Farm Focus: Fincas La Merced & Retiro del Quisaya

We do our best to source good coffee from good people, and that’s exactly what we get when we do business with Juan Luis Barrios and his family. Three of our coffees come from Juan Luis and his family’s two farms in Guatemala. Read about the family farms and how Juan Luis proactively works to lower the farms’ environmental impacts while maintaining his quality good coffee.

Family Farms & Neighborhood Friends

Juan Luis inherited his family’s farms in 2006 when his aunt selected him from 25 other cousins to run them. The farms — La Merced & Retiro del Quisaya, which mean “Mercy” and the “Retreat of Quisaya” — have been a part of Juan Luis’s family for generations. His grandfather planted the first coffee trees on the farm in 1912. As Juan Luis notes, “The farm was my grandparents’ livelihood. They lived there, and that was their business.”

Even today, Juan Luis still gets some of his coffee beans from the trees his grandfather planted. He believes proper pruning over the years has led the farm’s older trees to produce at above average rates, so he won’t be getting rid of the special trees anytime soon.

Before the coffee trees popped up, the plot of land that includes the two farms had been in the Barrios family since 1832. It once was one large farm, but the Barrios clan opted to sell a portion of it to 650 other families who now help Juan Luis and his family harvest the coffee each year. This is a win-win for both parties, as Juan Luis gets an extra set of helping hands and his experienced farming neighbors get to maintain a steady income during their own farms’ off-seasons.

Positive Processes for Good Coffee & the Environment

As Juan Luis expertly notes, “There is a direct relation: the cheaper the coffee, the more defects that are allowed. Specialty coffee, like what Durango Coffee buys, is practically defect free.” Not only is what we buy from Juan Luis good coffee, but we buy the coffee in good conscience, as Juan Luis makes sure his growing and production processes are good for the environment too. He recycles water whenever he can during the wet milling process and more.

Wet milling is the first phase of coffee processing which consists of removing the pulp from the seeds, selecting the best-sized beans, fermenting the mucilage, washing, and then drying the seeds. Juan Luis uses recycled water to transport the beans as they go through the majority of the wet milling process. The beans are carried from the de-pulper to the size-sorter and then to the fermentation tank and washer with recycled water. Juan Luis only uses fresh water to rinse the beans when they come out of the washer to be extra sure they have a clean cup. The fresh water from that rinse is then used again for future transportation purposes.

Another area of the farming process where Juan Luis uses recycled water is irrigation. Any daily excess of water is treated with anaerobic microorganisms to lower the biochemical oxygen demand, thus making it suitable for future irrigation use. Juan Luis and his family “are always looking at ways to lower [their] environmental impact.” They “are trending to more precision farming, thus lowering [their] fertilizer inputs, applying efficient microorganisms in the soil to ensure it’s properly balanced so that [they] have healthier trees requiring smaller dosages of fungicide, using manual weed growth management as much as possible to lessen the use of herbicides.” Juan Luis also says that he does all of this, “even though shade-grown coffee growing is already carbon positive, simply because it’s the right thing to do.”

Pine Trees Provide A Unique Business Model

The shade-grown coffee Juan Luis referred to comes from the pine trees he has intercropped between his coffee trees. This intercropping is good for many reasons. It leads to a more sustainable income for Juan Luis and his family as his trees allow Juan Luis to grow coffee year-round, even during the wettest of seasons. Juan Luis is also able to generate additional income for his family by selling lumber from the pine trees.

Juan Luis’s model of intercropping pine trees with his coffee trees also has a positive impact on the environment. The trees absorb more CO2 than what is produced on the farm, making La Merced & Retiro del Quisaya carbon positive.

The Result Is Good Coffee

The result from Juan Luis and his family’s dedication to defect-free beans and careful protection of the coffee with pine trees is such good coffee, we have to offer more than one!

Our Guatemala Retiro Natural Process coffee received a high-scoring 94 from Coffee Review. A medium-light roast coffee that Coffee Review describes as “delicate but deeply and quietly intense,” this coffee tastes like “cocoa, peach, fresh-cut fir, brown sugar, [and] a hint of lush, lily-like flowers in aroma and cup.” It is “balanced, crisply sweet in structure; light-footed and lively in mouthfeel. Cocoa dominates in a resonant, flavor-saturated finish.”

You can also check out our Guatemala La Merced coffee, which received another high score of 91 from Coffee Review. It is described as “crisply chocolaty, silky-bodied espresso, citing its balanced range of baker’s chocolate, flowers and fruit.” Try it with three-parts of milk to help the chocolate sweeten and blossom. We also offer a Guatemala Retiro Washed Process coffee.