George and Jenny Visit Montecarlos Estate
Montecarlos Farm occupies an entire long-dormant volcano. An arc of volcanoes spreads eastwards.
The tallest of the peaks, Santa Ana, reaches the clouds. It last erupted in 2005, covering Montecarlos with a foot of ash and destroying the coffee crop of 2006.
The Montecarlos crater retains the original forest vegetation, with a meadow at the base. One can see the home of Carlos and Julie Batres on the rim. They are the third generation owners of Montecarlos.
On the forefront are fields of coffee trees surrounded by tall wind-breaker trees in square patterns. Violent winds capable of destroying the crop can come hurling south from Mexico.
The Montecarlos home on the rim of the volcano, made of
The meadow inside the crater.
The view from the house on a very clear day. In the far distance the volcanoes of Antigua, Guatemala can be seen, rising like pyramids. The Pacific Ocean is barely visible in the haze to the left.
Montecarlos volcano belongs to the short but majestic Ilamatepec mountain range. The largest peak, seen here, is the still-live Santa Ana.
Fields of coffee can be seen below – on the slopes and in the lower valley at 3,000 feet altitude.
Carlos, Jenny, and I set out to
explore the farm – a place full of natural wonders….
A necessary stop at Montecarlos is
at the geysers, which spew burning hot sulfuric steam.
The amazing Amate tree, providing shade in abundance to livestock below.
Driving past coffee trees and under some windbreaker trees, which have been allowed to bend into an inviting arch.
Shade trees provide protection against excessive sunlight. Coffee trees’ natural habitat is in semi-shade. The shade trees are nitrogen providing, which gives vitality to the plants.
Ripening coffee cherries. There are two “beans,” really large seeds, to a cherry. Only ripe cherries should be picked (the red ones!). One tree, kept pruned to approximately 7 feet, will provide an average of a lb. of coffee beans in a good year.
Mid afternoon the pickers arrive by truck to sort and deliver the day’s harvest. At the peak of the harvest Montecarlos employs 400 to 500 pickers from the local countryside. The bags can weigh over 100 lbs. For every 6 lbs. of cherry one lb. of green beans Is produced on average.
The pickers sort the cherries into three parts: unripe (for instant coffee and internal consumption only), semi-ripe, and ripe. This picker is separating some semi ripe cherries from the green unripe.
The cherries are then moved by recycled water to be depulped: their skins are removed, leaving a gluey mucilage still surrounding the beans.
The sticky beans are then placed into
tanks where they will dry-ferment for upwards of 24 hours. This is seen in the tank on the left. The highest quality Bourbon and Caturra varieties are fermented in water – to produce a smoother cup. Wet fermentation is an unusual procedure in Central
America, but the normal process in Ethiopia. In both cases, when the fruit no longer clings to the beans, turbulent water washes off the mucilage. This can take an hour or more.
The washed beans are brought by water from channeled mountain springs to be laid on patios.
Freed from mucilage the beans are now dried on patios. These patios are made of clay, which absorb heat from the beans being warmed by the sun. In the evening the clay slowly releases the heat back to the beans to provide very gentle temperature transitions. Moisture is brought down from 60% down to 10.5 – 11 percent over a period 10 to 15 days. The beans are raked every 20 minutes to assure even drying. From there the beans will be bagged and brought to a dry mill where they will be sorted by size, density, and with defects removed.
Wonderful views during the harvest. This is the dry season. The suns sets over the Pacific Ocean.