Santa Clara Estate

  • Country
    Guatemala
  • Department
    Antigua
  • Farm Size
    90 Hectares
  • Elevation
    1,600-1,830m above sea level
  • Variety
    Bourbon, Caturra
  • Processing
    Fully Washed
  • Owner
    Zelaya family
  • Awards
    Cup of Excellence 2001, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2018
  • Relationship Length
    Since 2008

Almond nougat, golden sultana, red apple and milk chocolate. Sweet and creamy, with great weight and balance.

The Zelaya family has been growing coffee for more than 100 years. This renowned family owns farms throughout Guatemala and grows some of only a handful of genuine ‘Antigua’ coffees (coffees grown in the Antigua valley area, bounded by three volcanoes: Agua, Acatenango and Fuego).

Finca Santa Clara is ninety hectares in size and is located on the fertile southern slopes of the Volcán de Agua, in the Antigua Valley, at 1,600–1,830 metres above sea level. The farm has been managed since 1988 by Ricardo Zelaya, the fourth generation of the Zelaya family to have produced coffee at Santa Clara.

Ricardo is a meticulous and incredibly professional farmer who is focused on producing the very best coffee he can. He manages three coffee farms in Antigua, Santa Clara Hacienda Carmona and Puerta Verde, and owns and manages a farm called Carrizal in New Oriente. His farms are scrupulously well-managed—from the careful selection of varietals planted and attention given to plant nutrition and pruning, to the management and close supervision of the wet and dry mills – which are located on the estate and owned by Ricardo, giving him complete control over quality from picking through to export.

Ricardo is passionate about sustainability. Coffee on his farms is shade-grown, which protects the plants from direct sunlight, maintains soil health, and provides an important habitat for birds and insect life. The family’s mills are also eco-friendly and feature sedimentation tanks that prevent pollution of the local river systems. All of the pulp from the mills is composted and used as an organic fertiliser for the farm. In addition, parchment from the dry mill is used for fuel to reduce the reliance on wood.

 

 

Ricardo also has a big heart – leading with passion, care, positivity and a sense of humour. He has a loyal and dedicated team, and many of his staff have worked on the farm and with the family for generations. One of his longest-standing staff members is the Farm Administrator, Marcos Rompiche, who has worked for the Zelayas for over two decades and is the third generation in his family to work the land. Production is overseen by Israel Yool, who has over fifteen years experience working for the family and is the second generation to do so. Including Marcos and Israel, the farm provides work for sixty permanent employees year-round, all of whom help Ricardo manage the processing and production of his farms. The family hires an additional 250–400 individuals during the harvest to help pick and process the coffee.

Ricardo recognises that his people are his most valuable asset “80% of the cost of coffee is labour—you need to depend on a lot of people. I think that if your people are earning a good salary, if they have good conditions and if they’re happy, then they’ll do a better job, and with more will.”

Head here to learn more about the Zelaya family’s work in Antigua.

ABOUT ANTIGUA GUATEMALA

The Antigua valley is bounded by three giant volcanoes – Agua (Water), Fuego (Fire) and Acatenango. Of the three, Fuego is the only one still active. On many visits, we have been in town at times the volcano has erupted, adding some chaos to the harvest (in the short term, the ash can stick to the leaves of coffee trees nearby and prevent the trees from photosynthesising), but ultimately providing mineral-rich ash for Antigua’s soil. This volcanic matter helps the soil retain its moisture, offsetting the region’s lower rainfall.

Coffee from Antigua is perhaps Guatemala’s best-known and most celebrated and, as such, typically attracts higher prices than coffee from other regions. They tend to be heavier bodied, with notes of dark chocolate, brown sugar and red apple. In 2000, Antigua received a Denomination of Origin to recognise the region as distinct, and to prevent other coffees from being marketed as Antiguan.

HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED

Every cherry at Santa Clara is selectively hand-picked and sorted before being inspected and approved by the foreman at the wet mill. The farm also hires around fifty ‘special pickers’ who have demonstrated particular dexterity and are selected to hand-harvest some of the farm’s micro-lots using their impressive attention to detail. These employees can receive more than double the minimum daily wage by picking coffee at the farm. According to Ricardo, although they are very demanding about picking practices, the majority of the seasonal workers come back year after year, which is a testament to the fair conditions and pay they receive.

At the mill, the fruit is pulped and fermented for 14–22 hours in tiled tanks. The beans are then washed to remove any remaining pulp and carefully dried on the patio and then on raised beds, with a greenhouse-style enclosed canopy, which features walls that can be lifted up and down to maximise airflow and control temperature and humidity. This method of drying allows Ricardo more control over the process, enabling him to ensure the coffee is dried slowly and evenly. Once dry, the coffee is rested in parchment until it is ready for export. It is then milled at Ricardo’s dry mill which is located on the farm. The management of this meticulously run mill is overseen by a talented team who carefully monitor every stage of milling to ensure high-quality expectations are met. Throughout the process, Ricardo also ensures that all organic by-products are recycled and reused.

Ricardo recently built a dedicated lab on his property and has a QC team focused on analysing every single lot produced on the farm. Balmer Aragón heads up the QC program and is in charge of all of the roasting and cupping. Each day lot is cupped and scored prior to blending and the findings are used to inform improvements in harvesting and processing.

 

WHY WE LOVE IT

We have been fortunate enough to have been buying and representing Santa Clara since 2008, and we feel so incredibly lucky to work with such a remarkable family and coffee.

One of our favourite moments when visiting the farm was seeing an amazing video that the staff had produced as a surprise for Ricardo and his family to show their gratitude. It was presented at their Christmas party (an annual event to which all of Santa Clara’s workers and families are invited to dance and eat lots of yummy food). You can watch here (we can’t encourage you to watch this enough—it will make you smile!).