The Juan Ana Coffee project in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala, is beautiful in more ways than you can count, beginning with its name. “Juan” was John, the late father of Fr. Gregory Shaffer, pastor of the San Lucas Mission for the past 45 years. “Ana” was Ann, Fr. Greg’s mother. They both passed away at a time when Fr. Greg was promoting a small farm on the edge of town to improve farming practices and productivity in the community. He had made a downpayment but didn’t have the money to pay the rest of what he owed on the land. When his parents died, they left Fr. Greg and his siblings their life’s savings. After some reflection, Father decided to honor their memory by using his share to pay off the rest of the farm — something he did quietly and discreetly, as is his custom. But secrets are hard to keep in the coffeelands, and word got out within the parish of what had happened. After some time, leaders in the community came to Fr. Greg and told him that they had discussed the issue and decided that the farm would be called Granja Juan Ana in memory of his parents and their contribution to the future of the community. The coffee project that revolves around the mill and warehouse and roastery located on the farm is called, naturally, Juan Ana Coffee.
I have visited the fields of some of the hundreds of farmers who have participated in the project over the years, and if their coffee is representative, it is safe to say that Juan Ana coffee is grown under some pretty extraordinary conditions — at optimal altitudes, beneath well-managed shade trees, in fertile soils, etc. — in San Lucas and surrounding villages, including Tzampetey. The farmers have improved their management of their farms over the years with the support of the project, and take exceptional care in the harvest and selection process to ensure the highest quality coffee is milled. The CAFE Livelihoods project is making modest investments in the ability of participating farmers to produce more of the good stuff into the future by supporting a well-managed nursery on the farm.
The project also has a beautiful mill on the Juan Ana farm, along with a warehouse and roastery, where members of the community manage the wet milling, drying, storage, roasting and packing processes. The coffee mill was designed by the local CAFE Livelihoods Coordinator Julio Morales, a member of the San Lucas Community and an architect.
When CAFE Livelihoods made some funding available to expand the capacity of the mill, Julio made the choice to build into the hillside that rises up from the farm in order to save the fertile land below for growing coffee seedlings and food. A noble motivation, but a decision that complicated the design and execution of the mill by an order of magnitude. Fortunately, Julio’s vision was paired with the considerable determination of the members of the community. The end result is impressive — together, with just basic tools and lots of sweat, they transformed an imposing landscape into a complex of drying patios that jut out at angles from the contours of a curving hillside.
By using the rocks that were cleared in the process as filler for the foundations, the organization saved money on concrete; by building patios onto warehouse roofs, the organization created a quicker, convection-accelerated drying process; by building each patio at a subtle angle, ringing them with canals and undergirding them with pipes, the organization has created a rainwater harvesting system for the rainy season with an enormous surface area that will store thousands of gallons of water for wet milling and irrigation on the farm below; and by thinking big, Julio created patios large enough for the guys at the mill to work up a decent sweat playing football when there is a break in the action during harvest season.
I took hundreds of pictures on my first visit to the mill, but none of them captured the brilliant serpentine stone retaining wall that separates the upper-level patios from the lower-level ones. The design was a pragmatic one — the double-thick stone walls are even stronger due to the curvature — but the visual effect is impressive from just an aesthetic viewpoint.
With one or two notable exceptions, Juan Ana has not exported its green coffee, which is the only reason none of the roasters you know are holding it up as an exciting single origin. Instead, Juan Ana roasts the coffee artisanally in a steel drum and exports in small batches in 17-oz bags (the baker’s dozen concept applied to a pound of roasted coffee) for sale through the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota, at the righteous price of $7 a bag. As Fr. Greg puts it, the project does the opposite of any good business — it buys high and sells low! The model was the parish’s response to the prevailing conditions in the local market when the project began more than 20 years ago, and puts the entire chain in the hands of the community. Farmers earn a high price for the cherries — a little over $1.50 a pound this year — and proceeds from the sale of the roasted coffee are reinvested into the project.
Location: San Lucas Tolimán, Sololá, Guatemala (“Traditional Atitlán”)
Elevation: 1350-1600 m
Total volume of roasted coffee exported in 2009-2010: about 100,000 pounds
Total volume of green coffee exported in 2009-2010: 0 containers
Cupping notes: A friend of CAFE Livelihoods who is a leading judge in one of the Central America Cup of Excellence competitions recently cupped coffee from the 2009-2010 harvest in San Lucas that was processed at the mill pictured above, and shared these notes:
Specialty coffee with extraordinary attributes, including intense berry aroma. Very good body, lasting finish. A highly complex coffee. 85.5 points.