I wake up before the chickens, step out onto the farmhouse balcony, and look out over a sheet of clouds, unfurling like a blanket across the sky, from my perch roughly 1,600 above sea level. Bracing myself against the chilling cold of the morning, I wait for the moment to come. Then, as the sun begins to peek above the horizon, it begins. The day awakes. With the sky slowly taking on a sheen of gentle color, the warm air seeps in—and the cloud cover vanishes, dissolving with an evanescent grace. Glowing hues spread across the chasm of cold, dim air. Sunrise. As soon as the mountains in the distance start to shimmer in the light of the new day, layers of color drape the sky with a richly, delicately shaded tapestry. This is what I woke up early for: to relish the beauty of the surroundings—and try to understand why the coffee farm here is so special.


The farm, now run by Teo Engelhardt the 4th, started about 50 years ago when Teo’s grandfather set foot in the area and marveled at the extraordinary beauty around him. He knew he had to create something here, a place that he felt was a “gift from God.” Back then, there wasn’t any coffee-growing community to speak of. Teo’s grandfather’s establishment was the first coffee farm the area had ever seen. He named it “La Bella”—Spanish for “beautiful.” When you visit the farm, it’s hard to believe Teo’s grandfather managed to build a successful operation where he did. Not only is the site right in the middle of a mountain range, but the slopes are strikingly steep and the rains markedly frequent. It takes a good two hours to drive to the farm from the city center, too—and that’s only if you make it through the veritable obstacle course of rocks and logs dotting the roads there. Most people would’ve shied away from even considering the location for a farm. In his eyes, however, the place just seemed like a jewel for the taking. His hunch turned out to be right. Two generations later, his grandson Teo and the rest of the La Bella family placed in the 2013 Guatemala Cup of Excellence (COE; a competition that selects the year’s highest-quality coffee beans from specific countries).


La Bella’s success isn’t all just a “gift from God.” One of the biggest reasons behind the farm’s renown is its strong, consistent lineage, a tradition of hard work and technical prowess that the owners have passed down over three generations. As Teo’s family shows, that process is about more than simply looking back and drawing from the past—it’s also about charging into the future. The farm has a bit of a wild, primeval look to it, but there’s a method to the apparent madness. The family has divided the land up into several small patches, aiming to determine which cultivars grow best in which sector and, as a result, produce the best coffee beans. That ability to test out a variety of cultivars comes from the farm’s widely varying terrain, with the steep mountain slopes underneath creating significant differences in altitude, air temperature, and soil quality. In addition to making the most of the unique topographical conditions, the growers are devoted to research, too: From developing new cultivars to optimizing production methods to the attributes of the land, the ideas and experiments just keep on coming. When you put everything together, it seems like the sun is always smiling on La Bella—a fixture on the COE podium now.


“What’s your favorite place on the farm?” I ask Teo. He tells me to follow him. We get to the farmhouse, and he takes me up to his bedroom on the second floor. “Right here,” he says, pointing to the window. I look out the opening and see a vast expanse, the same backdrop that the sun had risen so majestically over that morning. Young Teo takes after his grandfather, it seems. “It’s gorgeous,” he says, throwing back his shoulders with a gentle grin. “La Bella”—the name couldn’t be more fitting.