February 15, 2019
A huge part of our job here at Hiptipico is gaining a better understanding culture to share with you, our readers and customers, so you know what life on the ground is like here in Guatemala. As you may know, we are very closely connected to Cafe Loco, a specialty coffee shop here in Panajachel. Hiptipico founder, Alyssa, is married to their owner, DJ! After 7 years in Guatemala and lots of time spent enjoying their fresh brews on our lunch breaks, we decided to take a page out of the Cafe Loco books and head over to Finca San Jeronimo, and gain a better understanding of the culture around coffee! Usually only open to professional buyers, Alyssa's husband DJ got us an exclusive look at one of his favorite coffee farms in Guatemala, right here on Lake Atitlan!
Our day started bright and early to get up to the finca while work was still in full swing- due to the sun and hot midday temps, days on the coffee farm start early- like 5 and 6 am early. After about an hour and a half drive out of Panajachel and up to San Lucas Tolimán, we were greeted by the hustle and bustle of farm work and some tight security! With housing, schools, and even a church on the property, only authorized guests are allowed into the coffee farm with identification.
After a warm welcome and tour around the coffee mills, we began our crash course in all things coffee. From harvesting, to washing, sorting, drying, and storing, it's safe so say there's way more that goes into every cup than we had ever realized! When it's harvested, the coffee beans are in the form of a small red cherry, with what you'd recognize as a traditional coffee bean hidden inside. Aside from picking the cherry when it's at the right color and size, it also has to be an exact density, or it will make a less than ideal cup of coffee. That's what makes the area around Lake Atitlán perfect! High altitude and big temperature differences between night and day make a dense bean perfect for brewing an internationally recognized cup of coffee.
We got to taste the difference ourselves, heading inside from the wet and dry mills where the beans are processed to try our hand at cupping. Cupping is a specific way to taste coffee that allows you to note all the differences in its flavor profile. By slurping the coffee really loudly in a way your mom would probably lecture you for, it splashes onto all of your tastebuds so you can taste every flavor, not just the ones from the tastebuds at the tip of your tongue. While we were definitely not the best at this, it was an extremely fun and eye-opening part of the experience!
After our caffeine boost we headed back out onto the farm to learn about some of the techniques used that make San Jeronimo's coffee so distinct, like their hybrid coffee plants. The Arabica plant is recognized for a better flavor profile while the Robusta plant is hardier and can grow in a wider range of conditions. By splicing together the seedling of an Arabica and Robusta bean, they've managed to create a plant that has the positive qualities of both. With the help of their famous "surgeon," San Jeronimo is known for producing around 800 of these hybrids per day, with about a 98% success rate on these "surgeries."
Following our visit to the nursery, we headed off to see more of the coffee farm- adult plants and some things you might not expect to see, like a bamboo forest that made the perfect spot for an impromptu Hiptipico photoshoot, before heading to lunch. With the finca also being home to a Parma Dairy, we enjoyed some of the freshest cheese and most delicious pasta we'd had in a while! After taking advantage of lushness of this region and the San Jeronimo gardens with a few more shots, we thanked our hosts for an incredible inside look behind the scenes of coffee production and said adios!
We topped off an amazing day with the freshest soft-serve of all time and headed back down San Lucas to Panajachel, already thinking about enjoying our next cup of Cafe Loco, and all the hard work that goes into each cup.