We have to admit something. Don’t be alarmed, but…okay here it goes.
We are addicts. We are both absolutely addicted to…coffee. You could call us caffeine junkies. A day without coffee, even just the thought of it, is unbearable. We especially love the the rich, delicious Guatemalan coffee from Starbucks. Given the fact that we are currently in Guatemala, you may be under the impression that we have now arrived at our Mecca, the holy land itself. Let us assure you that this is most certainly not the case.
Since arriving in Central America, we have been struggling to find the same quality coffee available back home. With the exception of a very limited number of cafes in tourist havens, the brown watery liquid impostors come nowhere near what we would call a good cup of joe.
So when we heard about Finca Filadelfia, a coffee farm near Antigua that apparently makes some of the best coffee in all of Guatemala, we decided to take a tour of the farm and learn how high quality coffee is grown and processed, plus how to serve it up right.
Located between Jocotenango and San Felipe de Jesús, just ten minutes outside of Antigua, the 700 acre Finca Filadelfia is a medium-sized coffee plantation, one of the 120,000 in the country. It seems the entire world must be as coffee crazy as we are, since all the coffee grown on all the plantations here makes up a mere 3% of global coffee production.
Our tour around the finca (finca means farm or plantation in Spanish) begins by hopping up into an enormous army-like Jeep with four other coffee-lovers and our English-speaking guide Josue. We drive to our first stop, where Josue shows us tiny beginnings of coffee plants, thousands of them lined up in a space the size of a football field. We learn that there are two kinds of coffee – Robust and Arabic. Because Arabic plants in Guatemalan soil would require pesticides to kill insect infestation, the coffee grown in Guatemala uses the Arabic plants on Robust roots. So, how does that work, we wonder. Do they tape the plants from one type onto the roots of the other? That must take ages, impossible. Yet this is exactly how it is done, and at an impressive speed.
Six Guatemalan women work to tape together 1,300 plants per day at the finca. They must precisely slice millimeter-thin roots, wrapping, winding and taping them together before planting them. This work must be done by women, Josue explains, not because of their smaller, more delicate hands or a superior work ethic. The chemicals on a man’s hand actually somehow cause a much lower success rate – only 17% of plants joined by men survive, compared to 96% of the women’s work. Girl power!
Once the bushes are planted, it takes five years before yielding coffee berries, and after that, one coffee bush produces coffee only every three years. Put into perspective that is only 32 cups, or one pack of fresh roasted goodness, every three years. We spent a few minutes hunting for ripe berries and tasting them (sweet, bitter), and then hopped back in the monster Jeep for an adventurous and very up close ride through the plantation before heading to the processing area of the finca.
When the fruits ripen to a bright red, they are handpicked by coffee pickers who deposit them into baskets around their waists, carrying up to 25 pounds at a time until deposited at the processing area. This is done five times every day.
The actual coffee beans must be then extracted from the fruit and fermented. This is the first step that is not done by hand. A giant machine, similar to a kind of mill, squeezes and pops the beans out of the fruit.
The coffee beans are then rinsed and laid to dry until the coffee master (what an awesome job title) decides that they are properly dried and ready to be roasted. The coffee master knows the beans are ready when they are a certain shade of gold and make the crisp sound of cornflakes when you let them sift through your hand. At this point, the beans are still far from the roasting machine.
First, there are still two remaining shells around the beans, both of which must be removed by different machines (which, Dani noted with glee, where made in Germany).
Then, the beans are loaded into a conveyor belt where, again, Guatemalan women hand separate beans according to their size, a la I Love Lucy. Small and large are used to produce less quality coffee or instant. Medium sized beans are the only ones used for the high quality export coffee.
That’s right, almost all the best coffee is exported, hence our struggle to get our hands on the good stuff while we are here. In fact, Finca Filadelfia exports 80 % of its coffee, only 20 % are sold within the country, or on their website.
Finally, the beans are ready for roasting, which takes place in giant vats in the final, most wonderful smelling room of all. After the tour, Josue leads us to the café restaurant and treats us to a coffee, any way we like and we chat away over espressos, cappuccinos, and good old cups of strong coffee. Heaven!
Any wild guess which company buys up one-fourth of the entire global coffee population?
You got it. Starbucks. Now when will they open one within a 100 miles of here…
More pictures of Finca Filadelfia:.