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 meticulous and incredibly professional farmer who is focused on producing the very best coffee he can. His farms are scrupulously well-managed—from the careful selection of varietals planted, to the close supervision of the wet and dry 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 has a loyal and dedicated team, and many of his employees have worked on the farm and with 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 Marcos and Israel, the farm provides work for 60 permanent employees year-round, all of whom help Ricardo manage the processing and production for his farms; Santa Clara, Juaja, Puerta Verde and San Augustin. The family hires an additional 250-400 individuals during the harvest to help pick and process the coffee.

PROCESSING

Every cherry at Santa Clara is selectively hand-picked and sorted by hand before being inspected and approved by the foreman at 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 micro-lots 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, 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 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 stored in parchment until it is ready for export. It is then milled at Ricardo’s dry mill which is located on the farm. The running 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. 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 organic fertiliser using vermiculture.

 

SOCIAL INITIATIVES

In recent years, Ricardo and his daughters, Bel and Katia, have implemented several social initiatives to support all their employees, with the objective of raising their standards of living, improving quality of life, and helping them achieve more job satisfaction.

One initiative the Zelayas implemented was to support of the farm’s female employees by teaching them to make jewellery, sandals and traditional candy. This provided the women with an important source of income in the coffee off-season, and also helped to build a sense of community and purpose.

Other initiatives have focused on health, with workshops for staff on basic hygiene and funding for water filters to minimise water born health issues. Around 50 water filters have been distributed, of which Santa Clara covered 50% of the cost.

There are also some long term initiatives that have been implemented focused on education. In 2011, Bel, who has a degree in Special Education, founded the Santa Clara Scholarship Fund, with the help of her sister Katia. This fund provides financial support for some of the children of the farm’s employees. Many children in Guatemala are forced to stop going to school early because school fees, and associated costs like school uniforms, are unaffordable for their families. Currently there are 30 student-recipients of the Santa Clara Scholarship fund. These students receive money for tuition fees, uniforms and schoolbooks, as well as the opportunity to participate in weekly workshops that focus on important educational and leadership skills.

In addition in 2019, Ricardo has set up a ‘Coffee High School’ for people interested in pursuing a career in coffee. The 2 year course (that is run on the weekends so students can maintain their full time jobs) requires students to have completed studies up to the equivalent of year 10 in Australia but there is no age limit for the  students. In 2019 the first cohort of students to commence their studies was 18 (two of whom are from Santa Clara); this number will double to 36 in 2020 when the next cohort begins their first year of the course. Topics covered in the course cover everything from pruning and picking through to wet and  dry processing  and cupping. “This program is aimed at ensuring we are training the next generation of coffee professionals” Ricardo explained.

The workers respect and happiness at Santa Clara was very clearly demonstrated at the 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). To show their gratitude to Ricardo and his family, the workers surprised them with a video one year, 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.