Santa Isabel

  • Country
    Guatemala
  • State
    Alta Verapaz
  • Region
    Coban
  • Town
    San Cristobal Verapaz
  • Variety
    Caturra and Catuaí
  • Processing
    Fully Washed
  • Farmers
    Valdés Family

Fruity and floral with a soft buttery mouthfeel and notes of pineapple, yellow peach and butterscotch.

Santa Isabel is a fifth generation family farm comprising 300 hectares in Guatemala’s beautiful and rugged region of Alta Verapaz, a unique growing region in Guatemala that has remarkable mountains, a cool climate and plenty of rainfall, as well as dense rainforest and impressive flora. Founded in 1875, the farm is today owned by Luis Valdés Sr and managed by his son, who also called Luis (or, to his friends and family, “Wicho”).

Wicho grew up watching and helping his father on the farm and fell in love with coffee from a very young age. After school he went on to study agriculture, before returning to work at Santa Isabel in 1998. Wicho’s passion and love for the farm is evident as soon as you meet him. As explained very simply to us on our most recent visit “We love it here.” 

The Valdes family care a lot about preserving their natural environment, and have dedicated nearly one third of their farm (88 hectares) to a natural forest reserve (made up of cedar, pine and mahogony trees), which helps protect natural water resources and encourage biodiversity, providing a habitat for local animal and birdlife. Wicho also grows macadamia nut trees on the farm, which he harvests, roasts and sells. The remaining 200 hectares of the farm at Santa Isabel is dedicated to coffee production. The plantation is planted out with Caturra (80%) and Catuaí (20%) variety trees. Wicho adopts a 3 year/3 row approach to pruning, to optimise ventilation and light (and reducing excess humidity), which minimises fungal disease (including leaf rust) and in turn the need for chemical applications. Inga trees are planted throughout the plantation to provide shade for the coffee trees, and help enrich the soil by providing a healthy cover of foliage. Furthermore, frequent application of vermi compost (using the by-products of wet-processing) has enabled them to reduce their applications of chemical fertilisers by more than 15%.

Santa Isabel sits at 1,400 – 1,600m above sea level. The farm receives a lot of rainfall – around 3,500mm which falls regularly for 9-10 months of the year. This constant rain (much of it a gentle drizzle) means that coffee tree flowering is very staggered, with eight to nine flowerings a year, usually between April and June. This results in a long harvest period which typically runs from November – May, as the coffee cherries ripen at very different rates. To combat this, Wicho instructs at least 12 passes (with breaks of up to 14 days between passes) for picking to ensure that only the very ripest cherries are selected.

Wicho employs and trains over 40 permanent workers throughout the year, and 500 temporary workers during the harvest period, who come from up to 20 miles away to work on the farm. Wicho has commented that although many farms in the region find it increasingly difficult to secure labour for the entirety of the harvest, Santa Isabel has a stable and reliable workforce, despite their reputation for being very demanding with regards to selective picking. In addition to paying fairly, a picker at Santa Isabel can harvest up to 160 pounds of cherry a day, which is a great days yield, meaning that many of the same workers come back year after year. Wicho knows most of the workers by name, and there is an open and respectful dynamic amongst the team which is very encouraging to see.

We have been visiting Santa Isabel every year since 2013. The first thing that stood out to us on our first visit to the farm was the immaculate condition of the wet mill (located on the farm) and the care and precision that goes into processing the coffee. Wicho is fastidious in all aspects of his approach to farming and processing, and is continuously evaluating and investing in improvements at the farm to further enhance quality. Most recently this has included building a greenhouse to dry his coffee as well as upgrades to the equipment used to ensure it is the very best available on the market.

HOW THIS COFFEE IS PROCESSED

Within hours of being picked, the red cherries are transported by foot or tractor to Santa Isabel’s wet mill (located on the farm) where they are sorted by weight through a mechanical siphon and graded by weight. They are pulped immediately and then fermented for up to 14 hours and then passed through a “washer” to remove any remaining parchment. The coffee is then passed through channels and graded by weight and then soaked in clean water for 24 hours. It is then dried in the sun for 7-10 days until it reaches 30% humidity and then transferred to a greenhouse for a further 15–30 days to dry in full on raised beds.

Wicho and his family take their environmental responsibility very seriously. One third of the farm’s 300 hectares is dedicated to a natural forest reserve (made up of cedar, pine and mahogony trees), which helps protect natural water resources and encourage biodiversity, providing a habitat for deer, birds and squirrels. Wicho also grows macadamia nut trees on the farm, which he harvests, roasts and sells.

We have been buying coffee from Santa Isabel since 2011. We bought the winning lots in both the 2011 Cup of Excellence (where it placed 8th) and 2012 Cup of Excellence (where it placed 3rd). We have then been buying from the farm every year since 2013. We are really happy with this year’s harvest – in the cup you will find the coffee fruity and floral with a soft buttery mouthfeel and notes of pineapple, yellow peach and butterscotch.