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Jan 21, 1998

Gallon Jug coffee flourishes in the shade of the rainforest

Gallon Jug coffee flourishes in the shade of the rainforest

The name of businessman Barry Bowen is a familiar one to most Belizeans as his beverage empire includes Coca-Cola, Fanta, Belikin Beer, Guiness Stout and Crystal Water. While his latest offering will never gain the household recognition of Coke, connoisseurs of fine coffee are already growing addicted to the beans grown under unusual circumstances at a place with an unusual name. News Five’s Stewart Krohn reports.

When mahogany was king the forest surrounding the settlement of Gallon Jug were among the richest in the kingdom. Huge logs were felled and taken down river in seemingly endless rafts to the coast, where they were squared and sent off to England to panel the walls of aristocracy.

Stewart Krohn, Reporting

“But they don’t cut trees down here anymore. Instead they use the forest in a different way: as shade for thousands of coffee plants.”

It seems almost too good to be true. Not only do the bulk of the towering trees remain standing, but the environment on the forest floor appears to be an ideal one for coffee…and not just any coffee. These beans are one hundred percent Arabic, the same type found on the fertile hills of Columbia, Costa Rica and the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Experts said that it would never work, that the weather was too hot, the jungle too damp and the altitude…only 400 feet above sea level…too low. But the conventional wisdom did not deter farm manager Carl Trahan.

Carl Trahan, Farm Manager

“We tried growing it like it grows in Costa Rica, and it didn’t work out. So we put it in the bush under the canopy and it’s working. We’ve grown it for ten years now so I believe its proven itself.”

Proven itself yes, but before anyone runs off to the bush with ideas of becoming another Maxwell House, they should know that the process was not easy…or cheap. The first harvest in 1989 yielded a whopping one hundred, forty-two pounds of coffee. Despite the less than grand scale, Foreman, Cruz Cambranes, originally from Guatemala, was still excited by the prospect.

Cruz Cambranes, Farm Foreman

“From when I was young, a kid, I was along with my father, my mother. We used to grow coffee and when the idea for the coffee came in from Mr. Bowen well I said, great, it’s a good idea, because I don’t think anybody had that idea about growing coffee in Belize.”

It was under Cambranes’ direction that the first fields were laid out. All the work was done by had: the initial under bushing, planting and periodic cleaning. And as the plantation slowly expands from its present 60 acres to an eventual 250, no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides are used. The rainforest environment, at least on this unique escarpment in Western Belize, seems to deter most harmful pests and diseases without the need for chemicals. And the enviromentally friendly approach continues in the processing. After picking, the pulp is removed, the beans are washed and then left in the sun. After a final drying in bins the hulls are removed and the coffee is ready for the roaster.

Stewart Krohn

“For real coffee lovers this where the fun really starts, where the raw green beans are toasted to a rich dark brown.”

It is the roasting, done in small batches which determines much the beans’ final character. Timing is critical and as soon as they leave the roaster the beans are spread out to stop the cooking. When sufficiently cooled these dark roast beans will be mixed fifty-fifty with lightened batches to make a blend that most consumers prefer. For Carl Trahan it is the ability to supervise every step of the production that keeps the quality so high.

Carl Trahan

“We’ve got control on Gallon Jug over the whole process. In other words we’re not producing coffee in Belize, shipping it to the United States to where they roast it and pack it and send it back to us. We’re doing everything up here.”

And if they’re not doing everything according to the book, they must be doing at least something right…as Gallon Jug Coffee, vacuum packed in attractive foil pouches, has been rapidly disappearing from the shelves of groceries and gift shops. The first export shipment is now being prepared for the U.S. market and while Gallon Jug Coffee is not threatening to knock Juan Valdez out of the saddle it is also not threatening the Belizean rainforest. The operation also demonstrates that small Caribbean producers can successfully piggy back on their tourism industries to gain a leg up in reaching the larger eco-sensitive markets abroad. Stewart Krohn for News Five.

Lest viewers get the impression that coffee is the only thing growing on Gallon Jug’s 130 thousand acres, the estate also supports corn, cattle, orchards and a tourist resort, Chan Chich Lodge. The forests, by the way, are also packed with wild game. While driving out our reporter and cameraman counted no less than thirty-seven deer and innumerable wild turkeys. Sorry, no hunting allowed.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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