Santa Clara Estate

  • Country
    Guatemala
  • Department
    Sacatepéquez
  • Municipality
    Antigua
  • Farm Size
    90 Hectares
  • Elevation
    1,550-1,890m above sea level
  • Variety
    Bourbon
  • Processing
    Washed
  • Farm Owner
    Ricardo Zelaya
  • Awards
    Cup of Excellence 2001, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022
  • Relationship Length
    Since 2008

Soft, rich and well balanced, with a silky mouthfeel. Red apple, candied orange and dark chocolate.

The Zelaya family has been growing coffee in Antigua for more than 100 years. This renowned family owns several farms in the region, and over the last century they have worked tirelessly to uphold, refine, and elevate the reputation of in Antigua, one of Guatemala’s most celebrated and loved coffee regions.

Finca Santa Clara is ninety hectares in size and is located on the fertile southern slopes of the Volcán de Agua, in the Antigua Valley. The farm has been owned and managed since 1988 by Ricardo Zelaya, the fourth generation of the Zelaya family to have produced coffee at Santa Clara.

Ricardo is a meticulous and progressive farmer who is focused on producing the very best coffee he can. He manages three coffee farms in Antigua: Santa Clara, Hacienda Carmona and Puerta Verde, and owns and manages a farm called Carrizal in the New Oriente coffee region. 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 – which 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. Not only are 25 hectares of the estate dedicated to natural reserve, but he also grows avocados on some 4.5 hectares of land. All coffee on Ricardo’s farms is shade-grown, as this 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 big 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 the land. Production is overseen by Rubén Gonzalez, who has over twenty years experience working for the family. Including Marcos and Rubén, the farm provides work for almost seventy permanent employees year-round, all of whom help Ricardo manage the processing and production of his farms. The family hires an additional 250–350 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 volcanoes – Hunahpú (also called Agua in Spanish), Chi Q’aq’ (also called Fuego) and Acatenango. Of the three, Chi Q’aq’ 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.

The region surrounding Antigua Guatemala is the traditional land of the Kaqchikel people, who are descended from one of Guatemala’s largest Mayan kingdoms. Their ancient capital, Iximché, is located some 50km from the Antigua valley, and was considered one of the country’s most important cities before the Spanish invasion of Guatemala. The Kaqchikel are remarkable historians, and their oral and written traditions (compiled in The Annals of the Kaqchikel) have been an important resource in preserving the cultural heritage of many of Guatemala’s indigenous communities.

HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED

Every cherry at Santa Clara is selectively hand-picked and sorted before being inspected and approved by the foreman at the wet mill.

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 flexible walls that can be adjusted to optimise airflow and control temperature and humidity. This method of drying allows Ricardo more control, 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 also has a cupping lab on his property with a dedicated quality control team focused on analysing every single lot produced on the farm. Flor Ventura, a Santa Clara Scholarship Fund participant and Coffee High School graduate, heads up the lab and oversees 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 working with Ricardo Zelaya and his family since 2008, and over the years we have been constantly impressed by their professional and progressive approach.

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!).