When we bought the farm in 2005, it was in pretty bad shape, a fairly common story. After Hurricane Mitch, the owner didn’t have enough money to put into the land. Our first coffee harvest was only 1500 lbs. This was probably a good thing, since we didn’t have any experience, and hadn’t built our processing facilities. That first year, we did emergency construction of a fermenter and washing canals out of wood planks nailed to posts ala 1849 California gold rush. With one whole year of experience, everything was under control right? Ha. Since then, with pruning, regulation of shade, chopping weeds, filling bare spots etc, we are doing lots better, but with only 7 original acres in coffee, production was limited. In expanding the planted area, we opted for higher class varieties including Catuai, Caturra, Java, Bourbon and recently Marseillesa, which have been coming on line the last few years.
All our coffee is shade grown. In areas with established coffee and shade, we leave well enough alone. Those areas have irregular mix of banana, guava, sangre drago (blood of the dragon) orange, lemon, lime and tangerine trees, helequeme, coyote, matapalo, and many other varieties. Where we are reclaiming land previously used for growing grains, we start with castor bean, gandul (a nitrogen fixer), banana, guava, and bucaro, giving those a few years head start before planting the coffee. In addition to shade, the banana, tree leaves and rotted trunks and ground cover start improving the organic content of soil.
We have been doing pulp natural and washed coffee with perhaps our Java pulp natural having most exotic taste. It was recently referred to as having Pinot wine characteristics, with very high cupping scores. Some like it, some don’t, but it isn’t forgettable. All our pulp naturals tend to have slightly more fruit flavor and are naturally a little sweeter than the same variety washed. Our washed (conventional) are more “normal”, have great taste, subtle underlying flavors and high cupping scores.
Leaf rust (roya) didn’t used to be a problem at our altitude, but with increasing heat from climate change we are now fighting it. We are just starting to plant Marseillesa which is leaf rust resistant and has a quality cup. We are also investigating drought tolerant varieties. So far, though, shade and ground cover to keep humidity up seems to be the best option.