President Colom has declared Guatemala in a state of “national calamity”  after an earthquake, an errupting volcano, the capital being covered in raining black sand and a tropical depression hitting the northwest coast.

After more phone calls and emails than usual and over 1000 views just this morning to a blog I’ve only posted on once this year… I thought I should give an update with a quick summary of some links.


The Guatemala Times is not the best place for news, but does pick up big events and offers dramatic perspective

I am adding this link in later in the day as this report is both in English and more updated that much of the content I put up this morning.  This is currently on the home page for THE GUATEMALA TIMES website

Fox News covers TROPICAL STORM AGATHA.  I was disappointed that most of the comments on this were wether or not the photo was fake.


Every few hours these numbers seem to go up, but it’s currently over 115,000 who have been evacuated or are stranded due to over 100 landslides, 18 major bridges destroyed and over 100 bridges including minor bridges on dirt roads and footpaths that hinder daily life and commerce. 152 have died 90 missing.

22,000 homes damaged or destroyed

Largest highways in the country shut down

Another sinkhole.  100 ft deep in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood.  This is in addition to the one I posted 3  years ago here

Food shortage in northwest region in and around Huehue due to damage from heavy waters

If you get on you tube and search “lluvia de arena guatemala” or “lluvia de cenisa guatemala” you’ll find lots of raw live footage from last Thursday night May 27, 2010 where it rained black sand.  Click on this link to see a clip I came across where someone simply walked around a neighborhood the next morning.

How are we at FVH?  Well many roads are damaged and this will make transport challenging.  We are fine.  As a people the community is doing well.  I am in touch with Eliceo who is in charge at the finca.  And aside from not seeing the sun for 2 weeks straight all is o.k.  I look forward to sharing more Eliceo soon.  I just returned from Guatemala back to Bellingham 2 weeks ago and might have returned Friday morning to catch the final day of the Cup of Excellence and catch up with some producers however the airport has been shut down for four and a half days.  The airport only has about 3000 people going through it a day so today as it will likely open there will be over 12,000 people waiting to fly in or out of an already over crowded tiny airport.

We have coffee at Cofeco in Huehuetenango and at SUBE in Guatemala city with shipments ready to go, but we’re holding back at the moment until things clear up and we feel comfortable with the associated risks.  Most of my family lives in Guatemala city which is in some ways continues business as usual but for many life is in a state of chaos.  Guatemala is not a country where the physical needs of most are well met.  These additional hardships don’t make things any easier.  Much of the entrepreneurial spirit and optimism that emerges out of Guatemala comes out of necessity.  If you’ve read this far and you’re wondering how you can help.  You can visit, sometime when the airport is not shut down, and drink good coffee.  Tourism and coffee are the #1 and #2 sources of revenue for Guatemala.



Depulper in back of pick up going in for a tune up

Depulper in back of pick up going in for a tune up


We calculate that we may begin the “pepena” as early as December 15 or 22.  Pepena is what we call an initial picking where we prep the plant as much as possible for a uniform maturation.  Not only on each coffee plant but uniformity from one coffee plant to another so harvest can be done in multiple efficient waves.  The activity of pepena is simply picking what is ripe early.

This activity helps send maximum nutrient to developing ripe fruit as opposed to maintaining an already ripe fruit on the tree that may otherwise naturally begin it’s course of fermentation.  Think of a large family where the oldest kids are ready to be financially independent and move out on their own allowing some more breathing space for those still at home.  In coffee this space is important.

There is a fine line between over feeding and starving.  There is a time for feasting, and in order for a slow and complex development there is also a time and season for pacing yourself at a slow and steady rate to get through the dry season.

This dry season coupled with soil type and elevation directly correlate with acidity.  Having unexpected rain towards the end of a dry season can begin to mute the intensity of the acidity.  As a result a more sporadic harvest doesn’t have to be, but often leads to more under and over ripes being harvested.  Then depending on the following steps of processing this will have a significant and negative impact either on quality and or quantity of exportable coffee.  Some choose high QC standards and realize a smaller yield towards export and others attempt to retain their volume, but are capped on the premium they may get based on quality.

