Guatemala is well-known for its high-quality coffee production so on our way out of Antigua, Sam & I decided take a tour of the Finca Filadelfia Coffee Plantation to learn more about the production process of my favorite morning drink.
History of Plantation
Over the past year, Sam (and my coworkers for that matter) have converted me into a coffee lover with a full-fledged caffeine fix. I drink it daily now, and like most of things I put in my body, I care about the quality. Finca Filadelfia, while not certified organic, tries to utilize as many sustainable principles as possible, such as shade-grown, compost fertilized, and sun-dried beans. Located on the slopes of one of Guatemala’s famous volcanoes, Finca Filadelfia is in a beautiful location with a fully working plantation, hotel and eco-tourism gambit.
The first stop we visited at the plantation tour was the nursery. I was surprised to learn that coffee trees spend nearly 2 years in the nursery before the saplings are strong enough to be planted out in the farm. Initially, both the robusto & arabica seeds are planted and sprouted. While the flavor from arabica beans tends to be much better than robusto, its roots are susceptible to disease and pests. Thus, the plants are spliced, where the roots of the robusto are wrapped around the arabica roots as protection. The plant grows as a hybrid for approximately two years in a shady nursery gives daily irrigation and care.
The second stop on the tour was the plantation itself, or the active coffee farm. Once the sapling is planted out in the farm, it will not provide a good coffee harvest until it’s 5th year (3rd year in the farm). The beans grow right along the branch of the tree in big clusters. They transition from green to red as they age and ripen. Once the beans are roughly the same red color as a red delicious apple, they are ready to pick.
All of the beans at Finca Filadelfia are hand-picked and we were actually there in the middle of the harvest season. Largely a female industry, women go out daily to pick the trees, carrying the collected beans in a big fabric satchel which hangs off the crown of their heads. They had us pick a few ourselves so we could get a feel for the amount of work that it would take to clear a whole plantation. Definitely a time-consuming job!
Learning About the Coffee Making Process
Once the beans are picked, they head to the factory for cleaning & drying, which was conveniently our third stop on the tour. There are several layers to the bean, including the fruity outer shell, the inner mucus, and the papery skin of the bean. All of these need to be removed before the bean can be roasted, which occurs in several steps. In the picture below, you can see the first layer of the fruity shell is removed leaving the bean from the inside.
Utilizing friction & water, the outer shell layer is removed in a big machine. Next, the beans soak in a water & yeast bath for about 12-48 hours to dissolve the inner mucus. Then they are let to dry in the sun for several days so that the inner skin can dry and be easily removed. All of these layers from the coffee are reused as compost and animal feed to close the life-cycle of production.
Next, the beans get sorted for quality. Size, deformities, age, and color are all part of the quality inspection process, and is largely stream-lined using specialized machinery that sort the beans quickly. Usually only the top-tier, 5 star quality beans are used for export, while the 4 and 3 star beans are used for blended, lower-quality production or instant coffee.
Roasting & Tasting Room
Next in the process comes the roasting. Many US companies prefer to do their own in-house roasting as this is a big part of the flavor development. In most cases, the beans are shipped just like they are in the raw, dried stage. For the sake of the tour, they showed us their in-house roasting establishment, which is used for local coffee and some export operations. This is when the coffee beans start to look like what I’m used to seeing and smelling!
Roasting is a highly unique process depending on what type of flavor is desired from the coffee. Although the beans themselves will have certain characteristics depending on the region they’re grown in, roasting might include different types of wood or additives to create a certain profile or enhance certain qualities in the flavor. The longer the bean is roasted, the darker the bean becomes, and in fact, the lower the caffeine content. The beans need to cool for approximately 24-48 hours after roasting, and then they are ready for packaging.
My favorite stop on the tour was naturally the tasting room! We got to sample a few different roasts as well as espresso and standard brew coffee. The flavor was so bright and fresh, and our guide explained that a lot of the flavor from Guatemala is actually from the volcanic soil the plants grow in. It imparts a little bit different profile than other regions of the world, which I could certainly pick up on the types we tried.
I apologize for such a long post, but I feel like I learned so much on our 2 hour coffee tour that I just wanted to share some of the highlights! I have such a deeper appreciation of just how much work, time and research goes into the coffee production process. Plus after learning a bit more about flavor, I’ve been having fun drinking Guatemalan coffee and identifying the different notes & roasts. Let the coffee snobbery begin :)