Hidden amid the steep green hills of the ‘Ixil Triangle’ high in Guatemala’s western highlands, sits an isolated area, famed for the strength of its indigenous culture and the beauty of its landscape. Named ‘Los Caballitos’, meaning ‘the little horses’ in Spanish, the farm was an unmissable purchase for brothers Oscar & Christian Schaps, due to Oscars love for the animals.
The farm, known today as Los Cabaillitos, was originally acquired from the award-winning Finca La Perla. Coffee has been growing at La Perla since 1940 and the farm now produces over 7,000 quintiles of parchment each year.
In 2007, brothers Oscar and Christian Schaps set their eyes on purchasing a farm to produce exceptional coffee for the speciality market. To others, this section of La Perla was seen as remote, undeveloped and un-inviting, but the Schaps brothers looked past these obstacles and recognised the potential of the land as a coffee-producing area. The Schaps’ bought 225 hectares, initially planting 45 hectares of Bourbon and the rest as Caturra. For the last 15 years, the Schaps brothers have managed their farm following the same mantra as handed down by their father; that ‘Farming is based on the symbiotic relationship between man and nature - as farming entrepreneurs, we must ensure that nature is respected for the contribution it provides ’.
Finca Los Caballitos is located 1,100-1,800 metres above sea level, overlooking three beautiful lagoons with magnificent views of the Chajul Mountain range to the South and Huehuetenango to the north. The coffee is planted in loose soil, with a high content of clay and sand over a limestone base. The climate in the area is steamy, hot and humid, with around 200 inches of rainfall per year. This means that the farm's rain-drenched hills are also the source for several natural springs in the area. The rivers Lxtupil and Sacsiwan also provide more than enough water to irrigate the farm.
The surrounding land is scattered with small settlements, home to between 2,500 and 3,000 local Mayan people; with the majority of the workforce coming from the nearby town of Aldeas. Some work on the farm throughout the year, as well as tending to their plots of land, where they grow other produce such as Cardamon and corn, as well as staple foodstuffs for consumption at home.
The Schaps family pays scrupulous attention to detail at every stage of the coffee process. Selective pruning is regularly carried out, analysing each tree individually and choosing which branches need to be removed. Every 7 to 9 years, the brothers also carry out a ‘block analysis’ of a certain area of the farm, deciding if the plot needs to be pruned back to the stump to encourage new growth in the tree.
For processing, beans are harvested by hand only when perfectly ripe, before being defined by day of picking, variety and geographical location on the farm. Next, the cherry is floated in cool clean water to remove any low density beans, before being placed into fermentation pools. Once complete, the beans are moved to the ‘correteo’ to be washed using wooden paddles just as the Schaps’ grandfather did. Once washed of its remaining mucilage,coffee is taken to Los Caballitos’ greenhouses and placed on raised beds to dry. Here, the cherry will remain until it reaches the optimum humidity, ready for export.
Aligning with the Schaps brothers respect for the land, at least 20% of Finca Los Caballitos is reserved for natural forest and conservation, allowing natural flora & fauna to flourish. The Schaps brothers also help to support and finance local schools, always looking for ways to help support education. One of the main challenges for Finca Los Caballitos, as well as present throughout much of northern Guatemala, is, of course, labour shortages. With many locals looking to immigrate to the US, the Schaps work hard to ensure their staff are well looked after, hoping to guarantee staff remains at the farm.