Ricardo "El Tigre" Zelaya

Farm, process and mill coffee from the fabled Antigua region

Year founded:

The family coffee business is over 100 years old

Partnered with Stumptown:

2008

Varieties:

Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Bourboncito

Processing technique:

Washed

What’s new:

This year, Ricardo milled his coffee at his brand new dry mill, increasing the vertical integration of his process. He’s continued to make his operation even greener with a technique to recycle the washing water.

The Producer

Part of the famed Zelaya coffee family (and cousin to Luis Pedro Zelaya Jr), Ricardo is one of our favorite people in the world to visit. Along with his wife, Cynthia, Ricardo has an infectious laugh and brings a sense of joy to everything he does. No trip to his mill is complete without hopping on ATVs to tear up and down the hills.

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The Place

In Antigua, beautiful 16th-century Mission architecture is framed by the three large, active volcanoes. Those same volcanoes give this region a rich soil, full of minerals and perfect for growing coffee. Ricardo’s mill is only about 15 minutes away from his cousin Luis’; from either spot, you can often see the very active Volcan de Fuego (Volcano of Fire) which gives off ash and smoke nearly every day.

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The Process

Ricardo is constantly investing and inventing — every time we visit, he’s come up with a new, improved way to grow coffee. Whether it’s saving water, ensuring healthier coffee trees, coaching his neighbors on quality and variety, or devising a new system that pays pickers fast and fairly, his mill is always a bustle of activity.

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More Details

Santa Clara, located in the southern slopes of the Antigua Valley between 1550-1800 meters above sea level, is privileged to have some of the finest volcanic soils for the cultivation of specialty coffee. Santa Clara won many awards for quality such as the Guatemala Cup of Excellence in 2001, 2009 and 2010.

Ricardo cultivates the coffee at the plantation under strictly controlled shade trees which allow the coffee plants to receive the ideal amount of sunshine required to produce fine and aromatic coffee. Bourbon, Caturra and Catuai varieties have been cultivated at Santa Clara for many years. For the last few years, Ricardo has conducted trials of Bourboncito (Bourbon 300). He has been gradually replacing most of the Catuai with either Bourbon or Bourboncito.

The hand-picked fruit is processed traditionally at Ricardo’s Santa Clara wet mill with crystal clear water. The beans are then patiently dried on tiered, raised beds with a greenhouse style enclosed canopy. The coffee is finally dry milled at either Bella Vista or Pulcal Mill. Every step in the mill is monitored constantly to maintain the quality. Each lot is cupped by two expert cuppers to assure it is up to quality standards.

Recently, Ricardo has been busy upgrading his processing techniques and infrastructure, including implementing a control system that ensures only high quality ripe cherry gets selected. He also installed new tiled tanks and channels to process his coffee using a unique technique to recycle the water, and built a raised bed structure which incorporates tiered beds within a greenhouse style canopy.