Hacienda Carmona

  • Country
    Guatemala
  • Department
    Antigua
  • Farm Size
    110 Hectares
  • Elevation
    1,600 - 2,000m above sea level
  • Variety
    Bourbon, Typica
  • Processing
    Washed
  • Farm Manager
    Ricardo & Luis Pedro Zelaya
  • Farm Owner
    María Zelaya Aguirre
  • Awards
    Cup of Excellence 2002, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2017, 2020
  • Relationship Length
    Since 2022

Full bodied and creamy. Orange marmalade, macadamia nut and milk chocolate, with cherry blossom on the finish.

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).

Hacienda Carmona is 110 hectares in size and is located on the fertile slopes of the Volcán de Agua, in the Antigua Valley, at 1,600–2,000 metres above sea level. Coffee was first planted in here in the 1800s, and the estate’s first exportable crop was produced in 1918. Over 100 years later, those same original varieties remain planted today: Typica and Red and Yellow Bourbon – contributing to an elegant and unique flavour profile.

The farm has been owned by Maria Zelaya Aguirre since 1959, who is part of the third generation of the Zelaya family to have produced coffee in the estate. For decades, coffee was grown following conventional and old fashioned techniques – which were effective enough while the focus was on commercial-grade coffee, but became difficult to continue once the family began to focus on specialty-grade coffee. In 2012, after a bad bout of leaf rust decimated the farm, Maria decided to completely overhaul the agricultural practices in place to combat the disease.

 

With the help of nephews Luis Pedro and Ricardo Zelaya, she began to implement tissue management, plant nutrition, and pest control techniques to great medium-term and long-term success. Because the farm also dedicates farmland to Holstein cattle (considered the best dairy cattle in Guatemala!) they have also been able to introduce organic practices to their fertilisation program, switching to using cow manure instead of solely relying on chemical fertilisers. Ten years on, these efforts have resulted in greater yields, healthier trees and an across-the-board improvement in the quality of the coffee produced!

Though Maria continued to manage the farm into her 80s, she has recently decided to hand the reins over to nephews Luis Pedro and Ricardo, our longtime producing partner and manager of Santa Clara Estate.

ABOUT RICARDO ZELAYA

Today, Ricardo continues to manage Hacienda Carmona in the same meticulous and professional manner instilled in him by Maria. He manages three coffee other farms in Antigua: Santa Clara and Puerta Verde, and also 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. These 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 huge 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 this 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 Hacienda Carmona 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 coffee from the Zelayas 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!).