March Roaster's Choice Coffee Box subscribers will be enjoying Finca Gascon, a coffee from Guatemala
The Gascon farm is now in its second generation within the Contreras family. The elder Gildardo Contreras had grown up playing in a backyard with coffee trees and had always aspired to farm coffee himself. In 2012 his aspiration became reality when he was able to purchase Finca Gascon from a relative who, while growing some coffee, had been using it predominantly to farm avocados.
The rich Volcanic soil in the high mountains of Antigua is ideal for growing specialty coffee and Gildardo soon began refocusing on coffee production. In time he was able expand the farm to its current size of 54 hectares as well as building a wet mill on site which was used to process cherry for neighbouring farmers.
Today Gildardo’s son, Felipe, manages the farm and has continued to focus on specialty production with the introduction of many new varietals including the recently planted SL28 - more well known as Kenya’s most sought after native varietal.
Process and shade-grown coffee
For producing this particular ‘parcel’ precise care is taken to ensure optimum quality. Cherry ripeness is measured on the tree using a Brix meter (a tool primarily used to measure the sucrose level of liquids such as juice and wine) so that only the cherries of perfect ripeness are selected for processing. Flotation tanks then separate any inconsistencies before de-pulping takes place. The coffee is then returned to water passages to refine the lot once again, this time by bean density.
This may sound tedious and intensely manual for processing coffee but the result is a cup of supreme balance and consistency that is truly unique for the region. Fun fact - 98% of coffee in Guatemala, including Finca Gascon, is shade-grown. Shade-grown coffee is grown under the canopy of larger plants and trees of the rainforest, and often produces larger, more flavoursome beans than sun-grown coffee.
History of coffee in Guatemala
Although coffee may have appeared almost 100 years earlier it wasn’t until the late 19th century that coffee export from Guatemala really took off. Throughout the 1870s, under rule of President Justo Rufino Barrios, coffee production accelerated with the expropriation of catholic and indigenous land. By 1980 coffee accounted for 90% of all of Guatemala’s exports and was the backbone of its export economy, while indigenous Mayan land ownership had effectively been reduced to zero.
Since the Spanish conquest two hundred years before, community land ownership had slowly been replaced with large European and multinational land owners. However by the 1950s President Jacobo Arbenz had taken over from his repressive predecessor Jorge Ubico and began widespread land reform in Guatemala. During Arbenz’s reforms over 1700 estates were redistributed to over 500,000 families - setting an example later followed by other Latin American nations.
Large landowners such as the United Fruit Company (at the time twice as rich as the country of Guatemala) became disgruntled with Arbenz and lobbied against him in the United States. It is thought that this - along with the rising suspicion that Guatemala harboured Communist ideologies - provoked the US to intervene.
In 1954 the CIA led the overthrowing of Arbenz and thus precipitated a period of civil unrest that would last the rest of the century. In 1960 this exploded into civil war that lasted until the peace accord of 1996. Although this ended the longest civil war ever suffered by the Americas, many of the after-effects are felt heavily today. Poverty is estimated to be over 50% and the indigenous population continue to suffer from inequality and racism. Today in Guatemala coffee accounts for 40% of all export trades and provides livelihoods to some 125,000 coffee producers.
Farm: Finca Gascon
Farmer: Felipe Contreras
Region: Antigua, Guatemala
Varietals: Orange Bourbon
Altitude: 1750-2000 masl
In the cup, Finca Gascon is a zesty citrus-bomb with notes of lemon curd and marmalade.