Anapaula Pérez Castillo:
Woman of Coffee Excellence

Interview by Monserrat Abad, Coffee Trader and IWCA Volunteer

Among all the chaos and sadness the explosion of El Volcán de Fuego caused, the 14th Guatemala Cup of Excellence International Auction was carried out in June 7, 2018 to bring some light and happiness to the coffee producers in the country.

Down to 34 samples above 86 points selected to participate in the auction and scored by 13 international cuppers who served as judges, the farm La Reforma y Anexos won the first place. Scoring 90.73 made it worthy of ‘The presidential award’. This lot comes from the Huehuetenango region, where the farm of around 74 hectares is located and a region well known for the beautiful coffees produced. This 15 quintals parchment lot was carefully selected from the coffee trees and processed in order to release the full potential resulting in a complex, juicy, sweet, and bright cup, offering  fruity (stone fruit, apricot, melon, orange) and floral (jasmin) Aromas and flavors, rounding it with a silky, creamy, long lasting after taste…Sounds like I want to taste that coffee now!!

Anapaula Pérez Castillo, a member of IWCA Guatemala (Mujeres en Café Guatemala) has a lot to do with this winning lot. She has been working on her father’s farm pursuing excellence.

Anapaula is the fifth generation of coffee growers in her family. Her great grandfather, Mr. Manuel Pérez was the one who acquired the farm “La Reforma y el Anexo” back in 1904. At that time, this farm use to be dedicated to tobacco, corn and bean production, until 1930 when production was switched to coffee, that was picked, processed and carried for days in mules, to Huehuetenango to be sold (nowadays Huehuetenango is just 3 hours away). They did not come back to the farm until the coffee was sold.

Since that time, coffee has been the main product at the farm, involving in its production to the whole family. Currently, Anapaula’s father is the owner of the farm, but she, her mother, husband and brother are deeply involved in the day to day activities at the farm, participating and helping in different areas of the business.

Anapaula has a college degree in Food Engineering. After college she decided to work in the industry, so she could get experience and practice what she had studied, but it was in 2016 when she decided to go back to the family business: coffee production.

M: Tell us about this lot.

Anapaula: This lot is a Washed Process Gesha. Four years ago, the seeds were given to us, before that we did not know the variety. We can say that from that moment we start exploring and working into the so-called “specialty coffee segment” which also led us two years ago to start cupping and knowing our coffee better, with the help and guidance of other family members who also are coffee people. This allowed us to realize that our coffee was really good and has potential to be sold in the international markets. It was this way in 2017, when we sold 3 quintals of a great coffee at $22 USD/Pound. This was the moment when we saw an opportunity to participate in the Guatemala National Cup of Excellence.

We believe, no, we are sure, that coffee quality comes from the tree, so we are very focused on providing our plantations with all the nutrition and care needed. We take particular care also during the cherry picking: the pickers were clearly instructed to pick only red ripe cherry for this special lot to be delivered for processing.

The manager of the farm was always very very vigilant of the wet process before continuing to one of the critical stages, the drying, that was carefully performed at a temperature not higher than 40 degrees ideally for a slow, homogeneous drying of the parchment. Finally, we cupped the lot before enrolling it into the competition. A very strict quality control was carried out.

M: What was so special about it?

Anapaula: As you see, nothing about this lot was a fortuity. From the very beginning, we worked hard to make it a winning lot for Cup of Excellence. Honestly, we were not expecting the first place, we wanted to be among the top lots, that would be significant for us, so when it actually got the first place it was a great surprise and we are very happy!

M: What does coffee make you feel?

Anapaula: Besides being a legacy and a heritage passed from generations, it is our livelihood. It has provided us the economic resources not only for the basic needs, but also to have an education and a better life. Every time I get more involved in coffee, I fall in love even more with it.

I love all the different steps it goes through to get the final product. It is a rewarding work, and the farm is located in a region with spectacular weather and ideal soil to grow quality coffee, so we expect to continue producing it for many years.

M: What would you tell to the new generations in coffee?

Anapaula: Like my father says: “We are standing on a diamond that we haven’t taken advantage of.  Guate has Spectacular coffees!!!” And because of that I tell all the generations, not only youth, but to all, get into coffee, get your children involved in coffee, the more you get to be in touch with the steps and stages of the coffee production and they participate in them, they will fall in love with coffee.

The coffee world has changed so much that now there is opportunity for all, it is not limited anymore for the producer’s children to stay only “at the fields”. There is a need of different types of “knowledge” we can apply along the chain, you have the harvest, the processing, the commercialization, quality control, chemistry, cupping, a lot of science can be applied in the coffee business… There is plenty of room, it is so wide, that we need to change the idea coffee has only to do with the agricultural part.

M: As women in coffee, what would you say to the other women in coffee out there?

Anapaula: It is true that coffee is still strongly led by men, however, every time a woman gets involved in anything (activity, job, company…) it is a plus, as we start participating and contributing more actively everywhere.

Personally, I have witnessed men recognizing the value of women’s work and that in some cases we can even perform better at some activities, and not because we are “better” per se, but whatever we propose and commit to we are very capable of doing it. And I really believe there are certain activities we can do pretty well, for example cupping…. brewing, like the recent US barista champion, a woman! The first one! 

It is naturally in us, we can make coffee great!

M: What are the plans for Anapaula and for the farm?

Anapula: Keep working hard, of course. I want us (my family) to implement improvements at the farm such as ferti-riego, new varieties, more quality controls, better processes and yields, all these in order to produce better quality, so our coffee can have soon access to international markets. Our challenge is to maintain or improve our quality, which also will allows us to continue participating in Cup of excellence.

Congratulations, Anapaula, to you and your family for accomplishments!

To reach Anapaula, and other women leading excellence in Guatemala, please visit IWCA Guatemala’s website: https://www.mujerescafeguatemala.org/.