Jaibalito, Atitlan, Guatemala
On January 30th we took a boat across Lake Atitlan to the small town of Jaibalito for two reasons; we are intrepid explorers curious about people, culture, craft and the multi-dimensionally of all life; and we heard there was a roaster named Hans!
Hans owns a hotel/cafe/restaurant/green bean processing/roastery etc..., he seems to be a quiet man but also very industrious. There are many small farms within the Jaibalito valley, some on cliffs, others on gentle slops and some right in the village. Hans estimates that 10% of all the green beans in the area come to him: he only purchases coffee cherries that have not been chemically fertilized or sprayed (non-certified organic). Hans also grows his own coffee. He kindly gave us a tour of his small roastery and green bean processing area. He doesn't process coffee as thoroughly as many other Finca's we have visited here, but still obtains a good result, as we know from roasting his beans and conducting our own espresso style (with and without milk) taste tests. We see on some Fincas that they go as far as to seperate the bean size, which makes for a better even roast, but in the end it didn't seem to matter that much. Hans beans are good — which gives good reason to his laid-back processing approach!
We bought 5 lbs. of the "good" green beans and a lb. of the floaters (second grade beans), took them back to Villas B'alam Ya and roasted them with our Gene Cafe Home-Roaster. Hans washes the coffee cherries in big plastic bins. The floaters, most often considered to be inferior beans (insect holes, shriveled, odd shapes, hollowed beans, etc.), are scooped out and placed in the sun to be dried with the cherry pulp left on. Unlike the “sinkers” which have the pulp removed before drying, the floaters have a tendency to ferment (perhaps oxidize too) in the sun leading to a different range of flavours and aromas. The floaters gave off fruity smells and specifically blueberry, which was a most pleasant surprise. The "good" green beans when roasted provided a smooth chocolate taste with acidity, but nothing too extraordinary. But, when the two were blended together they fused deliciously, except for some slight bitterness from teh second grade beans. Unfortunately, due to poor sorting and timing of the second grade beans, they had some excellent flavours along with some bitter, acrid qualities, and left a feeling of "buzziness" in one's physiology.
Some comments on the care and processing of the floaters: It's early days for us, but we are noticing that the floaters are not treated with the same care and attention as the sinkers or the ‘good’ beans. The floaters are collected and dried with the cherry still in tact. Processing the sinkers carefully is time consuming as you need to de-pulp them, wash, ferment, dry, rake again and again and then voila beans are ready. With the sinkers you simply collect them and put them on the roof to dry in the sun, rake them every time you rake your good beans and voila they are ready to be sold locally at a low price. But, in this case we know from accounts of drying beans in Africa, that if you leave the cherry in tact and take care to not let them get moldy you can infuse the beans with exceptional fruit flavours, which later on can command a higher price and rare value. We wonder if Guatemala can figure out a way to do this, as we just learnt that in El Salvador there is a Finca experimenting with this in mind.