Santa Clara Estate

  • Country
    Guatemala
  • Region
    Antigua
  • Altitude
    1,600-1,830m above sea level
  • Variety
    Bourbon, Caturra
  • Processing
    Fully Washed
  • Owner
    Zelaya family

Full bodied with caramel mouthfeel, notes of roasted hazelnut, spices, and dark chocolate.

The Zelaya family has been growing coffee for over 100 years and four generations. This renowned family owns farms throughout Guatemala and grows one 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 90 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 passionately committed to both quality and sustainability. His farms are scrupulously well-managed—from the careful selection of varietals planted, to the close supervision of the dry and wet mills—both of which are located on the property and owned by Ricardo, giving him complete control over quality from picking through to export.

Ricardo continuously strives to improve what he is doing and raise the bar of quality. Over the last five years, Ricardo has been very focused on improving his processing techniques and infrastructure. In his wet mill he recently installed tiled tanks and channels to process coffee, ensuring that all surfaces can be kept extra clean. He has also (quite remarkably) just built an incredible dry mill on the property, which we got to see in full operation this year. We were impressed to see that Ricardo’s wife, Cynthia had her say in the design, and made sure beautiful windows were added to the space, along with a manicured garden out the front! In addition, Ricardo has upgraded all of his drying facilities to ensure that the beans can be dried on raised beds in greenhouses with adjustable walls, which allow him to control the temperature and speed at which the coffee dries.

Every cherry at Santa Clara is hand-picked and then sorted by hand before being approved by the foreman for delivery to the wet mill. The farm also hires around 50 ‘special pickers’ who have demonstrated particular dexterity and are selected to hand-harvest some of the farm’s microlots using their impressive attention to detail. These employees can receive more than double the minimum daily wage through picking coffee at the farm. According to Ricardo, although they are very demanding about picking practices, people come back year after year, which is a testament to the fair treatment they receive.

At the mill, the fruit is pulped and fermented for 14–22 hours. The beans are then washed to remove any remaining pulp, and carefully dried on Ricardo’s raised beds, with a greenhouse-style enclosed canopy, with 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 drying process, enabling him to ensure the coffee is dried slowly and evenly. Once dry, the coffee is milled in Ricardo’s mill, with each step monitored closely to ensure high quality expectations are met. Throughout the process, Ricardo also ensures that all organic by-products are recycled and reused. The water used in the wet processing of the cherries is drained into sedimentation tanks to prevent pollution of the local river systems and the pulp is transformed into humus by worm culture.

Santa Clara treats their employees like family, and many have been with the farm and the family for generations. For instance, the Farm Administrator, Marcos Rompiche, has worked for the Zelayas for over 22 years and is the third generation in his family to work the land. The Production Manager, Israel Yool, has 17 years working for the family and is the second generation to do so. Including them, the farm provides work for 25 permanent employees year-round, all of whom help Ricardo manage the processing and production for his farms; Juaja, Santa Clara, Puerta Verde and San Augustin. The family hires an additional 332  individuals during the harvest (including 250 for picking alone!)

Ricardo, with his daughter Isabel (who is affectionately called Bel by her family) also have several social initiatives in place to support their temporary and full time workers by improving their quality of life and their happiness and engagement with work. These include providing women workers with other skills such as jewelry, sandal, and candy making workshops so that they can have a source of income outside of the coffee harvest.

In addition, they have a school onsite for the 50 children of the permanent workers, which has three permanent teachers to support it. For children that show potential, Bel, who has a degree in Special Education, has started up the Santa Clara Scholarship Fund, which is focused on supporting the kids through school and/or university with funds provided to supply their tuition fees, uniform and books. Currently there are 27 students that are part of this programme (four which have been sponsored by MCM). In addition to financial support, every month specific workshops are run for these children that focus on important skills such as positivity and leadership. Bel and Ricardo’s dream is for the project to achieve formal non-profit status and expand to include not only all the children whose parents work on the farm, but also those from surrounding communities.

The workers respect and happiness at Santa Clara was very clearly demonstrated at the Christmas party last year (an annual event to which all of Santa Clara’s workers and families are invited to dance and eat lots of yummy food). To show their gratitude to Ricardo and his family, the workers surprised them with a video which you can watch here (we can’t encourage you to watch this enough—it will make you smile!).

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.