Our first time to Huehuetenango [way-way-te-nang-go] was amazing. We’d heard so many stories from other coffee professionals about Huehuetenango, about the crazy drive that weaves its way throughout the mountains from Guatemala City all the way north to Huehuetenango City. We'd heard it come take anytime from 5-8 hours to complete it. Some might say it's hue-hue up there. Maybe if you’ve done the drive, you can comment below. We lucked out and didn’t have to do the drive, as there’s an airline that just started flying that route two months ago, and it took only 30 minutes with some very scenic views.
We could easily have spent a couple of days just in the department of Huehuetenango, touring around to different coffee producing areas. But, our goal was to meet Zoila Teresa Aguilar, a small producer who we featured on our menu last year. We sold out of this coffee quickly, leading up to Christmas 2018. It was an exceptional offering with crisp strawberry notes, a nice creamy body and loads of sweetness.
Zoila lives near the town of San Pedro Necta - approximately 2.5 hours from Huehuetenango City. If you were to look at the distance on a map, it wouldn’t seem far. Bear in mind, however, that the roads weave in and out of the mountains and for some reason there are speed bumps every 100 ft.
Dave and I were touring with Melanie, one of our relationships from Bella Vista, our relationship in Guatemala, and Byron, their Huehuetenango point man. With Byron navigating us, we first headed to an area called Las Palomas. This is a small cluster of houses high in a small sector called Ixban. Las Palomas is a community that hosts the Aguilar family, comprised of 10 sons and daughters, a cluster of husbands and wives, and another set of sons and daughters. Everyone here seemed to have a small plot of coffee they tend to while sharing the small washing station and patio for processing.
The majority of the varieties we identified and inquired about were Bourbon, Typica, Pache and a bit of Catimor - though most of the community is removing their Catimor for better quality varieties.
It was truly amazing to have Zoila’s coffee on our menu last year at a consistent 87 or 88 point score, then to see the infrastructure she’s using for processing. If we were able to improve this, and bring a little more of a systematic approach to the processing, I’m confident this could be a consistent 88 or 89 point coffee.
When we visited Las Palomas, Zoila wasn’t actually there. She was harvesting cherries for another coffee producer, unrelated to the family, to make a little extra money. Her husband moved to the United States a little over a year ago to work and send money back to the family, so Zoila has been fully focused on her coffee and that’s potentially resulted in the quality she produced last season. This year, we had three really fresh samples from her that cupped really nicely, 86 to 87. Usually if a coffee is too fresh the flavours come through a little tart or almost tight, so allowing some age will let the flavours come into balance and avoid the tart cranberry that often presents. You can look forward to another offering from Zoila later this year!
Other then meeting with Zoila, we must have met with 10 other producers in and around the area of Ixban. Lots of samples came home with us and there’s potentially 4 or 5 of those coffees that we’ll purchase this season. If you’re a fan of Huehuetenango, you’re going to love what’s coming down the pipeline.