Every morning, bright and early, the crew at 49th starts their day off with a cupping session – 7 am start time while the roasters are heating up.
“We’re never quite satisfied and I think that’s okay. Coffee is not a stagnant thing – coffee is very much alive, coffee ought to be alive. And every year it’s different. I think that approach is very helpful to roasting coffee.” Explained Laura Perry about 49th Parallel.
That commitment isn’t an empty statement. It’s thoroughly backed up by everything they do; meticulous cupping to improve roasting, in-depth sourcing to find the right beans, and significant work with their farming partners to improve quality
“I spent 3 weeks in Honduras last harvest with 5 small holder farmers we’ve been working with for around 4 years now – working to figure out drying because we noticed that wasn’t working as well as other parts. For us it’s constantly checking in and seeing what’s working and what’s not. It’s that process, but for every part of the supply chain.” Described Laura.
Take the coffee featured in the October 2014 issue of The Roasters Pack, La Esperanza. Laura made the trip to that farm, and it wasn’t an easy trip: one overnight flight, an 8 hour bus ride and then a 3 hour drive to the Guatemalan farm that is rich with history.
This farm was started in the 1950s, where Heleodoro de Jesus Villatoro Lopez began the coffee farming operation in Huehuetenango. The start of this operation required a lot of work simply to improve the logistical side of the business (if the trek to the farm was a challenge today, imagine how difficult it was back in the 50s). His son, Aurelio Villatoro, is currently doing the bulk of the management and continual improvement of the farm as Heleodoro is now 94 years old - although he still confidently declares that he’s in charge at the farm. The future of Finca La Esperanza is in good hands as Heleodoro’s grandson is currently in Agronomy school with the intention of bringing back that knowledge to the farm.
Currently, they’re focusing on consistency within all the steps along the way. Because of their proactive attitude on continual improvement things have been smooth sailing.
There are so many steps that you have to pay close attention to from the time that it’s picked to the time that we roast it.
“A lot of issues that we see on the cupping table when I first cup it and then when it arrives to us there sometimes is a difference – and that could be how the coffee is dried or perhaps how it’s milled. There are so many steps that you have to pay close attention to from the time that it’s picked to the time that we roast it.” Laura Perry explained.
Aurelio Villatoro has implemented a lot of intelligent systems along the way that is preventing those differences that could exist between what is cupped at origin and the roaster. One of the more simple things is having ventilated baskets for the pickers which prevents the cherries at the bottom of the basket from deteriorating in quality.
Another is moving the location of the coffee milling. They would send their coffee to milling at a town called Palin, but recently they’ve moved it just outside Guatemala City with the goal of seeing incremental improvements in quality.
With all of the minor details taken care of, it’s no wonder the taste is remarkable.
“We’ve really poured the vast majority of our efforts into making sure that we have coffee that is worthy of being called high end specialty. I think that’s worked for us. Hopefully that’s had people realize that we sincerely want to do this really well. I think that’s helped us gain respect in the industry.”