Finca La Union is located 1 kilometer from the municipality of Acatenango, a rural community just north of the massive 13,000ft Acatenango volcano, in the lower region of Guatemala’s Chimaltenango department. La Union has been in the Higueros family since the 1950s and is currently owned and run by Cesar Higueros. Cesar not only does an outstanding job processing the coffee from his own estate, he also processes coffee from about a dozen producers in his area. Cesar is re-building the estate’s wet mill infrastructure to include mechanical washers that remove mucilage with water pressure and friction. He also works closely with Anacafé, Guatemala’s government coffee sector, on reseeding projects and organic fertilizer development, using La Union as a testing ground.
Coffee at La Union is entirely shade grown. The farm’s soil, as one might guess, is high in volcanic minerals and otherwise sandy and consistently moist due to high annual rainfall in the area, which allows coffee root systems easy movement and ample nutrition. Processing at La Union involves depulping the day’s cherry (during harvest the farm employs 50 pickers) and fermenting the parchment for 30-36 hours depending on the current climate. As with many large farms in high-humidity areas, multiple drying mediums are deployed depending on need: La Union has patios, raised beds, and a mechanical dryer at their disposal. Cesar will most often begin by drying coffee on the patio and then moving it to the raised beds, which themselves are encapsulated in a large greenhouse, in order to finish drying in a consistently warm and dry environment. The mechanical dryer, a perforated rotating drum that circulates heated air to dry the coffee, is used when necessary, often during high volume periods or when patio space isn’t available due to rainfall. The mastery of multiple drying methods certainly pays off: Cesar’s coffee this year is transparent, juicy, and nuanced with lemon-lime acidity and flavors of ginger candy, honey, vanilla, and caramelized milk.
Finca El Union’s coffee is dry milled and exported by The Falla family, now a fifth generation milling and exporting group based in nearby Antigua that goes by the name of San Miguel Coffees. The Falla family first started growing coffee in the Antigua valley in 1890 and today the central property offers complete wet and dry milling operations to family farms across the country, as well as exporting, marketing and relationship management, all on farms’ behalf.