- On October 31, 2018
- Coffee, guatemala, guatemala la senda, guatemalan coffee, la senda, vigilante, vigilante coffee
We have a friend named Thomas Pingen who spends his days traveling through Central & South America helping farms improve the quality of their coffees through experimental processing techniques. When the quality goes up, so does the price of the coffee and this allows the farm to reinvest in themselves and hopefully get on path for sustainable and improved quality year after year. Below is an interview our founder Chris Vigilante did with Thomas. We refrained from editing the interview too much so you’d hear it direct from Thomas on how he helped create what we think is our best Guatemalan coffee of the 2018 season.
What’s the story on La Senda?
Previously the farm was selling their coffee cherries only to the local co-op. This is not really sustainable because you receive the same price for all varietals and the pricing is pretty much a break-even at best. A few years ago La Senda started their own wet mill and processing and this set them up for controlling their quality.
So why’d you decide to get involved and help them improve their coffee?
I had a desire to put time in and to understand the processing side and controlling quality. I visited 3 years ago, gave La Senda tips about the wet mill and they asked if I’d be interested in taking over for processing & control of the harvest.
What’s the total size of the farm?
50 Hectares (20% coffee the rest is natural forest)
Total employees hired during harvest season?
They employ people from their local town and give most of their employees year round work. Total of 10 people. Additional hired help (pickers) – 30-70 per day.
What were conditions like for the workers?
It’s very sad and intense to see the reality of coffee production in Guatemala. As labor conditions are pretty bad in many coffee farms. On La Senda this isn’t the case. They take good care of the staff and seek to keep them employed year round, and not just during the harvest as is the norm.
What Varietals are grown on the farm?
60% Caturra 15% Bourbon, 15% Pache,10% Catimor.
How’d you get to know the producers of this farm?
A good friend Peter, who lives in London started a specialty coffee business and a friend of a friend connected me to the producers at La Senda in Guatemala.
How’d you get paid?
I took a relatively low wage due to my light experience. Minimum wage which could cover my basic costs and a few premiums we laid out which were based on the qualities we were able to produce.
What experiments did you conduct on the lots Vigilante Coffee purchased?
We did Hydro-Naturals – meaning we started drying coffee as if it was a natural, once it dries, it is then put into water and then we can remove the skin of the fruit. To re-wet the pulp so you can de-pulp it.
Carbonic Macerations – meaning we have an environment without oxygen to slow down fermentation. Yeast with sugars that ferment that make alcohol and carbon out of the sugars, and use that carbon to flush the tanks and remove the oxygen from the environment.
Long fermentations – slowly lowering PH (depulp 6.5-7) lends itself to juiciness and malic acidity as well. Temperature was much more stable as well. Fermentations up to 5 days. Normally is 24-36 hours.
100 experiments were conducted! Vigilante lot(s) were produced using Carbon Maceration
What helped you achieve success?
Focus on the PH levels as a guide, taking into consideration temperature, formation time, and smell. Carbonic Maceration experiments were more consistent, crisp, effervescent, and malic. Very complex and consistent. Cider notes due to the crisp malic acidity.
What are some challenges faced this harvest season?
The whole project was an experiment. Kind of big because we produced 150 bags of exportable coffee. The farm hadn’t produced bags before (only sold cherries to the local co-op). The goal was to deliver as much specialty as possible. New for pickers and all employees to strive for specialty coffee quality. It was important to keep motivating the producers throughout the process and it was a great team effort.
The problem in coffee is you can invest and invest and invest and the farmer won’t get anything back until its exported. So in the beginning it can be hard to ensure them that it’s worth the effort. Sales we’re up 100%, profit was small due to the work put in and additional hands needed to make the experiments and investment into wet mill.
We at Vigilante found this coffee to be around an 89/90 point coffee. We believe you, our customers, will truly love and enjoy this coffee as much as we have! Kudos to our friend Thomas and the producers at La Senda for putting in the work to create this amazing coffee.