Sunday, March 6th
We started our day with a walk through the Avenue de las Americas, where many Guatemalans spend their Sunday morning. The street is closed to motor vehicles on this particular day. In Indonesia, we call this kind of event a “Car Free Day.” We then headed out for breakfast in a Peruvian restaurant and were served coffee. The coffee did not taste very good though.
The good coffee came later when we visited Truth & Trading Company. Frosty, a friend of Chris’, picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the coffee lab where we met Mario and Christian. Their family has been running the business now for almost 150 years, which makes Mario and Christian 5th generation in their family.
Chris and I cupped 24 different coffees from several farms in Guatemala, such as La Trinidad, Santa Alicia, Las Margaritas, Las Cortinas, and Santa Sofia.
We cupped coffees from different varietals, such as Red Bourbon, Yellow Bourbon, Catura, Catuai, Pacamara, Takesik and Catimor.
Coffee plant varietals grown in Guatemala are predominantly Typica and Bourbon, but here Catuai, Caturra and Pache are also grown. Washed or wet is the common process for Guatemalan coffees. These coffees were very balanced. They had a sweet and smooth, brown sugar profile crossed with a chocolate element that sometimes exhibited a soft and buttery sensation like a flaky, pastry crust. They had notes of fruity acidity and floral fragrance. Their aroma gave off hints of nuts and spices.
We closed the day with dinner accompanied by Frosty at his favorite steak restaurant in town.
Monday, March 7th
On our third day in Guatemala, we spent the morning cupping at Café Divino where we met Hector Gonzalez.He is one of the best cuppers on the face of this earth. In fact, he won the 2016 Guatemalan Cup Tasters Championship and it was his second national championship after winning the World Title in 2010. His café serves specialty coffee from various parts of Guatemala. He has a small coffee lab inside the café
We cupped 6 sets of Guatemalan coffees, ranging from varietals like Catura, Red Bourbon and Catuai. These particular coffees, though very balanced and rounding out with those brown sugar and chocolatey notes, were roasted about one hour prior to cupping. If we were to have cupped them the next day and allowed for more “resting time” as we call it in the roasting world, those flavor notes would have been more subdued and slightly different.
Since there were not many coffees to cup, we managed to finish early which left us some time to explore Guatemala. So we took a taxi to go to Antigua, which is located about 45 minutes from Guatemala City. Antigua was the capital of Guatemala for 200 years. The city ceased to be the capital after an earthquake struck in 1773. Nevertheless, the city remains to be one of the most popular destinations in Guatemala. We noticed a high amount of tourists in Antigua, in contrast to Guatemala City. Perhaps this is related to the security issue. Some people say that Antigua is way safer than Guatemala. We concur with this opinion.
After taking some pictures to immortalize our presence in the Guatemalan volcano, we returned to the city-center to have dinner.After three days of eating and drinking abundantly, we thought going for a hike to the Volcano in Antigua would be a good idea – to release our body from toxic and unhealthy remains of the food. It proved to be a good idea for Chris only. We could barely keep up with his physical health and gave up after 1.5 hours of hiking – almost. We were about 3 hours short of reaching the top of the Volcano, yet still a proud moment for us. As a reminder, a local told us that it would take about 4 hours to climb the mountain, and another 5 to go downhill – we accomplished about half of that.
There was no taxi, so we took the “Chicken Bus.” We visited Frosty’s café, unfortunately he did not come that day to the café so we left him a note telling him we came by. The dinner was fine, until, our plate was suddenly covered with ashes. We were worried that the volcano had erupted! But, as we looked around, everyone was very calm and just kept on eating as if nothing peculiar had happened. It helped us to remain calm, too. We finished our dinner and headed back to Guatemala City since we had to be at the airport early in the morning to catch a flight to El Salvador.
Tuesday, March 8th
Gulardi and I flew to El Salvador while Chris flew to Mexico. The day was supposed to start with an early ride to the airport, check-in, boarding the plane, and off to San Salvador. But, it turned out to be way more complicated than that. After checking in our luggage, passing through immigration, we arrived at the boarding gate. Suddenly, the official at the boarding gate refused to allow us to board the plane because we did not have a Salvadorian visa. We explained to the Consulate General of El Salvador in Washington that we did not need a visa to enter El Salvador, as we already had valid United States’ visas. The official called someone, whom he explained to be an official in El Salvador. He finally said that a visa in our passport was still required.
So there was no other option for us than to take our luggage and rush to the Embassy of El Salvador in Guatemala City. We arrived at 8 a.m. at the Embassy gate, just before the Embassy opened for the day. With our limited Spanish capabilities, we tried to explain our situation to the visa officer. She was a nice lady, but nevertheless was shocked when we asked her to issue the visas in 2 hours, as we were catching another flight at 12:55 pm. Initially, she told us that we had to wait at least until the next day to process the visas, but perhaps she saw Gulardi’s sad face and decided to assist us with getting them faster.
After running through the busy streets of Guatemala City to get to the bank and then to the copy center, we managed to process our visas at exactly 11am. We thought the day would get better, but we were wrong! Again! We now had to buy a new ticket that cost half of our entire trip, for just a 30 minute flight.
We did not have any other option. We bought the ticket. To add salt to the wound, as we arrived in San Salvador, the immigration officer told us that we indeed did not needa visa to enter El Salvador.
That day’s misery was finally over and we were now travelling for 2 hours through such wonderful scenery. We reached a small town called Metapan. This is where the office of Caravela Coffee is located. We were greeted by Laura and Andrieu. They took us to the hotel where we had dinner with Andrieu in downtown Metapan.
He quickly told us we could not stay outside past 8pm as 11 electricians were just shot to death by some gang members.
With that background story, we went to bed. At 2am, I woke up and heard several loud bangs from outside the hotel. Turns out it was not only me who heard that noise. Gulardi and Andrieu also heard it. After that crazy morning in the airport, I really needed rest, so I put on my headphones and went back to sleep. Was the sound firecrackers or gunshots? We still don’t know the answer..
Wednesday, March 9th
We spent the entire day cupping at Caravela Coffee Lab. I met Juan Carlos, the Director of Quality Control, who also cupped with Andrieu, Laura, and I. There were 24 set samples of Salvadorian coffees. Most of them came from the region of Metapan, Chalatenango, and San Salvador. They were produced by a small farm, or microlot. El Salvador boasts a long history of cultivating coffee, starting as early as 1740 with the planting of coffee plants. Coffee is grown at high altitudes in rich, volcanic soil. Traditional varieties like Bourbon and Pacas can be found here, along with Pacamara, a cross between the oversized Maragogype varietal and Pacas, developed by the National Coffee Institute.
The typical taste is usually described as balanced with fine brightness, crisp acidity, nice fruit notes, hints of caramel or honey, sweet and clean, but medium-bodied, and a buttery or creamy mouthfeel.