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The Multiplicities and Singularity of Colombia

It’s been a while since we got to travel to origin, and Colombia was already high up the rankings for countries in need of a visit. Having postponed one trip in January due to another outbreak of Covid in the UK, we (Jamie and MT) finally got to head off to Bogota, crossing paths with Pris and Dave returning from their trip the week before.

Our purpose was to visit Café Granja La Esperanza, famous Colombian producers of competition-winning coffees who we are proud to represent in the UK and across parts of Europe. Alongside them, we had some farmers that produce for two of our regional lots, Viani and El Eden, that have had growing prominence on our offer list over the last 5 years, with El Eden being one of our ‘Sourced Collection’ coffees we have decaffeinated by the team at Swiss Water for us.

Colombia Trip Map

Café Granja La Esperanza

With bags packed and a few roasters as travelling companions collected along the way, we met up with Rigoberto, the owner of Cafe Granja, and Camilo, the sales manager, in a hotel in Bogota before heading back to farms for the first time in ages.

Traffic in Bogota is horrendous. At 8 million people and no metro or train system, it’s not surprising to find the roads jammed. Leaving early in the morning was no cure, but we eventually broke out before travelling towards Sasaima and over one of the magnificent cordilleras that trisect parts of Colombia. The views are stunning -having gone in the rainy season and the smaller mitaca harvest period it meant clouds were numerous, teasing their way between valleys and cloaking peaks affording dramatic snapshots over the verdant landscape punctuated by the occasional bright yellow of Guayacan. So it was that with a brief stop to change transport and buy some fruit we found ourselves entering Finca Hawaii, the first time any visiting group had done so.

Workers house, Finca Hawaii
Finca Hawaii

Finca Hawaii grows only Mokka, a less common varietal that has tiny cherries and low-yielding plants, but in the right hands can produce a stunning cup of coffee. Although it has been part of Café Granja since 2013, we were privileged to be the first group to visit the sixteen-hectare, Cundinamarca based farm, the rest of the CGLE farms being located in Valle del Cauca.

It is the only farm in Colombia dedicated to Mokka.  The trees stem from an old client bringing some seeds in from Hawaii, which have then been selected over the years to perform best on the farm. The entrance road winds through an area of newly planted trees surrounding older, renovated trees by the house. 3.5-5 years old is the optimum producing age for the trees and regular pruning or replacement allows a large number of trees to fall in this range.

They have a more carbon soil here, visible in the black rocks in the rivers we crossed on our journey up and different to the soil types across the other farms. Plants here grow quick – a tree at 3.5 years here is more equivalent to a tree I have seen at around 5 years in other countries. Mokka is also incredibly easy to hybridise with, so now a lot of work is also spent maintaining the farm and separating new varietals when they pop up across the field.

Pictured: Leidy, Rigoberto, Yuri, William all from CGLE (Left), Pruned Mokka trees with nursery plants to plant out in Finca Hawaii (Centre), Finca Hawaii Mokka bean and flower (Right).

As a low-yielding plant, they often prune the lower branches to force a more even placement of fruiting, which also helps with picking, but does leave the trees looking somewhat like a feather duster in older plants. Smaller spacing between plants of between 1.5 and 1.8metres between plants does not fully offset this drop in production and the total harvest on the farm currently is around 30 (70kg) bags per year. A low-level constant stream of cropping that happens year-round, though in traditional periods can be a little higher.

Despite the work that this and maintenance can require, the farm only has one full-time employee, William. They recruit up to 16 part-time employees throughout the year and use a lot of labour from the local drug habilitation centre they help fund and work closely with. Being close to Bogota, most younger workers look to the city for employment, and options for those that don’t can be limited.

As a bean, it’s quite fragile, cutting easily if care is not taken which is harder due to the small size. The natural process reduces this risk and is the preferred option of the selection that CGLE have. Whilst Leidy is in charge of processing for the whole of CGLE, Yuri is in charge of the processing on the farm, and showed us the starter they use for batches. This is the juice of a previous batch that has the yeast and bacteria they are looking for that can be added to the new batch as a starter for fermentation. As fermentation is carried out in sealed blue barrels, this is easy to work with and is easy to strain off too.

