Variety: Pache San Ramon
Farm size: 3 hectares
Location: Las Minas, Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, Guatemala
Processing details: Cherries are collected and daily carried to a local wet mill called La Concepcion. The cherrries are depulped in an ecopulpler the same day before being left to dry ferment in tank or in plastic for 24-36 hours. The coffee is then dried for approximately 14 days on patios, before being stored in the mill’s warehouses until export.
Antonieta and her seven siblings are the children of one of the oldest coffee growing families in Mataquescuintla, as it was their father, Benedicto, who began growing coffee near their home in the mountains above the town in the 1970s. Since then, they have continued to grow coffee both at this same farm and at another plot that is about 13 hectares large. Here, all seven of the siblings have their own plots, of which Antonieta’s claims 3 within Sierra Santiago. As part of the traditional gender dynamics of Guatemala, it’s her brother - Eduardo “Guayo” Donis - who manages the farm on the daily, overseeing picking and handling the sale of coffee in cherry and now in parchment.
Prior to last year, the entirety of the Donis family’s coffee was sold on the domestic market to intermediaries in cherry. Guayo prefers to deal with a large wet mill rather than the bigger buyers like Starbucks or Nestle, but nonetheless has never gained anything approaching a sustainably living from this.
As he explained clearly during our visit this year, a good price at this wet mill is 150 quetzals / one hundred pounds of cherry, which their estimate cost of production including pickers, farm inputs, and gas, amount to between 150-160. It’s common to hear this system of production and sale referred to as “regalando” or giving away coffee, which is how Antonieta referred to it when she added that sometimes, this price can drop as low as 80 quetzals / one hundred pounds of cherry. At current exchange rates, 150 quetzals is equal to approximately $19USD.
The Donis family is likely one of the best examples of how this low price has kept them trapped. Because they need to sell cherry immediately to survive, it’s very difficult for them to hold coffee until the end of the harvest to be paid a higher price. As such, of the total possibly yield of close to 300 exportable bags of coffee, the family only sells about 50 per year internationally, selling the rest in cherry to finance their crop.
That being said, they have been thrilled by the price they’ve received for these 50 bags from last year and this year, and have taken a renewed focus to quality. Rather than stripping the trees entirely of cherry at any maturity, they take pains to harvest only the ripest cherries, now more aware of the effect on the cup. They’re also considering building their own beneifico to dry their coffees more effectively, as a few producers in the group have now done.
The Donis family helped us understand a lot about cost of production this year. Guayo is often teased for his rapid fire speech, but it’s a product of a very sharp mind — at a moment’s notice he was able to pinpoint clear numbers for his costs and explained that for coffee sold in parchment they required 1050 quetzal/quintal to break even. Though last year’s price of 1300 was satisfactory to them, we took the decision together to raise their prices (and those of the group in general) to 1500 such that they could see more money retained for the same amount of coffee sold.