Finca el Tambor, Guatemala
Roast Level: Medium
Roaster's Notes: This tasty Guatemalan is a chocolate-y delight, with sweet nectarine notes and an orange peel finish. An excellent single estate coffee from an innovative farmer!
Producer: Victor Calderon
Altitude: 1,676 - 1,860 metres
Victor Calderon represents the 5th generation of coffee farmers from a family that has been in coffee for more than 100 years; El Tambor, however, is a relatively new addition to the rich mosaic of farms dotting this region of Guatemala, just outside of Guatemala City.
Founded as a cattle farm in the 1930s, El Tambor’s previous owner had converted the farm’s steepest, highest slopes to coffee during the 1960s. However, as price volatility worsened during the late 1980s and early 1990s, he ceased to focus on coffee farming and instead granted mineral rights to a mining company, which began speculatively mining in various locations within the farm’s 700 hectares. Throughout the 1990s, the farm was slowly abandoned apart from these exploratory excavations – that is, until Victor took control of the land.
Victor bought the farm at the beginning of 2001 with the aim of moving out of Robusta cultivation (in which his family had previously specialised) and into Arabica. The bottom was falling out of the Robusta market at the time, and while Arabica wasn’t particularly stable either, he had a dream of finding a farm that lay at 1,500 metres or above so that he could specialise in high-quality, speciality Arabica production. He was so committed to this vision that he sold his house and car in exchange for El Tambor, and upon signing the documents immediately set about renovating the coffee plots, expanding areas under coffee and improving the farm’s
small wet mill.
However, Victor is a true iconoclast when it comes to coffee farming and refuses to accept conventional wisdom or accepted practices in farming. Nowhere is this more apparent than his approach to controlling coffee leaf rust on his farm.
When coffee leaf rust became truly apparent on El Tambor, Victor was concerned about using the chemically based fungicides widely recommended in Guatemala. Realising that fungi favour acidic environments, he had tried several alkaline solutions to apply the plants – everything from lemonade to orange juice – looking for one that worked. In his research, he read that clay – particularly from volcanic regions – is very alkaline, and his thoughts returned to El Tambor’s brief mining history.
Although very little was gained from the mines, they did leave a lot of clay – white clay with a high benzonite content. Victor suspected that this clay may provide just the solution that he was looking for. After much experimentation, Victor
came to a unique recipe that has enabled him to fight off coffee leaf rust with minimal environmental impact. A solution of water and clay from the old mines is mixed together with a tiny bit of copper-based fungicide and then applied to
the underside of leaves using a normal sprayer. Originally he had applied the solution on the tops of the leaves, but then realizing that the plants respire from under their leaves (and that is also where the fungus takes hold) he requested that workers apply the solution under the leaf. Suddenly, he observed that within 3 days the fungus had died on every plant to which the solution had been applied. He attributes this not just to the alkaline solution but also to the endothermic properties of the clay, which helps regulate temperatures and helps the plants fight off future infections. Even better, this method is ecologically friendly and poses no threat to workers’ health. It can even be applied without protective clothing.