Royal is proud to present a micro lot from remote smallholder farmers in the San Pedro Necta municipality, Huehuetenango, for the first time in our long history of working with Luis Pedro Zelaya and the Bella Vista wet/dry mill. Though based in Antigua and famous for Antigua coffees, Bella Vista works with targeted smallholder groups in other departments throughout Guatemala, often overseeing processing and lot building from cherry to export. In this case the Bella Vista team has been advising a select farmer group in San Pedro Necta for the past 8 years, transporting their finished parchment to Antigua, and then carefully building highly-traceable lots for buyers.
Huehuetenango is perhaps Guatemala’s best-known department for bright, articulate coffees. Coffees from here are often clear-flavored and buoyant on the palate, with a balance evocative of tropical fruit juice and iced tea. Huehuetenango is a ruggedly steep and lush department consisting almost entirely of highland valleys that benefit from temperate climates at high elevations, narrow passages and sharp peaks, a landscape with seemingly endless potential for outstanding coffees. Most of Huehuetenango’s smallholders descend from pre-Columbian civilizations and identify as Mam, Q’anjob’al, Chuj, Jakaltek, Tektik, Awakatek, Chalchitek, Akatek, and K’iche’. The department’s entire population is estimated to be 70% indigenous, many of whom live with daily political and economic insecurity despite producing some of the country’s top coffees, be they certified or conventional.
2013 was the first year the Bella Vista team began working with farmers in San Pedro Necta. As of 2019 that number had grown to 46 farmers. Because of the physical distance, and because participating farmers are processing their own coffee, Bella Vista relies on a resident coordinator, Byron Benanvente, to stay in constant communication with the growers and arrange the training programs which have been central to the success of the project, and which cover agricultural practices on the farm as well as processing and storage techniques to maximize results in the cup, and on the shelf. Byron and the Bella Vista team rely greatly on local community leaders to translate between Spanish and the local dialect, to keep farmers engaged and empowered to provide feedback.
Farms in this area are roughly 1 hectare in size only, and harvesting coffee is a core family affair. Families typically have small depulpers and concrete tanks for fermentation—though families also use wooden containers and plastic bins. Cherry is depulped the same day it is picked and fermented for 36-48 hours depending on the climate at the time. Once fermented, the parchment is manually washed and dried on plastic tarps placed over household patios, where it is constantly rotated. Once completely dried, samples are packed and sent to Bella Vista for evaluation. This particular lot is exquisitely balanced and expressive, with tropical fruit brightness, satisfying caramelized sugar sweetness, fragrant hibiscus tea, raisin, and wildflower honey.