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PENSATIVO

The Thoughtful Coffee
Guatemala is known for its beautiful coffee and its dramatic volcanoes, many of them of dormant or extinct but of the 37 or so, there are three active volcanoes, the most active being the aptly named Fuego. I first saw Fuego on a beautiful spring morning as the sun came up over a coffee farm in Pacaya. It was gently blowing smoke rings into the sunrise, as its sister volcano, Agua, slept on into the glorious morning. We set off early to walk the farm, well before breakfast. As the day quickly warmed up we picked up the heavy scent of coffee blossom and the gentle murmur of bees busily pollinating next season’s crop for us. In amongst the coffee trees the humming of the bees drowned out the occasional rumble of Fuego, as it shook off its dandruff of ash from its sloping shoulders.

Amongst the bushes we first heard, then saw, occasional troupes of workers emerging out of the woods, going about the constant job of pruning and mulching. Later that morning, with our arrival in the classroom, the kids saw the opportunity for distraction. This may not be the next generation of coffee farmers. The teacher was seeing dwindling classes, as more families leave their mountain home for the city.
The silhouette of the twin volcanos were ever present on the skyline wherever we went, familiar to us from the stencils on our sacks of coffee back home but now endowed with greater meaning, as we checked the horizon to see if Fuego was still awake. Back on the road again we left the coffee highlands on tracks that saw little traffic and made our way through lowland settlements on smooth highways, before climbing again into patches of organically farmed rainforest, past the faded splendour of an old coffee haçienda, to the elegant sun-drying patios in the flat spaces between the hills. Past the slash and burn of the lowland farmers and the sacred Saiba tree, that even today can never be felled, a legacy of the ancient Mayan civilisation, now enshrined in modern Guatemalan law. Such is the lasting sense of respect commanded by these leviathans of the forest.

At the lab in the Fedecocagua warehouse, Gustavo, surely the loudest whistler in the world of coffee, had prepared our cupping table. Belying this auditory flamboyance lies a deep expertise of these coffees. He’s been cupping here for 30 years, so when Gustavo highlights certain farms, they're likely to be the best of the best. His is a palate so finely tuned to his terroir that we trust its veracity and wouldn't presume to question it. These are farms that are singled out for segregation, from the basket of coffees that usually go through this huge mill. They are the ones deserving of special treatment, higher prices and value added for a job well done. I was drawn to one in particular, with the beguiling name of ‘Pensativo’ - meaning: Thoughtful…
We stopped overnight in Antigua, Old Guatemala City, itself the victim of volcanic destruction in colonial times; they moved the capital out of the ring of fire to build Nueva Guatemala. The next morning we set off for another large wet mill, heading ever closer to Acetenango, even closer to Fuego. And so, we arrived at Pensativo, a place of grazing cattle, ordered patios and thoughtful farmers. The question hanging in the air, like the smoke venting way above us, was: What’s it like living under the shadow of an active volcano? One farmer, closest to Fuego, had already replaced the majority of his crop just recently, when the wind changed direction, dropping ash on his farm. The received wisdom was that as long as it kept on puffing on a regular basis, it was business as usual. It was when it stopped that the worrying starts…

At 12.00pm on 4th June 2018, after a pause in activity, the pent up fury of the Volcàn de Fuego violently erupted, sending pyroclastic flow 40km from the crater. 1.7 million people were affected by toxic clouds of sulphurous micro pumice. 12,823 homes were evacuated, 3,613 were left homeless, 5,098 coffee families were displaced. 110 people were killed, 200 are still missing and 9,420 hectares of land were devastated. The cavernous Acetenango warehouse that we visited, now houses huge supplies of relief aid, enough to cater for over 300 of the local families worse affected for 6 months. The many tragic personal stories behind these stark statistics are those of people we have met that work on the farms and mills that supply us. We joined in the coffee industry's relief effort over the summer and contributed a generous sum from sales of Archetype, which has an important component from this region in the blend.

Now, with Pensativo, we have the actual coffee from the immediate vicinity affected by the Fuego eruption. So, as you enjoy the soft nectarine fruit notes, the lovely custard-creme biscuit mouthfeel, indicative of the pleasant low acidity and the joyous toffee apple finish, spare a moment to think of those stoic communities around Pensativo, who are now picking themselves up and literally dusting themselves off, to start all over again.

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