This is the entrance to Filadelfia Coffee Plantation. Having recently gone on a coffee tour here, I’ve decided to photo-blog the tour to share. Every inaccuracy here is mine. My tour guide, David, was awesome, patient and knowledgeable in everything coffee. It is my failure if much is lost here. For the best experience possible, take the tour!
After passing the entrance gate, it is a short drive to the main area surrounded by coffee plants everywhere.
In the distance, you can see the plantation encompasses the nearby mountains which are filled with more coffee plants.
Express Coffee Tour
History Of Coffee
The tour guide, David, starts off with a brief introduction on the origins of coffee, different coffee types, its spread across the globe and many other interesting facts.
Coffee originally comes from Africa.
Different variations of coffee are grown in different regions in Guatemala. Coffee variations are due to climate, elevation and soil types.
There are 4 main types of coffee. Of these, the two most popular ones are Robusta and Arabica. Brazil is the largest coffee exporter in the world and produces Robusta. Guatemala produces Arabica type. Coffee processing, as well as preparation, varies over the world by type.
Before growing coffee, Guatemala used to grow plants for dyes to color textiles. In time, Germany created machinery for such so the demand for these dyes diminished. This marks the transition to growing coffee in Guatemala.
As soon as seedlings sprout, they are called Soldaditos (Little Soldiers).
Young coffee plants.
The Robusta plant is more resilient to bugs (in the soil) and is a generally hardier plant. The Arabica, in contrast, provides a generally accepted better taste. Because of this, the Filadelfia Plantation uses combines the best qualities of these two coffee plants by grafting these. By using the bottom part of a Robusta plant, together with the top part of an Arabica plant, a 99% Arabica product is realized that is hardier and easier to care for.
Grafting is done by hand. Grafting success is considerably affected by the pH of the hands in contact with the plant. It was explained to us that a woman’s pH is balanced, roughly 7.0, whereas a male’s pH is not. Because of this, only women do grafting at Filadelfia Plantation.
Blurry image of a recently grafted Robusta/Arabica plant.
Coffee is a fruit! When the fruit is a deep red color, it is picked by hand by twisting first and then pulling.
A healthy plant matures evenly for picking. Green is not ready to pick and brown/dark colored are past due.
Just like any other plants, coffee is vulnerable to bugs and fungi. A specialist monitors the health of all the plants and decides whether to treat or remove as needed.
Another ailment to coffee is a bug that opens the fruit and eats the beans, then lays eggs inside it. Once the eggs hatch, they use the coffee bean as nourishment. This is called Cafe con broca.
Plants are ready to be picked in about 4 to 5 years. Every 7 years, they are trimmed. You can tell the approximate age of a plant by noticing how many trim cuts it has plus or minus 6 years . Coffee plants can last decades. The older the plant gets, the less tasty the fruit is.
These trees are trimmed in such a way to provide the proper amount of sunlight ideal for caring for coffee plants. They are originally from Australia and they are used because they do not compete for nutrients with the coffee plant. Neat!
Coffee picking and tasting. Seeds are coated in some sweet slippery skin. Most of the caffeine in the coffee fruit is in the shell which is not used for anything!
From walking around the coffee fields, we proceeded to the building where the main coffee ‘processing’ occurs. After handpicking the fruit, it is hauled in trucks over to this building and dumped here.
This is a 5 meter deep pit used to clean fruit load of dirt, malformed pieces , cafe con broca, garbage, leaves, etc. After the picked fruit is deposited, this pit is then filled with water so that the heavier fruit sinks while everything else just floats away.
From the discarded portion of the load, the imperfect fruit is then laid out to dry under the sun. These fruit follow a separate path. These groups of fruit are made up of fruit that was picked up too soon (green), fruit that has one seed, cafe con broca, etc..
You can see 7 horizontal rows of fruit and then, in the distance, another seven vertical rows of fruit. You can tell by the color that as each batch of fruit dries, it is pushed back to make room for incoming batches of bad product.
Underneath that big pit, the fruit that sinks is then routed thru a maze of pipes and machinery to further divide fruit by weight/quality, etc..
Directly under cleaning pit, machinery routes the good fruit to its next destination.
Next destination, smaller pools where the fruit is then fermented and the skin is removed. Fermentation time for these varies by batches and is constantly monitored by experts.
Fermentation pools are cleaned after each batch. This was a recurring theme in the tour. All these stages go thru constant cleaning post use. Everything looked clean to me.
After fermentation, the coffee is then cleaned before proceeding to the next stage in the process.
Drying The Coffee Beans
A short walk from that big green machine, we see the clean coffee beans laid out to dry under the sun.
Drying takes about 18 hours. If it rains, all the seed has to be grouped and covered so that process can be properly done afterwards. Seed has to be completely dry between all steps of processing.
Different sets of seeds in different drying stages.
For customers in a hurry, seeds can be dried in these big rotating drums. Using these, the seeds are dried much faster but quality can be diminished.
These slowly rotating tumblers are connected to wood burning stoves for their heat source.
Notice the steps on the left picture for scale.
Separating the Coffee Beans
Old machinery was on display all over the tour.
There were many variations of what appear to be some sort of grinders to remove beans from their shells.
These look like a lot of work; hand cranks!
Onto modern times.
After the beans are completely dry, they are then cleaned of their shells and other ‘non-coffee stuff’.
Here is a nice visual overview of the cycle of the coffee bean. On the leftmost bin, we have dried seeds back from laying out in the sun.
Next up, we have a bin filled with shells and beans – semi-clean. These shells do not make it to the finished product.
The next bin is filled with the beautiful green beans which are the end result of processing coffee – minus roasting.
The final bin is filled with roasted beans. Some of the product is also roasted for retail sale.
The last set of machinery cleans up the coffee beans and prepares these for export.
This step further removes shells and that slimy coat from the beans.
The refuse of this step can be used as burning material or even as part of compost. Many other uses are constantly being explored.
The Filadelfia Plantation specializes in producing a balanced coffee brew. This conveyor belt separates beans by sizes; small, medium and large. The medium sized beans provide the best balanced flavor. Small/large mixes can provide a similar flavor.
After this step, coffee (green unroasted beans) are ready for export. The Filadelfia Plantation bags are particular to the bean’s final customer and destination.
Surprise! The biggest coffee export from Filadelfia Plantation is Japan. Only the finest coffee, Class 1, makes it to Japan. In this bag, we can see distinct destination numbering for shipyard, ship and destination location.
Green beans ready for export.
Green beans are categorized into different classes and these, in turn, are denoted by quality as can be seen in this chart.
In Filadelfia Plantation, they use a five grade scale by purity of product batch. Bean production is constantly inspected and classified.
For the most discerning customer, beans are picked by hand to produce the best batches of green beans possible. Arduous work indeed.
Although most of the output of Filadelfia Plantation is unroasted beans (for wholesale export), some of it is roasted for retail consumption. Unfortunately, there was no roasting going on while on tour.
Roasting floor devoid of people . On an active day, there would be a flurry of activity as coffee is roasted, tested and categorizedand the smell… I bet it smells wonderful in here when roasting is taking place.
On the first image, you can see big metal circular containers where seeds turn for 25-28 minutes and impurities are further removed from toast. On the next one, you can see tanks used in degassing of the roast. This tanks aid in the removal of carbon dioxide as it escapes he beans post roasting.
Supposedly, a roast is not ready until it has degasified lest it taste be uneven. This may take a few days! This is why coffee bags at supermarkets have that little one way valve; for gases to escape. These are not, I just learned, so that we can smell the roast. Go figure. Some coffee drinkers even prefer to brew as soon as roasted. The general idea is to wait a few days.
Lastly, the roasted beans are hand packed in this beautiful clean room.
A selection of the different roasts they do was on display. It included a balanced roast, Class 1 and Class 2 roasts and common coffee roast. They even had one roast specifically from coffee picked at high altitude. Some of these roasts are for consumption in Guatemala only and some can even be bought at their website. We were also told coffee should be stored at room temperature in a dark container. There goes the ‘store grounds on fridge’ myth…
Coffee Tasting Room
The tour concludes in this coffee room with all sorts of coffee brewing equipment and anything coffee preparation related you can imagine. In here, our knowledgeable guide asked us which brew and style of coffee we wanted to try.
My wife shocked him; she is not a coffee drinker. She can prepare a good brew for me but does not drink it herself! I ordered an espresso. On he went to prepare a regular black coffee for her and our espressos.
This is not the coffee grinder I have at home. And this looks even less like the coffee maker I have at home. Betcha my wife can appreciate one of these.
Here we are, final step. In no time, David had prepared a pair of espressos for us to go over. We went thru a routine similar to the following:
- Lightly stir coffee and let the crema give off the wonderful fragrance it had for us.
- Take the first of three sips to enjoy an intense taste.
- Take a second sip noticing acidity in the flavor.
- Finally, the money shot, enjoy one last sip where the full flavor of the blend can be enjoyed.
One nice bit of our tour guide is how David would take the time to explain everything to us and then quiz us at the end. To the test above, I agreed on every step but admitted not really being able to differentiate between steps 3 and 4. I will try harder David!
This was the conclusion of our express 45 minute (which lasted about an hour and change ) tour. I am positive I left more things out that I shared here. Given the chance, I would go back to take any and all of the other tours available.