Greetings from Guatemala: COE and Tropical Storm Agatha

We left off with Jeff getting a good night's sleep prior to a full 7 hour day of cupping and judging this year's Cup of Excellence Competition in Guatemala. Here's what happened next.

Competition Day

The weather here reflects the beginning of the rainy season for Guatemala - and yes it has been raining very hard for the last few days. Maybe it's not the best for sightseeing, but to me, this this is good sign for next year's crops: the heavy rain will begin the flowerings that will produce next year's coffee beans. And besides, I will inside all day judging COE.

Today, we cupped all of the coffees that had scored over a 84 - a total of 29. There are some excellent coffees that will fetch over 90 points in the Top 10 Cuppings, which will be held tomorrow. It was pretty grueling to crank out all 29 cuppings, but in many respects a lot of fun. Man, some of these coffees are incredible! Exploring all the great flavors is the best part. The words I've heard the most from the other international judges as we discuss this years COE: dark chocolate, apple, creamy, honey-like, buttery overtones, citrus and berry-like, floral, caramel and vanilla flavors. Delicious. Tomorrow will bring the best of the best of Guatemala's coffees, with the awards banquet tomorrow night after the winners are announced. I can't wait to cup them. Yesterday we visited a beautiful, totally organic and sustainable farm and Saturday we will be visiting more on our quest for the best coffees at our Zoka stores back home. So much to do in so little time.

The Best of Coffee in the Worst of Conditions

Our full day of cupping concluded with a volcanic eruption. Pacaya, just 50 kilometers from our hotel, erupted covering the the city with a 1/2 inch dusting of ash: on the streets, on the roofs... on the airplane tarmac. We will be scrambling to rearrange and find flights out of El Salvador, four hours away, on Sunday.

Pacaya Volcano, prior to its eruption this month But it's easy to ignore travel problems when you have the Top 10 Guatemala COE coffees to cup! It was way more fun than hard work. The coffees were even better than I expected. There was a huge variety of flavors, body and sweetness. There were a couple of Pacamara coffees along with several traditional super-sweet and well balanced coffees. I predicted (and was right!) that the Pacamara from El Injerto farm took the overall first place; the two coffees I also thought should be in the top three were right behind. They both had outstanding sweetness and juicy flavors that made you want to keep cupping all day. All ten were outstanding and I am sure will fetch a solid price with their auction next month. We will see what we can do to land some of these great coffees for Zoka.

Homeward Bound... Kind Of

After the cupping and awards ceremony, we had planned on visiting another coffee farm in Antigua. However, the Pacaya volcano put a major damper on our plans. The airport, covered in heavy ash, wasn't letting planes in or out for several more days. And, news flash, Tropical Storm Agatha was on its way. After some research and mental anguish, several of the international judges were off late Friday evening, and Saturday I was on my way to El Salvador: a four hour bus ride to catch a plane leaving Sunday morning at 6:30. I figured I could just hang out at the San Salvador airport Saturday night before I caught the early morning flight to Houston. No big deal, right? Think again. It was fine except the airport is pretty much closed after 9:00 pm and the militaristic guards do not think much of people lingering in their airport after hours, no matter if they have a ticket or not. But, after some persuasion, they let me stay - although they would check on me almost hourly to be sure I was not up to something. And they x-rayed my luggage at least 4 times. It was a little spooky. I think next time I will just rent the nearest hotel room even if I have to get up at 3:00 am and walk down the street to get my flight. The flight back was easy and I slept most of the way. When I got home, I heard of the huge sink hole and massive rains and slides that have caused so much damage and loss of life in Guatemala City. I'm glad I got out when I did. I can only hope things there improve soon. I am home now and looking very favorably to the COE auction soon to come. Until next time, Jeff Babcock Zoka Coffee President