Newest patio is a 5 year project for us.

Newest patio is a 5 year project for us.

Often the biggest factor in this decision is market conditions.  Lets say the C is over 150, than for many it is all about quantity, if the C is below 100 then it quality becomes a stronger consideration for some.  The logic is why spend more money on labor on a product that may have a cost to produce that may be above what it is worth.  This is a VERY REAL and common predicament.   As you can see if you’re striving for the best quality possible as a producer you have tough decisions in any market.  Coffee is the one commodity that tends to confusing to economists.  It sometimes SEEMS so simple, but it isn’t.  When the price is high, everybody seems to be buying it and it’s quickly scarce, when the price is low, no one wants it.  Go figure.

A large farm will produce enough through their pepena that it is actually moved all the way through processing and it is exported.  So if you are a broker, this is what you’re getting when your supplier tells you this first shipment is from the “first picking”.  Of course it’s not the tastiest coffee!  This is something we don’t even bother wet milling other than we do like to have a test run on the depulpers before entering the formal harvest which will begin mid end January 2009.  That being said, every coffee has a home, and home should be a place where you are content and comfortable.  This does not look the same for everyone.  So be careful not to judge another’s “home”.

Harvest is a season and everyone seems to have a different point of view about exactly when this begins as the cycle of growing coffee is exactly that… a cycle.

Although we did start some picking in early January, this year the first day of harvest for us is January 21.

PEPENA is the word in spanish we use for the pre picking which we do to capture early ripes. This also prepares the tree for a more uniform harvesting and allows maximum nutrient to be available to the fruit that is prepared for export.

It is costly to have a separate PRE harvest picking wave, but the cup quality proves this to be well worth it. Traditionally it is common practice to catch the over ripes during the first wave of picking and for quality’s sake sort them out somehow at some point. However the fruit that is reaching “IT’S POINT” ends up competing for nutrient with the fermenting dying coffee that is ahead of the game and now dying on the tree.

We’ve tried to send out a “STATE OF THE HARVEST” newsletter each year to our customers in the past. Instead I’ve thought more about creating a TOP 10 list of reasons why NOT to write it. Of course it would include the fact that we have few customers, no one reads it and if I’m not procrastinating and I get around to writing – my writing gets wordy. The truth is it is hard to write a years happenings concisely and you should just come down and see for yourself. To answer the most common question “How’s the harvest looking?”. It’s looking great. Quantity will be less this year and much less for many of our neighbors. Not so much because of one time weather related events.. rather a cycle of having relatively strong production the last couple years. This is a year that the mountains are taking a breather.(small tip for those working of the C) I will try to post more “happenings at FVH” in the coming weeks.

On that note- a few weeks ago we (Guatemala) lost aproximately 150,000 bags or 20 Million dollars worth of coffee due to high wind. Click here for more info (in Spanish). It was previously expected that the 08 crop would exceed the 07 crop in quantity. No longer the case.

mike being himselfI gave some coffee to Mike… and he reciprocated by giving me a bomb.  I grew up with fireworks in Guatemala, but this – I was afraid of.  It was heavy.  I kindly accepted the gift, but was not going to light it.  All I could think of was how badly it could go.  Me tripping as I’m running away, getting arrested… etc.  I couldn’t give it away or delay my decision of what to do by taking it with my wife AND in-laws in the van or much less on the plane back to Bellingham, so I called Mike back and got some help lighting it.  Take a close look at the wick.  It gives you just enough time to get about 100 yards away if walking briskly which is barely enough time.   Mike actually does fireworks professionally for resorts around Guatemala… among many other things.  If you’re in Panajachel he’s worth paying a visit to.Crossroads cafe in Pana   Roaster at Crossroads in PanaPictured above is the outside of Crossroads and his roaster, which of course is hidden in a secret (now not so secret) room behind a false bookshelf.