Allow me to tip-toe back to my blog while no one is paying any attention, and pretend it hasn’t been 114 days since I last posted. I left off in the middle of coffee harvest back in December. What should have been a bumper crop took a turn for the worse, courtesy of Hurricane Ida. I thought we were immune from her destruction, but I was mistaken. The early rains of January, combined with the hurricane left us with less than half of our normal harvest.
As the days of picking went by and I began to see the reality of what had occurred, it took all I had to keep going. I seriously contemplated hanging up my finca hat and heading back to California. As I wrangled with my decision, I called upon my cousin Licito for advice. He has grown coffee all his life and his father had employed Don Beto for a few years prior to my hiring him.
Licito probed Don Beto with questions, and it soon became evident that Don Beto has been lax in his majordomo duties. It was an eye opener, reminding me how important it is to pay attention to every detail. While the poor harvest was more due to weather events, Don Beto’s negligence also played a part. One devastating example, is how little shade pruning he did. Out of many acres of coffee that should have been pruned, he only completed four acres last year. The result was too much shade over the coffee, forcing the trees to become tall and leggy in an attempt to reach for the light.
I had a meeting with Don Beto which was heated at times, both of us on the verge of severing our association. In the end, I gave him another chance, but things have changed a great deal. I doubt I will ever have complete confidence in him again and in all likelihood, there will be more changes down the road.
As a result of these hardships, came a resurgence of commitment. I didn’t hang up my finca hat, as that would be a road I prefer not to travel. Instead, we decided to commit ourselves to working even harder this year through careful shade tending, planting 1,200 more trees, and building a nursery which will hold 8,000 baby trees starting next month.
The coffee we harvested this past year was beautiful, and we have begun selling our coffee online in the states under the name of Tecapa Blue. The sales have gone well so far with the support of OUR FRIENDS of La Finca. It’s a mad scramble to de-husk, clean and sort, roast, bag, and then ship small quantities every month to San Francisco for our order fulfillment, but we are getting it done. I love the mornings when I drive back from the roaster with a carload of fresh roasted beans. The aroma is overpowering and the men are quite proud when they see the coffee in the shiny blue bags with our label. They find it hard to believe that it is traveling all the way to the United States.
Am I pitching our coffee? You bet. There is a lot of love and hard work in this coffee. The boys weigh out hundred pound sacks that I take to the de-husker where Carmeno carries them up a ladder to drop them into a funnel. The machine gently shakes off the husk and the coffee is bagged and returned to the finca. Juana spends days hand sorting every bean to remove any defects. The coffee is then bagged again and driven to the roaster where Jacquin and I have detailed discussions about roasting temperatures. After roasting, the bags are sealed one by one on a hand operated sealer.
Then comes the really fun part…..the red tape! I drive to the Coffee council to request my export papers (this is required for every shipment). Several documents are generated with official stamps to be taken to the Banco Reserva in order to acquire a Declaration of Goods. Next, I file a Prior Notice with the FDA, and reserve space on TACA air cargo. Once I present my shipment to TACA, it’s a four-step process with customs while they check and stamp your paperwork, release the drug-sniffing dog, and finally authorize your goods for shipping. I am handed my copy of my bill of lading, sigh with relief, and begin the two hour drive home. So all in all, $9.95 for a pound of coffee direct from our humble plantation is not such a bad deal! Give Tecapa Blue coffee a try...from Finca Los Angeles (Farm of the Angels).