Located in the remote western Guatemala town of Jacaltenango, Coop Rio Azul is a 186 member cooperative. Founded in 1967, the cooperative has a long history of producing some of the best coffee exported under the famed “Huehuetenango” mark.
The members of Rio Azul all live no more than a 1.5 hour walk to the wet mill in Jacaltenango. This allows the cooperative complete control over several stages of the quality process. Coffee is picked by members until early afternoon and then delivered in cherry form to the mill each day beginning around 3 pm. All coffee is depulped, fermented, washed and dried at the coop’s mill. Adjacent to the mill is a warehouse and office – capable of storing about 500 sacks of pergamino. Once a container quantity of pergamino is accumulated, a transfer to the exporter’s warehouse in the city of Huehuetenango (4 hours away) is organized. This coffee is then transferred to Guatemala City for final processing and export preparation in an organic dry mill.
The altitude of the plots farmed by members of Rio Azul ranges from 1,200 meters to 1,600 meters. All of the production will be graded SHB (strictly hard bean), the best grade available, due to the careful attention given in the central processing facility and the excellent conditions for growing coffee in this area. They have a production of about 18 “quintal” per hectare.
Until recently, Rio Azul was receiving assistance from Oxfam in the form of capacity building grants to provide technical processing and administrative training. An alternative income project to raise bees for improved pollination and honey production has been quite successful. Twenty eight farmers currently participate and each manages 10 boxes. They typically produce about 50 pounds of honey resulting in annual honey production for the coop of over 15,000 pounds.
They also received a support from the organization AECI, to improve the infrastructure. Their are changing their wet mill, that is now transitional into a more ecologic one.
All members of the cooperative are of the Mayan group Jacaltec, also commonly called Pobp’ al Ti’ or Popti. About 40,000 people speak this language – most living in the Guatemala department of Huehuetenango with some living just across the border in Chiapas, Mexico. The cooperative’s meetings are conducted in Popti as well as Spanish.
Their main priorities are: to become more financially sustainable and self-sufficient as an administration, to provide members with technical assistance to better manage the coffee fields and shade trees, to have more members certified, and to increase the productivity.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the Guatemala Rio Azul Cooperative, from Kickapoo Coffee Roasters in Viroqua, Wisconsin, courtesy of Craft Coffee. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Huehuetenango, Guatemala
producer: smallholder farmers
association: Rio Azul Cooperative
elevation: 1500 – 2000 meters above sea level
cultivars: Bourbon, Typica
process: fully washed, patio dried
grind: 16, Preciso
coffee: 32 g
water: 480 mL
pour: 2:00 pour, 1:30 drop
The aroma of this Guatemala is unreal—absolutely warming, inviting, soothing; sweet and rich with scents of toffee, brown sugar, graham cracker, and fresh pecan pie.
My first few sips of the coffee immediately post-brew offer an experience much like the aroma: sweet, inviting, comforting. Flavors of brown sugar, maple syrup, graham cracker, and toffee coat the palate and envelop the tongue. The coffee has a beautiful and soothing honeyed mouthfeel that slowly unfurls over the tongue like molasses, while silky red delicious apple juice, rose petals, golden wheat, and marigold stream down the sides of the tongue.
As it cools off, it brightens quite a bit, becoming more lively, juicy, and featuring a delightfully complex acidity (though I wouldn’t say it becomes a more fruit-forward coffee). Cherry, apple, lemon rind, peach, and apricot are all present, and the cup finishes with a flourish of roasted pecan and a lingering cocoa powder finish.
Medium body; velvety mouthfeel; citrus acidity; clean finish.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Kickapoo Coffee’s Guatemala Rio Azul Cooperative is a classically Guatemala-profiled cup of coffee, in the very best way possible. It is so sweet, so comforting, so inviting.
This coffee is like a trusty armchair that you can collapse into and curl up in. It’s the coffee you want in your mug when you’re baking a pumpkin pie, or when you’re losing yourself in a good book on a rainy day, or when you’re taking a walk on a crisp autumn day and all you can hear is the crunch of leaves beneath your feet.
I know this has gotten unnecessarily poetic, but this is a fantastic coffee and totally worth the overly flowery language.
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.