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Coffee and a Chat with Josué Morales, Creative Director at Los Volcanes Coffee

This month, we speak with Josué Morales, Creative Director at Los Volcanes Coffee. This is a new and exciting relationship for us. 

Los Volcanes Coffee is dedicated to responsible sourcing, embodying a commitment to ethical practices and sustainability throughout their operations. With a focus on creating positive social and environmental impact, they work closely with coffee producers to ensure fair treatment and support for local communities. Through transparent sourcing methods and collaborative partnerships, Volcanes Coffee aims to foster long-term relationships built on trust, integrity, and mutual benefit. Their commitment to responsible sourcing reflects a holistic approach that values people and the planet.

Hey Josué!

Can you share a bit about your background and yourself? 

As Creative Director at Los Volcanes Coffee, I oversee the long-term perspective of the many projects executed by our team, but specifically that we follow the principles of a human-centred supply chain that is fair and sustainable.

Over the years I’ve kept an ongoing development of the tasting protocol used by Los Volcanes Coffee to pinpoint and cross-reference the quality of what is processed at our facilities in different origins. Through sensory and seed analysis, an interpretation of how decisions at the farm level affect the quality of the cup is provided.

I started as a coffee roaster and trader in the internal market of Guatemala in the year 2003, developing a small wholesale operation to service primarily the hospitality business. I’ve been in the green coffee export business since 2005, participating in a wide array of subjects between community development, access to markets, organic agriculture, microbial and soil studies and designing a teaching platform based in Antigua Guatemala for coffee roasters and producers to get involved in a deeper understanding of our craft.

In 2013 I started implementing the principles of quality developed in Guatemala to the production of El Salvador. In 2016 did the same in Brazil, and in 2023 started operations in Honduras.

After twenty years in the coffee industry my time is mostly concentrated in being a coffee producer leading research efforts in genetics and soil studies.

Having been in coffee for so long, can you tell us a bit about your journey? 

It was in the summer of 2003 that I first held a fist full of coffee seeds, which would become my first purchase.

When I was choosing, or rather ‘guessing what to choose’ to purchase for my first bag of coffee, I was boldly trying to look like someone who knew what he was doing. I didn’t. I could feel the shame running down my spine.

I was asked if I wanted Pergamino or Oro, which are the two terms used to trade coffee in Guatemala’s internal market. Pergamino refers to coffee that still has an outer protective skin, the one we call parchment in English. Oro is the name it receives after the parchment is removed and the seed has been cleaned and prepared to be either roasted or exported.

I nervously answered, “Pergamino,” because it was the cheaper option. Little did I know that it still needed further cleaning before I could roast it and that removing the skin causes it to lose an average of twenty to twenty-two percent in weight.

This took place in Huehuetenango during a University project. I bought that bag of coffee mainly because I wanted to take back with me something that would remind me of that semester I spent there. At that point, I hadn’t even the slightest idea if this could be a sound business to pursue.

The one hundred pounds I bought ended up being roughly 64 pounds of roasted coffee. I kept some to drink at home and gave away the rest to some of my teachers and some to friends of my parents.

Some weeks later, a friend of my parents called me up and told me she loved the coffee and would like to purchase thirty pounds of ground coffee from me.

That was my Aha! moment.

What were you doing before you founded Los Volcanes?

Incorporating Los Volcanes Coffee gave me the opportunity to consolidate many different projects that had been created at different times and in different conditions. As many startups do, growing isn’t exactly organised, my projects weren’t an exception to this rule. Moving to Antigua meant the opportunity to consolidate everything finally under a single brand and umbrella, and being located between volcanoes it seemed like a name that would settle into the future.  

Can you tell us a bit more about the tasting protocol you have developed? 

How do you recognize the variables that affect taste out in the fields? How can you tell from looking at the plants? How can you tell from watching how the people handle the coffee in each farm? 

The heart of Los Volcanes Coffee is “The Lab”. This was the first unit of the company I created and it was also my original idea when I got involved in coffee. The Lab was born to service the producer using a very different vocabulary and language than the rest of the industry to understand how decisions are made at the farm level and in processing affect the final product. From shading to the use of specific fertilisers to the use or abuse of elements, heat exchange, radiation, and styles of processing, the Lab has grown to be a very precise mechanism to understand where flaws or potential may be present.   

