Having roasted coffee for eight years, I was well overdue for a trip to origin. When you start small and focus on quality coffee, your resources tend to get invested in green coffee and not trips to origin. While knowing this, and understanding where the resources were best spent, I still couldn’t help but be a little jealous to run into roasters just getting into the game, working for more established outfits, who would travel to origin as part of their training and introduction to the company. Then, this past March, Bonfire received an invitation from Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders to travel with them to source coffee in Antigua, Guatemala. The invitation was answered with, “We would like to send our lead roaster,” and with that, my first trip to origin was on!
You can read and watch videos of something day in and day out, but not until that something is experienced do you reach a true understanding. Most of what I know about coffee has come through reading about it and applying what I learned through trial and error experience. I’m versed in the details of the various coffee processing methods and thought I could tell you everything you needed to know about a washing station and wet mill processing. Right up until the day I arrived at the Bella Vista mill in Antigua.
After several days of cupping coffees at Bella Vista and touring the mill, it became very apparent why so many amazing coffees come out of Antigua. The quality-focused wet mill is an invaluable asset to the dozens of coffee farms in the area gifted with an incredible climate and geology for growing quality coffee. Luis Pedro Zelaya Zamora who owns and runs Bella Vista has his background in agriculture and runs several farms of his own. In observing the daily operations at the mill, you come to realize the relationship between farmer and mill is symbiotic: the farmer knows if they pick their coffee cherries at the height of ripeness from well cared for coffee shrubs and get them to Bella Vista, those cherries will be processed with equal attention to quality and selection, ultimately yielding the best price possible benefiting farmer and mill. You can sense the dedication in the effort to allow each and every coffee bean be the best it can possibly be.
Along with assuming you had to be an established roaster to travel to origin, I also assumed you had to be a very large roaster to directly source your own coffees. Not so much, as I learned our second day at the cupping table. We had just charged through our fourth “table” of the day which had fifteen coffees on it. As we went around and scored the coffees, a couple stood out. Of course Brando, our importer, would take these coffees I thought, still making assumptions. But wait, there were only nineteen bags of the highest scoring coffee on the table available, coffee from the Perez family farm La Soledad, on the flanks of the volcano visible out the cupping room window. Nineteen bags was not really worth it for Brando, but a perfect micro lot for a micro roaster! I put the Bonfire name on those nineteen bags and Bodhi Leaf generously agreed to get the bags on their containers coming from Bella Vista. And with that, a very small roaster had just sourced their own coffee. Bonfire’s Guatemala La Soledad is a delicious, clean, well balanced coffee with incredible sweetness, made just a bit sweeter by this experience.