We visited this region in 2017 and fell in love with the landscape, the people and the coffee. In fact, one of the largest volcanoes Fuego (meaning 'fire') was gently erupting at the time, a touch disconcerting to view out of the rear view mirror. Two weeks later, she erupted and caused a lot of devastation to the community and coffee regions.
With volcanoes however, comes the perfect soil for growing coffee, and the result of the ash fallout should be many fertile years to come.
About the Producer
The Zelaya family has been growing coffee for more than 100 years and every cherry at Santa Clara is selectively hand-picked and sorted.
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).
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, 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 a meticulous and incredibly professional 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 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 – 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. 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 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 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.”
About the process
Every cherry at Santa Clara 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 before being washed and carefully dried on raised beds, green-house style.
Ricardo Zelaya is passionate about sustainability and the coffee is shade-grown and provides habitat for birds and insect life. The family’s mills are also eco-friendly, preventing pollution and composting all of the pulp.
And coffee aside, if you love a vibrant town filled with great locals, brilliant food and coffee and beautiful architecture, visit Antigua! We'll be back, that's for sure...
Enjoy tasting notes of red apple, orange and milk chocolate. We've roasted this for both filter and espresso. Check out the beans here!