The way the seed develops can actually be correlated to aspects of density, solubility and screen sizes.  

The taste of the cup, I discovered, always came down to the actions that people do along the process. And my obsessive mind made me register, document, synthesise, and analyse all these actions. 

Based on that, year after year, I started guiding producers away from the practices that would end up in tastes that were less desired by the market and closer to the practices that would end up in the more greatly desired and rewarded characteristics. 

With over two decades of experience, what have been three of the biggest changes in the Guatemalan coffee industry from your perspective?  

  1. Medium to large sized farms are harder to find nowadays. Either because of generational change, use of the land shiftin to more profitable endeavours, or that farms have simply been abandoned.  
  2. The regression experienced by migration has created a gap in knowledge. We are lacking a workforce of younger generations as they have left for the United States, so the methods of planting and processing coffee that made this origin famous are dying with the ageing population that stayed behind, and with the advent of newer trends that are not representative of our coffee culture. 
  3. Although the industry’s vocabulary has changed, it remains largely a colonial and paternalistic industry, which I would say is a worldwide situation, except maybe for Brazil.  

Can you discuss the significance of organic certification for Beneficio La Esperanza and how it influences your approach to coffee production? 

“Organic agriculture is a system that sustains life, health, and the structure of soil.”

As you probably noticed, this is a positive definition, not a negative one, as is the belief of many producers. 

My definition of Organic Coffee Production says yes to life, says yes to health, and says yes to the natural structure of the soil. It goes beyond that really, over the years the system that my team and I have created and designed is made so that we can interact with the metabolism of the plant, understanding that, at the end of the day, the product we are producing and processing is a seed that is alive.  

The coffee you drink every morning, as with many other agricultural products, can have traces of heavy elements, metals, and chemicals, that as part of the habit of consumption will come into your body on a daily basis.  

As a producer I only do Organic Certified Coffee, as opposed to most of everything else we purchase which is conventional. Being certified organic is a way of validating my work, and with such validation I can continue to teach and to demonstrate that we can yield, make a product as good if not better than any conventional producer, and for cheaper.  

If you had one day in Anitgua, how would you spend it?

Antigua Guatemala is pure magic. There is nothing I like to do more than to spend a morning at my coffee shop called El Gran Café, meeting people of the town, enjoying coffee from the town. As the day progresses, walking the square, the parks, and maybe going into some churches are part of what it means to live in a world heritage site. Drinking a picosita, which is a flavoured spicy beer, eating a pepian or an estofado, which are our local dishes. Finally strolling into the night watching the sun set amongst the volcanoes from the terrace at home. 

What do you like doing in your spare time?

My therapy is to cook. Particularly guatemalan food, which I learned from my grandmothers.  

Tell us about the future of Los Volcanes Coffee?

We are currently leading one of the largest coffee replanting initiatives in the country with a total of 1.5 million coffee plants of different genetic materials. Along with Loyren Orozco, who is our farm manager, we have travelled and studied coffee in many origins to be the proponents of new ways of doing things. From planting, shading, and feeding the coffee trees, to understanding the microbial world that provides the structure for this agricultural miracle to exist. At La Esperanza we will be housing all the new F1 Hybrids developed by World Coffee Research, along with some of the materials I’ve been developing for the past twelve years of my life.  

What are the biggest challenges for coffee producers in Guatemala today?  

Liquidity, access to capital. This is perhaps the main constraint for any agricultural enterprise anywhere.  

Do you have a message to our customers that will be purchasing your coffees? 

Don’t be lazy. The producing world has invested and worked very hard for many years before coffee got to your hands, and I find it very disappointing when coffee professionals dismiss coffee out of ignorance because it won’t fit their preconceived notions on roasting and brewing. Work to discover, if you want a finished product go work in the wine industry, because coffee is a seed that is alive, it’s an ephemeral art form, it’s always changing. Learn to work with it.  

How do you take your coffee and what is your preferred processing method?  

I like to drink an espresso, followed by a milk beverage and finished with a batch brew. One consecutively after the other.