Santa Clara (Natural)

  • Country
  • Region
  • Altitude
    1,600-1,830m above sea level
  • Variety
    Bourbon, Caturra
  • Processing
  • Owner
    Ricardo Zelaya
  • Awards
    Cup of Excellence 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014

Intensely sweet and fruit driven, with notes of plum, red wine gums, and hot strawberry jam.

This very small 330kg naturally processed micro-lot was produced by Ricardo Zelaya of Santa Clara Estate in Guatemala.

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 some 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 5 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 when perfectly ripe, and then sorted by hand before being inspected by the quality control manger at the wet mill. This special micro lot has been handpicked by special pickers employed—and paid higher wages—specifically for their skill at selecting only the ripest and most perfect cherries. The method of ‘special’ picking is one that the Zelayas have used to great effect in the lots that they submit to the Cup of Excellence competition. They’ve recently begun to expand their offerings of lots, such as this one, that utilize the same method of picking.

On the same day that they were picked, the fully ripe cherries were washed thoroughly in the receiving tanks and additional water was passed over them to remove any traces of dirt. They were then left in this tank overnight. Additionally, the cherries were taken through the washing channels to ensure there were no floaters, and then transferred directly to the African beds inside the greenhouse where they were turned every 30 minutes initially, and then as the beans dried out this was increased to every 15 minutes to ensure uniform drying. Drying took around 21 days to reach the desired moisture level.


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 jewellery, 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.