REGION: Sierra de Las Minas
TOWN: El Progreso
Arabica VARIETIES: Bourbon, Caturra
OWNER: Rony Asensio
In the cup: Rounded body with chocolate, praline and red apple with a soft floral and almond finish.
Rony Asencio has been growing coffee at Finca Santa Ana La Huerta for nearly three decades. The farm sits high in the Sierra de Las Minas mountain range, in Guatemala’s eastern highlands at an elevation of 1,370–1,820m above sea level. This lush, rain-drenched region contains some of Central America’s largest cloud forests, and much of the area was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1990. The region’s diverse habitats are estimated to contain some 70% of all bird and animal species found in Guatemala and Belize, including several threatened birds.
Coffee has always been part of Rony’s life. He grew up around coffee in Antigua, and his father was also a coffee farmer. When he was young, Rony’s father sadly passed away, and the farm was sold. Rony knew one day he would return to coffee and follow in his father’s footsteps, however it was impossible to do this in Antigua, where the price of land was extremely high. After studying agriculture in Honduras, Rony began to search for a farm and eventually found a reasonably sized piece of land in Sierra de las Minas. It had a high elevation, rainfall, rich soils and good access to water to support the cultivation of high quality coffee. Taking advice from his father in law, legendary Antigua farmer Luis Pedro Zelaya (the father of Ricardo Zelaya of Santa Clara), he set about planting the farm with Caturra and Bourbon trees.
When Rony describes his approach to farming, he explains, “Everything we do is done with love.” Rony is a perfectionist when it comes to coffee farming, and he works incredibly hard to produce great coffee. He is meticulous in his approach to coffee production, taking a great deal of care to ensure he manages the farm according to the most stringent cultivation practices, and giving equal effort to the processing to ensure the very best quality coffee is produced.
Rony takes a very systematic approach to pruning at Santa Ana, removing around 1/3 of the coffee branches each year, to help combat disease and ensure efficient production. This pruning program is part of a broader, integrated farm management program that has seen a dramatic decrease in the reliance on chemical inputs for the farm.
The harvest at Santa Ana runs from December–March. Coffees are selectively picked by Rony’s team of ‘picky pickers” (a name he has come up with!) who are well trained in selecting only the very ripest cherries. In total around eight passes of the farm are made throughout the harvest to ensure the best quality cherries are selected.
Santa Ana’s wet mill is located at the farm. They have three pulpers, five fermentation tanks, a demucilager, and washing channel and green house with tiered African style beds. Rony takes a very data driven approach to processing the coffee: he reviews temperature readings throughout the drying process to inform how to manage the shade, airflow and movement in order to ensure the coffee stays in a stable and narrow range as it dries. This greatly helps the clarity, consistency, reliability and longevity of this coffee. Rony’s farms are impeccably organised, and the facilities are always incredibly clean.
Over the last few years Rony has taken steps to reduce his environmental footprint on the farm. He has significantly reduced his reliance on synthetic fertilisers and insecticides, and in recent times has also focused on trying to minimise the amount of water they use in processing, reducing it from sixty-four cubic meters to just six. Rony also treats all used water so as to ensure it is clean before it re-enters the ecosystem. This reduction in water usage has significantly reduced the burden on the local springs in the area—no small feat given the water shortages affecting many other communities in Guatemala.
Rony employs around 250 temporary workers during the harvest, who live in accommodation located on the farm. The workers are made three meals are day, and also given small plots to grow fresh produce on. Their facilities are clean and well cared for; as a result most of the same workers return every year to work on his farm as they know that they will be remunerated fairly and given good conditions.
(Info courtesy of Melbourne Coffee Merchants)