Name: El Xalum
Producer: The Starry Family
Origin: Mesias, Amatitlan
Altitude: 1480-1580 metres above sea level
Flavours: Milk Chocolate & Toffee
Cup Score: 85
Harvest: November- April
Importer: Algrano & Django
Where is it from?
Coffee production has been intertwined with Guatemala’s socio-political fabric since around 1845, when the Commission for Coffee Cultivation and Promotion was established, though there are reports of coffee being cultivated in the country as early as the mid-eighteenth century, having been introduced by Jesuit priests. Alike El Salvador, during the 1850’s, coffee came to supplement the reduced demand for indigo as chemical dyes became introduced to the market. When Justo Ruffino Barrios came to power in 1971, he concentrated much of his economic regeneration plans on coffee production, and large swathes of land – up to 400,000 hectares – became coffee plantations. Production soared and by 1880, coffee contributed roughly ninety-per-cent of the country’s exports.
However, the negative impact of this surge in production was the displacement of indigenous people, as Barrios appropriated “public” land to make way for the plantations. Many of the those displaced were put to work as seasonal labourers on the new plantations, often working in return for food and shelter, and with few rights. In the two hundred years that have followed, the situation with the employment of indigenous people on coffee estates has improved, but in many areas where large numbers of seasonal and sometimes daily contractors work during harvest season, wages below the $2.48 national minimum rural wage are commonplace. It is estimated that in a harvest season, the money earned could only contribute to as little as one third of a family’s corn and bean calorie requirements. Poverty and malnutrition are big problems in Guatemala, with sources such as USAID estimating that upwards of 50% of the population live in poverty, and 20% in extreme poverty.
Organisations like Fair Trade are having a positive impact in helping to keep producers on small to mid-size farms on their land and the in-built premiums that are offered often help send children to school, pay for medical bills and provide food for families. However, FT coffees make up only a small percentage of farmers’ total production and often get sold for less than the minimum FT certification price due to a lack of demand.
El Xalum is a family farm in Amatitlán, Guatemala. Christian Starry, Sr. runs the farm and his son, Christian Starry, Jr., handles the mill and commercialization of the coffee.
The Starry family originates from the Czech Republic. They settled in Guatemala four generations ago, and today produce coffee. Christian Starry and his wife Julia belong to the family’s fourth generation of coffee farmers. Christian Senior and Christian Junior are both members of the Starry family. Christian Sr. manages the farm and Christian Jr. manages the washing station and marketing.
Formerly called La Revuelta, this farm was bought by the Starry family in 1995. In the 1800s, the Samayoa family produced natural dyes from cacti. With the arrival of synthetics, the family abandoned its cactus production and diversified to livestock, coffee, corn, beans and various vegetables. In around 1950, the farm was divided up for the different members of the family, and the area where El Xalum sits was bequeathed to the cousin of Christian’s grandmother. Christian and Julia bought the land in 1995. The family planted coffee trees on the land when they bought it in 1995. Their son joined them in 2013. They built their own washing station in 2016. The farm was renamed El Xalum in honour of its many shade trees.
They stopped the other crops to focus only on coffee. Their son, Christian Jr., joined them in their adventure in 2013. He manages the washing station built in 2016.
We visited El Xalum in 2019 and spent a week with The Starry family and their business partner Mario. It was an unforgettable experience and one that we have some amazing memories of.