Ricardo Zelaya • Java Natural
Java Natural • Ricardo Zelaya, Finca Puerta Verde • Antigua
Puerta Verde (Green Door) lies along a relatively level 1,500 metres above sea level near Ciudad Vieja, Sacatapequez in Antigua, Guatemala. The farm’s name derives from its unique position in the Panchoy valley, home to the richest soil, plentiful water and (accordingly) some of the best coffee grown in the area.
The farm truly is a ‘green door’ that has been owned and meticulously operated by the Zelaya family since 1999. Overseen by Roberto Zelaya, one of Guatemala’s most renowned coffee farmers, the farm’s daily management falls to Marcos Rompiche, the Administrator, and Israel Yool, the farm’s Production Manager. Marcos is the 3rd generation of his family to work the farm and has, himself, worked there for 22 years. Israel is the 2nd generation of his family and has 16 years working on the farm under his belt. Together with Ricardo, they know every inch of the farm’s terrain and are keenly aware of minute differences in climate and soil composition between plots. This intimate knowledge of the farm’s terrain and plants is married with a commitment to quality and environmental preservation that is central to their coffee producing ethos. However, it is Zelaya’s forward-thinking and innovative approach to farming that helps the farm yield some of the region’s most interesting coffees.
Ricardo Zelaya comes from coffee farming royalty – he is the fourth generation to cultivate coffee in Antigua and owns and manages some of the country’s best and most recognizable farms. Quality has always been a huge commitment for him and his family, and Antigua’s rich volcanic soil, its latitude, longitude and altitude, its crystal clear water, make for a naturally good ‘cup’. But Ricardo has been very proactive in selecting varieties suitable to the natural location that will produce an exceptional and unique “taza”.
His farms are scrupulously managed, with great attention put into pruning schedules and pest and disease control. Since acquiring Puerta Verde, all but 1 of the farm’s 39 hectares have been replanted with primarily Caturra (60%) and Bourbon (20%). The remaining 20% of the farm’s area has been planted in more unusual varieties, such as Java, Villa Sarchi and Bourboncito.
The Zelaya family is passionately committed to both quality and sustainability. The family’s farms are scrupulously well-managed right from the careful selection of varietals planted, to the close supervision of the dry and wet mills. The coffee is shade grown, which protects the plants from direct sunlight, maintains soil health, and provides an important habitat for birds and insect life. The family’s mills are also eco-friendly. The water used in the wet processing of the cherries is drained into sedimentation tanks to prevent pollution of the local river systems and the pulp is transformed to humus by worm culture.
Workers on the Zelaya family farms are seen as members of the family, which is why, in 2010, Ricardo began a scholarship program to help workers pay for the education of their children. This program is funded by Ricardo and has the support of three buyers from abroad, who have supported the cause since 2012. Managed, now, by his daughter Bel, who has a degree in Special Education, the dream is for the project to achieve formal non-profit status and expand to include not only all the children whose parents work on the farm but also those from surrounding communities.
The Zelaya family treats their employees like family and many have been with the farm and the family for generations. For instance, the farm Administrator, Marcos Rompiche, has worked for the Zelayas for 22 years and is the 3rd generation to work the land. The Production Manager, Israel Yool, has 16 years working for the family and is the 2nd generation to do so. Including them, the farm provides work for 25 permanent employees year-round, all of whom help Ricardo manage the processing and production for Fincas Juaja, Santa Clara, Puerta Verde and San Augustin. The family hires an additional 332 additional individuals during the harvest (including 250 for picking alone!).