Guatemala is one of the richest nations in terms of renown quality with its coffee history dating back as early as 1747 with many attributing its introduction to the Jesuits around that time. Guatemalan coffee truly began taking its shape after 1856 when traditional indigo fell out of favor leading to coffee becoming a more favorable cash crop and export. In 1871 the efforts of the infamous Justo Rufino Barrios established coffee as the central product of the Guatemalan economy while exploiting indigenous peoples and seizing land for large scale coffee production. In just ten years coffee was ninety percent of nation’s exports.
While the 20th Century saw attempts at land reforms, instability led to a bitter Civil War lasting from 1960 to 1996 and the impact of that struggle continues to linger today. Saint Frank has friends with tragic stories of suffering from different sides of that conflict, one that like all conflicts requires patience, understanding, and reconciliation for healing and hope. Today we are honored to work with people and communities laboring toward a hopeful future and as in so many other cases in the world, we see coffee as being a great catalyst for connection, growth, and change.
While there are still massive plantations growing commodity coffees, the new millennium has seen an increase in quality-focused farming from small to medium sized producers and for many people the heart of Guatemalan specialty coffee beats in old Antigua, which means "Ancient". Famous for its Spanish Baroque architecture and many old colonial churches, Antigua is now a UNESCO World Heritage site having once served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala and the governing seat of the Spanish Colony of Guatemala for 200 years. With such history and tradition it is no surprise that Antigua coffee also carries a strong name and tradition.
Saint Frank works with the long-standing and highly regarded Zelaya coffee family in Antigua based beneath two towering volcanoes: Vulcan de Agua and Vulcan de Fuego. The Zelaya family has been growing classic Antigua coffees in such famous farms as Finca Carmona and Bella Vista (from which the well known coffee "Bella Carmona" is derived). Luis Pedro Zelaya Jr. manages several Antigua coffee estates and his family’s exporting business Zelcafe based at Beneficio Bella Vista just outside Antigua proper. Anyone who discusses Guatemala Specialty Coffee will invariably discuss Luis Pedro and the outstanding coffees and operations of Zelcafe, we are no exception. Luis Pedro and his team are some of the most hospitable and hard working people in the coffee community and it is a pleasure and an honor to call them partners and friends.
In addition to historic quality family plantations Luis Pedro also works with a good number of small producers on the slopes of the volcano Vulcan de Agua and combines their lots and together to form a specific terroir profile into a coffee he calls “Hunapu”, an indigenous local Mayan name. The Hunapu project was startedIn 2012 we asked Luis Pedro to connect us to a specific producer from this large group and we found one of our most popular and consistently performing coffees in Don Guayo, which hails from the small city on the outskirts of Anitgua under the Vulcan de Agua called “Ciudad Vieja”.
Eduardo “Guayo” Gomez is one of the most motivated and hard working producers in all of Antigua. His friends call him “Don Guayo” which shows his natural leadership and the respect he garners among his peers. When we asked him to share what he wanted our customers to know about his coffee he immediately deferred the representation of his own name and very sincerely discussed his passion and pride for the reputation and expression of Guatemala coffee as the best in the world.
We are incredibly proud to share an exclusive relationship with Don Guayo and represent his excellent coffee, which every year impresses with a clean, bright and round profile with a freshness that lasts long into the season surpassing most other coffees. Guayo has two plots of land from which he grows mostly a selection of Bourbon named Bourbon 300 and is called “Bourboncito” among local producers because of its smaller size. Don Guayo handles all of the production himself and during harvest sleeps in a small shack on the farm even though it’s only a short distance from his home. The cherries are picked by hand and delivered the Buena Vista Mill for washing and drying on raised rotating bunk beds pictured above. The processing by Luis Pedro's team is among the best in the world turning out impeccably clean coffees that stand the test of time, while most coffees will retain their flavor and freshness for four to six months, Don Guayo is just as vibrant and clean up to one year after the harvest allowing us to keep the coffee as a constant profile in our Little Brother blend for an extended season.
San Pedro Necta, Huehuetenango
Another region of Guatemala with incredible potential for quality has soaring high and steep mountains growing the complex coffees of Huehuetenango. While Antigua coffees can be known for their rich and bright qualities that reflect the heritage of the culture and land, the coffees of Huehuetenango can produce complex and fruited coffees of an altogether different profile that reflect the remote and exotic nature of the region.
Recently Luis Pedro began collaborating with Byron Benavente who has been working with small producers in Huehuetenango. In Antigua we were privileged to blind taste a group of coffees from San Pedro Necta and we were immediately intrigue. We learned that Marcos Domingo leads a group of families growing Bourbon, Catuaí, and Caturra around the peak of Las Palomas ranging in altitude from 1800 meters to as high as 1950 meters! The harvest is naturally much later than the rest of Guatemala with a short season only beginning in February and finishing in April with two main pickings. The coffee is pulped on small individual de-pulpers at each farm and fermented in wooden and cement tanks. The parchment is currently dried on small patios but Saint Frank will begin helping them transition to raised beds for a longer and more even drying period resulting in more stable and longer lasting flavor. We are excited to begin developing our relationship with the producers and community of Las Palomas and believe we can see some amazing progress and quality in this exciting new area.