Region: Alta Verapaz, Coban
Owner: Valdés Family
Altitude: 1400 – 1600 metres above sea level
Variety: Catuai, Caturra
Processing: Fully Washed
Stone fruit acidity, sweet and balanced. Caramel, oranges, milk chocolate and brown sugar.
About Santa Isabel (with thanks to Melbourne Coffee Merchants)
Santa Isabel is located in San Cristóbal Verapaz – a wonderful region with remarkable mountains, a cool climate with plenty of rainfall, dense rainforest and impressive flora. It is located in the upper part of Alta Verapaz, very close to Cobán. The 300-hectare farm sits at an altitude of 1,400–1,600m above sea level.
The farm is a family business that was founded in 1875, when the land was granted to the Valdés family by Guatemala’s President. The coffee is in fact produced by the fourth and fifth generations of the Valdés family. Today the farm is owned by Luis Valdés (who has been running the farm since 1961), however the day to day running and management is undertaken by his son, also called Luis, (or, to his friends and family, “Wicho”). Wicho lives on the farm with his wife and two children, Juanalita and Luis IV (nicknamed Nacho).
Wicho grew up watching his dad on the farm and fell in love with coffee from a very young age. After school he went on to study agriculture, before returning to take over the management of Santa Isabel. Wicho’s passion and love for the farm is evident as soon as you meet him. As explained very simply to us on our most recent visit “We love it here.”
Wicho and his family take their environmental responsibility very seriously. One third of the farm’s 300 hectares is dedicated to a natural forest reserve (made up of cedar, pine and mahogany trees), which helps protect natural water resources and encourage biodiversity, providing a habitat for deer, birds and squirrels. Wicho also grows macadamia nut trees on the farm, which he harvests, roasts and sells.
130 hectares of the farm at Santa Isabel is dedicated to coffee production. The plantation is planted out with Caturra (80%) and Catuaí (20%) variety trees. Wicho adopts a 5 year/5 row approach to pruning, to optimise ventilation and light (and reducing excess humidity), which minimises fungal disease (including leaf rust) and in turn the need for chemical applications. Inga trees are planted throughout the plantation to provide shade for the coffee trees, and help enrich the soil by providing a healthy cover of foliage. Furthermore, frequent application of lombricompost (mostly the by-products of wet-processing) has enabled them to reduce their applications of chemical fertilisers by more than 15%.
A nursery is located on the farm, where new coffee seedlings are grown under shade using polyurethane bag. Wicho also has a weather station (funded by ANACAFE) on the plantation which helps him manage the farm much better and determine the best timing for things such as fertilisation application, pruning etc.
The annual precipitation at Santa Isabel is around 3,500mm, with regular rainfall between 9-10 months of the year. Constant rain (much of it a gentle drizzle) means that flowering is very staggered, with eight to nine flowerings a year, usually between April and June, This results in a long harvest period which usually runs between November and April. Due to the fact that the coffee ripens at different stages, Wicho instructs at least 10 passes (with breaks of up to 14 days between passes) for picking to ensure that only the very ripest cherries are selected. For 2015, picking started on the 15th of November and will continue through until the end of March.
Wicho employs and train over 40 permanent workers throughout the year, and 500 temporary workers during the harvest period, who come from up to 20 miles away to work on the farm. Wicho has commented that although many farms in the region find it increasingly difficult to secure labour for the entirety of the harvest, Santa Isabel has a stable and reliable workforce, despite their reputation for being very demanding with regards to selective picking. In addition to paying fairly, a picker at Santa Isabel can harvest up to 160 pounds of cherry a day, which is a great days yield, meaning that many of the same workers come back year after year.
After picking, the red cherries are transported by foot or tractor to Santa Isabel’s wet mill where they are pulped immediately and then fermented for up to 48 hours. After fermentation the coffee in parchment is 24 hours It is then dried in the sun for 7-10 days until it reaches 30% humidity and then transferred to a greenhouse for a further 15–30 days to dry in full on raised beds
This is the sixth year we have purchased Santa Isabel. We bought the winning lots in both the 2011 Cup of Excellence (where it placed 8th) and 2012 Cup of Excellence (where it placed 3rd). We then bought from the farm directly in 2013, 2014, 2015 and again this year in 2016. We are really happy with this year’s harvest – in the cup you will find the coffee incredibly sweet with ripe plum acidity, toffee sweetness and notes of orange, red apple and chocolate, and a lingering maple syrup finish.