nimak Cape. It’s a coop of producers who own say from ½ a hector to a hector. In Finca terms this is very small, and something I’ve not been a massive fan of. I wouldn’t say I shyed away from coop coffee’s (we have some in our range that are great examples of fine coffee), but given the alternative of one farm or a coop and the same in the cup, I’d go for the finca.

But what this day taught me was there is no difference as these small farms make up the same, just run by individuals as the larger farm. But the most thought changing part was that if you have individuals tending a small lot that is their coffee they grow it pick it tend to it, where as the larger fincas they have to bring in pickers and buy in labour. I know from experience that if you pay some one to do something they will do it to the best of their ability, but owners will go that extra mile and has an added incentive to make sure the quality is exactly perfect. Some of the picking we saw was truly awesome not a green cherry in sight hand picked to perfection.

Another thing that amazed me was that everyone in the family was involved in picking and moving the coffee to the collection stations, even the young children. At home it’s a chore for my son to move his plate to the kitchen, yet children younger than him were moving 50kg of cherry, and happy and smiling whilst doing it. When I cant get him to tidy his room, but they were picking coffee for hours upon end. Very humbling experience, and such happy nice people.

From there we moved onto a boat ride across lake Atitlan to the town of Panajachel. An interesting town, very touristy that is nice and a chance for some retail therapy, where we stopped in a great hotel overlooking the bay (see photo). Now it is the next day and I’m pleased to be leaving as it felt a very false place and not real Guatemala. We are again on the bus but this time I mind not, as we are off to Finca El Bosque, a coffee we started stocking last year, and is a BIG favourite of mine. So the chance to meet the growers (3 brothers) is very exiting for me.

This was not meant to be part of the trip but everyone kindly gave up the morning shopping to stop me crying and wailing and carrying on “I WANT, I WANT, I WANT, TO GO TO EL BOSQUE”


Atitlan 3

Atitlan 4

Day two or three or I don’t know any more, lets say the next instalment

Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been writing but no internet connection has stopped me posting.

So today was visiting two farms managed by one person. He has another farm but this one was too far out.  The man, Rony Ascencio and a realy cool host. On the way to the farm we stopped of at a roadside café that is far nicer than any roadside café in the UK. Lots more eggs but not as good as the Las Nubes eggs but right up there 

The first farm is one that he’s taken over recently in the past few months. Its been producing OK coffee but Ronys task is to make it produce awesome coffee. This is done buy looking at every component and look at how things can be done better. This may be adding or reducing shade, or increasing drainage, ripping out plant stock and replacing, observing soil content and use of fertilisers and pesticides. I’m firmly of the opinion that the use of pesticides is a good thing if it helps production and is used as little as possible but as much as necessary.  Organic is great but for some people unobtainable and cost restrictive. It also means the market would have to bear the brunt of these costs, which is unnecessary as long as the rules are followed

Anyway off track, the farms were great to see the people SOOOOO NICE. I have a new friend in mi amigo, the little one who chatted away in Spanish to me (see photo below). The food that was put on for us amazing, I don’t think I’m going to be able to fit in one of those airline seats for the journey home.

Good times but lots of bus journeys and lots of rain. Now we are on our way back to Guatemala city, to be based around that area for a couple of days, updates to come.
Rony Farm
Rony Farm 2

Rony Farm

Guatemala cont……

Day 1. WOW you knew that was coming but loving this place. Sunday was spent on a very long bus journey to Esquipulas, to visit a farm called Las Nubes, a small to medium sized finca outside of the town. This is a farm we have cupped many times but has been bought up by long time buyers. Its kind of a queue and we have moved forward to be able to get some of this on the new crop.

The journey was  kind of fun, chatting with the others on the trip and looking at the scenery. We arrived 4 hours later (yes 4 hours). The town is very famous for its church and we arrived on the busiest day of the year. People from all around Guatemala travel on a pilgrimage to the church to see the Black Christ. It’s a statue of Jesus made out of a dark black wood. The queue to touch it was over six hours. People were sleeping under tarpaulin sheets all day and night.


We were then invited by Fabio the owner of Las Nubes to dinner at his daughter’s house. This was a reasonable sized house with a huge garden where we all sat out and ate a wonderful home prepared meal. The house is in the middle of the town so was very close to the hotel where everyone else was stopping. Notice everyone else me the two owners of Mercanta and Richie the roaster from Monmouth were lucky enough to be invited to stop on the farm in a guest house that’s been built.

Now for someone who loves everything coffee the opportunity to stop on a Farm who’s coffee you enjoy and get a chance to sit and drink rum with the farmer his wife daughter and grandchildren is something that’s special. A few times I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. It sounds a little corney but I felt quite emotional. I didn’t sleep too much more exitiment than anything else, but got up around 6:30 ish. An apology to Richie who had to share a room with me (separate beds I must stress) but noone deserves to have to do that.

The morning carried on where the evening left off with enjoying breakfast with some wonderful company. One thing I’ve got to share with you is Sonia’s recipe for Las Nubes Huevos. These are poached egss with a twist. For this you need

1 Egg

You take a small amount of onion and chop it finely. A small pinch of chilli basil and coriander and add to the onion. Take a plastic bag and place the mixture in one of the corners. Then crack the egg and place it in the same corner. Then you knot the bag and place it in boiling water for 10 mins, remove and serve. Wonderful wonderful wonderful.

So the farm great tour loads of photos as soon as I can upload them you’ll see them but a few below. I also got to do an interview with Fabio on my video recorder about what he thinks about our importers us and fairtrade, interesting stuff and I hope to get that on the website some time once I’m back.

We sat ate a wonderful meal, chatted with some great music. I must apologise for the over use of wonderful and awesome but they both fit so well.  This trip is starting to feel a little different to every other trip I’ve been on. The emphasis is much more on meeting and socialising with the farmer and less about cupping. Sure we have some cuppings later in the week, but I’m feeling quite emotional about it all.

So now I sit on the bus for another 4 hours to move to Coban, where we are heading ready for tomorrow. One night (tonight) at the hotel then onwards again. The Internet connection has been non existent my emails must be in the hundreds and I’ve no way of contacting home. But when you read this I must have them all back as I’ve uploaded this :). The time flies and I know soon I’ll be setting home but for now I‘ll enjoy.

Guatemala Day 1 (kind of)

So I’m here in Beautiful Guatemala, I arive at the hotel around 24 hours after leaveing home the previous day, but with time zones and alike my body doesn’t know if its coming or going.

My advice if you are ever visiting central / south America is don’t go through Newark or Houston in particular, Chaos is the only work I can use to describe both of them. Every time I go through US border control it gets a little hard, slower and more hassle. I believe there will come a time where no one can enter the country, kind of understand why, but I was in transit and having to collect my mugage and re check in bizarre!

Any way the coffee the coffee. Not much to tell you as all I’ve done is slept, but this morning we are off to Esquipulas of which I know little about but hope to telll you more later

But as a first off the view I woke up to this morning, its not a bad life.

Hotel View