Sep 13, 21
This episode we are in Huehuetenango, Guatemala tasting coffee from Finca El Regalo, farmed by 75-year-old coffee producer Don Francisco Martinez.
Don Francisco Martinez is a resident of Aldea El Chalúm, from the municipality of La Libertad He has been a member of Esquipulas (COOPESQUI, R.L) for 23 years and a coffee farmer for more than 55 years. He is also part of the Specialty project in the Highlands of Huehuetenango.
- Francisco Martínez - Finca El Regalo (Huehuetenango)
- Outsmarting Coffee Leaf Rust in Guatemala
- The Migration Problem Is a Coffee Problem
- Harris message to migrants: ‘Do not come, do not come’
- US promises $310m aid to Central America as it tackles migration
I've recently had the pleasure of sampling coffee from Finca El Regalo from Huehue. And I've been a little bit spoiled because it's a really, really, really excellent coffee. I recently finished a bag of this coffee — I went from this coffee to a Kenyan coffee — the Kenyan coffee is super acidic, super bright. I don't like a really, really bright cup. I know that sounds a little bit strange… However, what I like about this Guatemalan coffee is that it's intense, yet it's clean. It's intense, but it's balanced. And I think that's kind of where my palate sits in the coffee world. You need the acidity, but it needs to be balanced. When I went from this coffee to the Kenyan coffee, it was just, it was a punch in the face.
The Huehuetenango region is located in the Highlands in Western Guatemala and is one of three non-volcanic areas within Guatemala What Huehue does have, however, is the highest mountain ranges in all of Central America. And the limestone soil in Huehue is known for relatively high pH levels. High pH in soil is known to affect the acidity of the coffee. The high altitude also contributes to the acidity, and this is where Huehue coffee has a unique advantage. The thermal hot masses of air coming down from the Gulf of Mexico, mixed with the cooler air, this mixture of air creates a microclimate at the top of the mountains, and allows coffee to grow at high altitudes without being affected by frost damage.
So essentially what we're talking about is a high-quality coffee, probably the highest, right? And it's growing in the perfect coffee growing conditions. Where this gets interesting is where coffee can grow at altitudes of approximately 2000 meters above sea level. That unique positioning allows the plants to grow more slowly. Slow development of the trees allows more complex sugars to develop within the cherries. And that adds to the overall flavour. So the soil in Huehue, they have the porous clay soil, which is rich in nutrients, it drains well, and does still include volcanic dust from nearby eruptions over time. So it does get that benefit that the volcanic regions of Guatemala tend to get as well from the volcanic dust, which is great, right? It's the best of both worlds.
It's now worth touching on what it's like to farm coffee in Guatemala in particular, with climate change being a problem for farmers. Climate change is fanning the flames of a fungus, a fungus that develops on the coffee plants, called coffee leaf rust. And this is a problem in Guatemala at the moment. It's essentially a debilitating fungus that destroys coffee plants. It can wipe out entire farms.
Coffee leaf rust between 2012 and 2017, it actually caused more than $3 billion US in damage and lost profits and forced almost two million farmers off their land. Historically coffee leaf rust has been a problem. Typically, farmers deal with the fungus with fungicides, however climate change and the frequency of heavy rains, drier seasons, they all create a perfect storm for the fungus to develop.
The displacement caused by this fungus is actually forcing families to flee Guatemala. And because these people need an income they're attempting to get into the United States. However, the United States do not want this wave of immigration that is currently being caused by the difficulties of farming coffee and the general way of life within Guatemala.
The US are looking to give 25 million to farmers with a further 30 million to go to Guatemala and Honduras for daily meals and literacy programs for schoolchildren. The more I dug into it, the darker it got, and the more I dug into it, Guatemalan people were questioning whether or not the humanitarian aid from the US was actually going to get to the places it needed to go, because there is some criticism about that aid being gobbled up by infrastructure and administration to disperse it.
It was around about that point that I really just wanted to go back to enjoying the coffee.