JJ: Can you describe to me what you do in coffee?
KZ: I started working with my father for about four years now. I feel that the love that I have for coffee, I never really knew it until my father asked me for the summers, to start working for him. Once I started working with him I fell in love with everything. From the farm to the roasting to the selling, exporting, everything.
Four years ago, I was freshly out of college, and I started telling my father that we needed to be in social media, we needed a webpage, that yes, our clients would come to Guatemala and find us, but we needed something to make that step easier. What I did was create a brand for the coffee, and that was easy because when the clients would come to Antigua, they would ask, “I am looking for coffee from Ricardo Zelaya,” and they would always mention my dad’s name. I was just like, “Okay, we’ll name it Ricardo Zelaya Coffee.” So I created the brand, and started doing marketing, so that’s basically what I do.
At the beginning, I was kind of doing that, and many other things at the same moment. I started another brand that was like my baby, that’s like a small startup of roasted coffee. Because all the coffee will get exported, and so the good, good coffee, Guatemalans wouldn’t be able to drink it. So I was like, “No, we need to leave coffee here and enjoy it, and be able to sell it here.” I would dedicate part of my time to learning about coffee more and more, because in coffee, you never learn everything. There’s a saying, “Oh, in coffee it’s easy, you will learn one lesson a year in a hundred years.” You’re never going to learn everything. I spent half of my time marketing the green coffee for exporting, and the other time selling the roasted coffee locally.
JJ: And what are those two companies again?
KZ: The green coffee is Ricardo Zelaya Coffee and the roasted coffee is Santa Clara Coffee, but it’s only in Guatemala.
JJ: So are you doing the roasting there, or are you operating a café?
KZ: I don’t have a café, I outsource the roasting, because I feel it’s an art and if you can’t do it well, let someone else do it. So I outsource the roasting and we just package it and sell it.
JJ: When you’re here at the SCA Expo what are the benefits that you’re seeing to your companies?
KZ: The most benefit is more to the green coffee exporting, because you get to expose your farm to many possible buyers and also, just learn what other producing countries are doing in terms of new processes or any kind of innovation that’s going around, you come here to learn what’s new in the market.
JJ: What are some of the biggest things that have happened for your company at an Expo?
KZ: I think that the big win is new clients. That’s the best thing you can get out, because you can try to market as much as you can online, but it’s different for roasters or importers to come drink your coffee, meet you, put the face to the coffee and possibly start a relationship.
JJ: Where do you see your company growing in the next year, between now and the next Expo?
KZ: I’m focusing on Ricardo Zelaya Coffee, because it’s my family’s company, and my company is still very small, and we’re not planning for the future that much. But, from here, for the next Expo maybe more recognition, maybe getting to the Cup of Excellence this year. We got into it last year and that was great for us, because that puts the name of your farm in front of many buyers and to get a lot of recognition that way. Again, the main goal is to find more people out there that have the same values as we do and to create those relationships and grow together.
JJ: Do you have any advice for farmers or green producers that potentially want to attend Expo?
KZ: It’s a great opportunity to come, bring your green coffee samples and just be here ready to meet people, have nice conversations and give them samples and try to connect with people.
JJ: What trends are you seeing right now?
KZ: Right now, we’re growing a lot in cascara. Before that [it] would be used as organic fertilizer, we would throw it in the worm tanks and then throwing it all on the farm. But now we are seeing that there’s demand for it, so we are now processing the cascara on its own. So that’s one of the big things that’s grown in the last year I would say.
JJ: Anything else that you would like to mention?
KZ: I feel it’s very important to be always on the lookout of the new trends of the coffee shops, what the market is demanding, because as producers, we have the obligation to always be experimenting. We have the ability to experiment in the farms and try to get new flavors with different types of fermentations or drying processes, and it is scary, but I think that’s one of the things that I most admire about my dad. He’s always experimenting. And it doesn’t matter if something doesn’t go as perfect as planned, but if you don’t experiment, you won’t have that coffee that someone else is looking for: that special, different cup.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Read all of our conversations from the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo.