Roasting coffee in Guatemala

February 08, 2017
- Extracurriculars
Author - Amy Jacobowitz

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Guatemalan coffee is known for its slightly fruity taste, mild to light roast, and rich flavors of that Arabica bean.

When our own Founder and Creative Director David Funkhouser moved down to Guatemala to set up his part-time abode last year, he became fascinated with the coffee-making culture that surrounded him, the literal farm-to-table (or farm-to-coffee-mug) happening right in his backyard, which actually once served as a coffee farm.

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The environment in Guatemala might not be quite what you think. To start, it’s at a high altitude, similar to Denver, Colorado, and where David calls home is flanked by three volcanos (one active), which contributes to the quality of the soil in the region. Add onto that heavy rainfall, and it’s the perfect environment for anything to grow, especially coffee. The local joke among the Mayan communities is that when you put a seed in the ground, you need to duck or you’ll get hit by a sprouting plant. The ground is so fertile here, that the origins of the perfect avocado can be tracked back not to California, but right in Guatemala, where Wilson Popenoe researched local environments at the request of his father at the West Indian Trading Company.

Coffee roasting traditions run deep in Antigua. In fact, David learned how to roast and brew from the local Mayans, who were born, raised, and still live on the nearby volcano. They in turn learned from their parents, and so on dating back thousands of years. There is no machinery involved, just manual labor (it takes four to six hours to hand-shuck the husk from the bean), the local environment, and a good iron skillet.

So, straight from the Mayan tradition to David Funkhouser’s new coffee regimen to the Funkhaus blog, here’s how you roast coffee in Guatemala.

Step 1: Pluck the red beans and then let them sit in the hot sun for 1-2 days max on the clay of the terrace.

Step 2: Once the sun has loosened the skin from the slimy bean, remove the red skin and soak the slimy bean in water.

Step 3: Take the slimy beans and soak them. This stops the caffeine from soaking in to the bean and removes the sugary slime.

Step 4: Strain the beans and rinse thoroughly to remove all excess sugar.

Step 5: Take the wet beans and then again, place them on the clay terrace and let them dry in the sun for at least a day, though if you’re Dave, you do them for two to let all of the moisture dry completely.

Step 6: Remove the husk from the bean. Basically that slimy layer turns into a husk that you need to pinch off to reveal the nice green bean.

Step 7: Once the husk has been removed, take the green beans and let them dry in the sun on the terrace one last time. It’s essential that all moisture is out of the bean, or else it’ll get skunked.

Step 8: Take enough beans to cover the surface of an iron skillet and roast. You can do this in a kitchen over a gas flame, but you need to be nearby because for 30-40 minutes you’re going to be shuffling those beans back and forth until they turn a deep dark brown. In this phase, the beans shed their last micro husk that flies off into the flame.

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You might be wondering at this stage why the beans are so slimy. That layer of slime is really a jelly-like substance that contains all the caffeine. In step one, when those beans are left to sit in the sun, the caffeine soaks into the bean. The longer they sit in the sun, the more caffeinated your bean is.

A few fun facts picked up after some tries-and-fails at coffee roasting for you. First, a green bean is no good to roast. They still have too much moisture in them, and thus the beans won’t brown for a prolonged amount of time, and as soon as they do, they taste burnt. Second, maintain the trees that produce these beans. At David’s house, he has three massive trees, but these fickle plants can become infected if not taken care of, and spread to the other nearby trees.

Is there a future for Funkhaus Coffee? Maybe. As noted, it takes four to six hours to hand shuck an average bag of coffee, and with sites to be designed, programmed, and written for, it’s hard to allot for shucking time. But to put it in David’s words:

“I love it. It brings me closer to my blue collar roots of manual labor, and it relaxes me. There is a certain satisfaction one gets from growing something and refining it into something that people enjoy and value.”