Carlos Vásquez is a veteran coffee farmer. Before starting his own farm, called La Benedición, he worked on his father’s farm for two decades. Now in his fifteenth season of coffee growth, he manages around 50 acres and for the last two years has made dramatic improvements by installing solar dryers to protect the coffee from rain. Our Crown Jewel selection is a great example of the benefit of careful drying, as produced by Carlos Vásquez and his family on their farm.
Located near the municipality of Cuilco within Guatemala’s Huehuetenango department, Finca La Benedición is just a hop, skip, and a jump to the Mexican border. The remoteness of much of Huehuetenango adds difficulty to extracting coffee from a region that already faces the challenge of rain during the harvest season. For this very reason, the solar dryers installed at La Benedición are key to ensuring the stability of the coffee’s quality before it makes the long journey from Cuilco to Oakland and beyond.
Carlos Vásquez is growing Bourbon and Caturra. Bourbon is one of Arabica’s two commonly grown heirloom varieties (the other is Typica), and it traces its history back to the island that was once its namesake, now a French department known as Réunion. The high quality of the Bourbon cultivar is frequently identified by its citric acidity – something that this coffee will display readily given the right roasting conditions. While still fairly common, it has been outpaced en masse with higher-yielding, more disease resistant trees… such as Caturra. The cultivar is a natural mutation of Bourbon originating in Brazil in the early part of the 20th century, and is a dwarf tree. It has proliferated extensively throughout the Americas, in part due to its high productivity (despite above average fertilization requirements) and the fact that the trees can be planted more densely than comparably yielding cultivars.
This lot is a fairly dense SHG and fits squarely within European Prep standards in terms of screen size. With a very slightly elevated moisture content, it’s not a huge surprise to see the water activity edge past 0.60. There’s very little to be concerned about here: the fact that the green has high density combined with the raised-bed drying under canopy will protect this coffee from adverse aging conditions and allow for some nice reactions to caramelization in the roaster.
A very clean and delicate Guatemalan coffee that was unique on the cupping table. The two roasts below differ only in total roast time in the drum. The faster roast, PR-386, exhibited delicate floral and citrus notes in the cup, while the longer roast, PR-385, tasted like a clean and sweet butterscotch candy. Definitely an interesting profile for a washed coffee from Huehuetenango which are usually known for their coffees with big bodied and aggressive acid structure.
This is an unique coffee, and while Jen’s second round of roasting produced good results in terms of differentiating between a clean, simple, sweet coffee and a dynamic but divisive option, our tasting group was not of unanimous opinion on which was more enjoyable. PR-385 was the mellower coffee, roasted a longer, it proved less soluble in our Bonavita. Notes like butterscotch and peanut butter cookie made it an approachable coffee, though not thrillingly complex. The faster roast of PR-386 made a far more interesting cup, though the panel was split on its enjoyability. I really liked the complex acids that reminded me of a tart Colombian or Kenyan coffee, by contrast Jen found it abrasive. Our notes were broad, sweeping, and diverse: I noted fig, molasses, and grapefruit; Evan found deep fruit leather, rose, apple, and herbs; Richard tasted cherry, maple, and vanilla; and Jen thought of poblano peppers. Any way you slice it, this is not your typical Huehuetenango, but it can be manipulated via roasting style and brew strength to suit the taste of either the adventurous or the casual coffee drinker… but probably not both at once.