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Cajamarca to Cauca: Exploring High Altitude Coffee land in Peru and Colombia

We have many long-term partners in South America and the aim of this trip was to focus on several regions in two different countries – Peru and Colombia. August is the ideal season to be in the coffee plantations, during the full swing of harvest and processing in Cajamarca (Peru) and cupping of the fresh new season gems from Cauca (Colombia).

Coffee means relationships, this is why we travel to visit our partners while we are developing projects, as well as to select some of the best coffees for the new season.

Sol Y Café, Peru

Our first port of call was one of our closest partners Sol y Café in Jaen, Northern Peru. We were welcomed by our friends Javier and Lenin just after landing in the new Jaen airport. We visited their new warehouse and witnessed the daily delivery from the coffee farmers. This season the harvest had been delayed by a month, 70% of the yearly production had been harvested, it would usually be around 80%. Producers from the highest altitude were just starting to deliver their parchment to the main dry mill in the high street in Jaen.

At Sol y Café quality and productivity are very much linked. The cooperative go to a lot of effort to give support to the farmers by paying the best local price to them, which includes a premium for the quality based on the grading of the green coffee beans. A sample is withdrawn from every single delivery, graded and cupped, then a premium or discount is allocated to each farmer. Each producer receives their payment on the same day they make their delivery. All the coffee is stored in Jaen until a truck brings the it to the Narandino dry mill where the coffee is graded and prepared for export. They have a strong and continuous focus on quality as they prepare coffee from single farmer lots, including our project 121 coffee along with their own coffee brands, in which you can identify unique and distinctive flavours from the chocolate to the more lemon orange caramel and then nutty cherry.

Visiting Farmers in La Lima, Peru

Excited by all the different coffees to be delivered to the main city, it was time to drive up to the mountains and visit some of the farmers in the highest altitude district of Cajamarca. Arriving in a beautiful village called La Lima, located in La Coipa at 1850 masl, we had meeting with the farmers talking about projects that will require funding to get developed.

The main two projects were the office/lab/warehouse building and providing a solar drying table for each one of the producers. Alonso Ramos Flores, who is one of our 121 farmers, was one of the first to build a solar dryer in his own patio nine years ago. This improved the quality of the coffee by allowing the parchment to dry without the risk of being wet and controlling the temperature and airflow.

We were then invited to visit one of the four parcels in his farm called “Huigueron” after having our Rompope, a drink similar to an egg nog, with the La Coipa farmers. He has a 12.5 ha of land, of which 5.5ha are shade trees including mango, plantain, guava, zapote (a native fruit, similar to papaya), and 22,000 coffee trees producing 550 quintals (46kgs) equivalent to 25,000kg green export quality. All of his coffee is delivered to Sol y Cafe which he has been a member of for the past 9 years.

Thanks to the support of the cooperative, Alonso is now de-pulping his cherries at a time of 1 lata per minute which is an equivalent of 165kg parchment (130kg green coffee) per hour. All his coffee is fully fermented in a tank for 15 hours and then washed and dried for 12 days depending on the suns intensity, with a goal to reach 12% moisture.

We also visited another five farmers who maintain their farms with the same care and attention. The majority of the small holder farms are located between 1,500 to 1,800 masl and 5% are 1,800 masl and above.

The main varietals cultivated are caturra, catuai, typica, catimor and colombia which are processed at their own farm then pulped and fermented in a tank (the fermentation time is variable depending on the varietals, maturity, temperature and altitude), it is then dried in parchment on african beds.

Sol y Café was created in 2005 and DRWakefield was the first buyer of their green coffee in 2007 when they were not a processor or exporter yet. In the past 10 years, so many things have changed and developed including improvements in quality and internal organization. The latest development is Project 121 which gives more than 70% of the final price to the farmers. Project 121 has been running for the last 4 years, bringing single farmers and roasters together, helping to maintain those relationships and ensuring a minimum cup quality of 84+. All their coffees are Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Organic certified.

We finished our time there with an exciting cupping, including two of the lots which were selected for Cup of Excellence Peru, they scored well and ranked in the top 20.

A great quality is expected for this seasons entries! Be ready if you love creamy peanut butter chocolate flavour and cranberry tart meringue!!

It was without sadness that we left our friends as we knew that another stunning region was waiting for us…Cauca, Colombia.

Cauca region, Colombia

We headed straight to Cauca region in Colombia which I last visited 5 years ago. We visited a farm we work with for one of our customers. Amazing changes have happened since my last visit including replanting new varietals like caturra and catimor, new processes are in place including hot air drying for their naturals. There are also plans in place for getting an eco-hotel with a barista school. Management of the farm has been passed to the next generation, his son Pablo, who roasts and then sells the coffees to the local coffee shops and restaurants, he is seen as an expert barista in Colombia.

The next cooperative on my journey was Cencoic, there have been many changes in the past five years and, especially last year which saw the Colombian Government and Farc sign a peace deal to end 50 years of conflict, making Colombia a much more stable environment to grow coffee.

We have been working with Cencoic since 2010 and we received their first exported container. We selected Cencoic in Colombia for our 121 project because we have a long-lasting relationship with them since their founding. We have supported and helped them to become an independent and well organised cooperative. They are still increasing their membership, productivity and keeping their main focus on producing a high standard of coffee.

We have supported them by giving a premium for quality which enabled them to get new de-pulper, recycled water tank, replanting program and pruning training. This year one of the projects is to get a lab facility in each of the communities so they can control their own coffee quality before its delivered to the main warehouse in the city.

I went to one of the Risguardos (indigenous community) called “La Laguna’ where the coffee is produced at 1,950 masl and from 12 members of the same family. I spent the morning with husband and wife Victoria and Marco Cardona, who have been selected for the 121 project.

They are a smallholders with 0.5ha, producing between 900kg – 1,100 kg of green coffee this year with 2,300 trees which are 100% Castillo. They have built four parabolic solar drying beds where 50kg of parchment can be dried per bed which will take a total of 12 days. They also have their own wet mill with a production capacity of 500kg of cherries per hour.

We visited three other producers located in Caldono Risguardo where every single producer has good infrastructure to facilitate and optimise quality. We also cupped coffees from the main resguardos including high-altitude coffees which has a crisp acidity and grape flavours. Once every single delivery is cupped, the coffee is stored in parchment and prepared for export in a dry mill in Popayan. They are careful to keep the distinctive profile of the coffee and the traceability of each community.

All coffee is certified Fairtrade and the producers are also working to get their organic certification, La Laguna are waiting to receive their certification before the end of 2017. We are looking forward to having these amazing coffees delivered to the UK next month.

In a nutshell, it was amazing to be able to see the changes, growth and possible developments which have happened in these farms thanks to our relationship with them for the past 10 years. We have introduced these farmers to the UK market, making sure that their stories are told and you are aware of where your coffee comes from. This is important for both the farmer and for you as roaster.

We have respect in the industry for our loyalty and careful selection of partnerships which has led to long lasting and sustainable business. We understand the challenges and the market trends. Our requirement is to ensure sustainable business for our producers and roasters. After all, quality of coffee is the minimum that’s required and now we are going beyond that, encouraging our roasters to source green coffee in a sustainable manner and ensure that profit goes to the producers who are then able to invest in new processes, drying methods, varietals and much more. This will add value and ensure they continue to produce exciting coffees.