Cuidad Vieja, Guatemala
At age 29, Alex Illescac is a young guy who knows his coffee.
His coffee: bourbon grown at 4,600 ft. This coffee has a syrupy body with a candied
pecan, dark cherry and woodsy finish.
In February 2018, I had the opportunity to tour Alex’s coffee farm in Cuidad Vieja, Guatemala, near Antigua, and then hang out at his coffee shop. Alex’s Coffee Shop 502 is a comfortable, modern space on a quaint street in his hometown. It was a surreal experience to be with a coffee farmer at his own coffee shop. I was right at home as I watched him make pour overs and lattes, and serve espresso. He was happy to introduce me to his girlfriend, the head barista at Coffee Shop 502.
As a fourth-generation coffee farmer, Alex has coffee farming in his blood. He shared a story with me about how his great-grandfather used to pick coffee on someone else’s farm. At the end of the day he’d take some of the beans home to start a farm of his own. Back then, owning land and having a farm put you in a higher social status. He was hoping for a better future for his family.
Alex’s great-grandfather was a pioneer in the next generation of this coffee-growing family. Normally coffee farms are at a lower altitude, but he went higher to grow his crop. Little did he know that the higher altitude would produce a more flavorful cup of coffee.
Now as an entrepreneur in his own right, Alex is buying additional properties where he can grow coffee. He understands that different areas are going to produce coffee with different characteristics, and this will help him to expand his offerings of coffee beans.
One of the challenges Alex faces with his product is wanting to differentiate himself from the general category that he is placed in: that of Antiguan coffee. Most of us in the U.S. have heard of Antigua. It has become a popular name for coffee and can fetch a higher price.
The region produces 60,000 bags of coffee a year, but 180,000 bags go out of the country labeled “Antiguan coffee.” This doesn’t compute, and it saddens me to see this happening. Some of that coffee is from the surrounding communities or brought in illegally from Honduras and labeled as “Antiguan.” I was blown away hearing this information. Alex takes pride in his community of Cuidad Vieja and wants the coffee produced there to have a name for itself.
Another of Alex’s challenges is getting the right coffee to the roaster. That is what
makes him special. As a roaster, I am not only looking for a conscientious farmer, but it is a bonus when a farmer understands the final product. As a coffee shop owner himself, Alex asked me several pertinent questions in preparation for his next year’s crop.
Very polite and pleasant, Alex is what we would call a straight shooter. He knows what he wants out of his coffee. As a meticulous and innovative farmer and barista, h expects quality from crop to cup. Alex told me he would like to be a guest barista at SoZo someday. I am so excited that our paths crossed and look forward to working with him.