Guatemalan is back!
The wait is over - fresh crop from our Guatemalan partners at the Rio Azul Cooperative has arrived! We roasted the first batch this week and boy oh boy, this coffee was worth the wait. With flavour notes of caramel, chocolate, and a hint of tart cherries, this sweet and complex coffee - which, let's be honest, has always been a favourite - packs a mighty punch.
The story behind this coffee makes the taste even sweeter. Tucked away in a quiet, leafy corner of southwestern Guatemala in a valley where the incandescently blue river that is the co-op's namesake flows, Rio Azul is made up of just over 200 producer-members. A perfect recipe of phenomenal natural growing conditions and tireless efforts to improve growing practices and techniques consistently yields one of the best coffees we've imported and tasted over the last five years.
In February 2015, we made the trek down to Rio Azul to meet with general manager, Ramon Delgado Sanchez. We arrived on "Santa Candelaria," a national holiday that made for a raucous evening (I'm betting that ferris wheel would NOT pass inspection in Canada...) and a very sleepy morning. [Side note: check the holiday schedule before you plan a trip to origin...then reschedule or pack your party shoes] If Ramon was feeling any post-party fatigue (or whatever you like to call it), we certainly couldn't tell. He graciously welcomed us and gave us two days of his precious time, during the busy harvest season, to give us a tour of co-op...and a visit we'll never forget.
Rio Azul Cooperative was founded over 50 years ago but had all but disbanded by 2005 when its Board of Directors decided it was time to breathe new life into the organization and hire a manager. Ramon joined the team and since then has worked with a membership that has been growing in both size and engagement year after year. The last 10 years have not been without many challenges: financial difficulties combined with extremely volatile coffee prices and aggressive middlemen determined to undermine farmer organizations, have weighed heavy on the co-op's balance sheet...and on Ramon's shoulders. As if things weren't tenuous enough, "Roya" - the leaf rust plague that has hit most of Latin America - invaded the region and left farms (and farmers' incomes) completely decimated in its wake. Thankfully, Rio Azul seems to be leaving the eye of the storm at this point. And if the quality of the batch we're roasting now is any indication, they seem to be weathering it remarkably well in regards to production.
A first-hand look at the damage Roya caused made for a sober forecast of what we would be receiving several months later. But Ramon assured us that the quality would not be compromised. As we should have expected but were reluctant to believe in the face of such desperate circumstances, the man knew what he was talking about. He knew what they were capable of.
The road to recovery from Roya is far from over. But at Rio Azul, the march has begun and already, they - and we, by extension! - are starting to reap the benefits which have been a longtime coming. We are thrilled to play a small but determined role in the recovery by contributing an extra "Roya Fund" premium on every pound purchased through our importing co-op, Cooperative Coffees, to help move the recovery along.
Ramon's testimony of hope for the co-op and his trust that things would improve were an inspiration to see and hear during our visit. Tasting the final product is (in some ways, literally) the cherry on top.