With all this fresh in our heads, it was time to head back to the airport to head down to Cali. A journey time of around 5 hours to get back to the city should tell you all you need to know about sitting in queues of traffic, but we made the plane and were soon welcomed into Don Rigoberto’s family home to stay the night, cacophonic frogs serenading us to sleep.

Cerro Azul in the clouds
La Esperanza and Cerro Azul

Moving from Cali early in the morning we made our way to La Esperanza past fields and fields of sugar cane, and the road trains taking it for processing. Valle Del Cauca is known for its sugar, some of it making its way into becoming aguardiente, as regionally competitive in Colombia as rugby feels in Cornwall.

If you have seen pictures of Café Granja before, then it is likely the farmhouse that greeted us is the one you have seen. Semi-enclosed in a U shape and colourful as more rural Colombia so often is, with a 1940’s era Willys Jeep parked out the front. Driving up past the duck pond we dropped our bags and had a quick bite to eat before heading through Trujillo with magnificent pale-blue highlighted white-bricked church and steeple punctuating the town below the cross on the hillside. Leaving it all behind we headed up the slopes to the blue hills seen from La Esperanza, past the local school funded by CGLE, peaking at the Geisha-only infamous Cerro Azul.

Going in May, the harvests were mitacas and the weather was wet. Even as the clouds closed ranks around us though, glimpses down mountainsides through valleys and over peaks showed immaculate planting in regimented rows segmented by lichen-covered, red barked trees, bananas and citrus too. The weather proved a good point of discussion. All around we could see evidence of landslides, and the trees had multiple stages of maturation on. Inconsistency in weather patterns caused by climate change is making its presence known, blurring the harvests and creating small amounts of coffee year-round.
Dating back to 2007 for CGLE, the farm was bought and all the Colombia and Castillo coffee trees were replaced to Geisha in 2008. 17 hectares in total with one full-time employee and up to 50 workers ebbing and flowing with demand, the farm produces around 200 bags of coffee. Both bronze and green tip Geisha grow here, and Rigoberto likes both.

Back to the trees though. CGLE claim to be the first geisha in the country, and those first trees have already reached their maximum stumpings and been chopped down for renovation. Some still exist in the area, kept for posterity and genetic resource, a small ribbon denoting their importance on the farm. This system is kept for the more recent planting too, a compact nature, particularly well tasting beans or some other benefit earning the tying on of a ribbon for future identification and crossing. We saw many on all the farms, and it shows the level of contact and eye on quality the field team have.

Geisha is around 3 times as productive as Mokka, and bronze tipped is easier to pick with larger spacing between branches. Green tip trees to tend to hold on to the cherry tighter as well, making it harder to pick. This is done by a small team of workers and brought to the cleaning area by the main entrance to the farm.

Pictured: Cerro Azul red bark tree (Left & Centre), Mr Aristives sorting his pick (Right).

Cherries are sorted and checked before being placed in blue plastic tubs for fermentation. Most processing is not done on the farm though, instead being taken to La Esperanza for processing there. Pulping is done after a 72-hour fermentation so there’s plenty of time to get across town. The exception for this is with the anaerobics, as the climate produces preferable conditions for their style over the results they had in La Esperanza.

When beans are picked and quality understood, it is actually Lady that decides which process needs to be done to keep roasters in good supply based on orders. The tubs are marked with the code for the exact process she has required so that the mill manager Ivan at La Esperanza knows what to expect.

Returning to La Esperanza, it was time to swing up to the variety garden. Jumping in the earlier spied Willys we headed to the top of the farm and were shown the composting – all the cherries and other organic bits from the farm that get piled up and controlled over a 13-week period as they break down. There are also worm beds that add variation to the composts and these are used to feed plants across both farms.

The variety garden is just that – Good size trees collected together for both genetic stock and interest. From Liberica and Robusta to Catamara (Pacamara CGLE), K7, and Purpurescens, there are many types here.

It was on this farm that Mandela was developed; a self-pollinated selection between caturras, crossed with the Timor Hybrid, before being crossed again with Ethiopian landrace varietals such as Sudan Rume, Daleco, and Villa Sarchi. Being a further 4 times more productive than Geisha with up to 9 kilos of cherry per tree (around 3kg of bean as we know it) Café Granja have gone big with the varietal, weeding out the yellow varietal for taste reasons, and had planted 30,000 new trees just in the area we passed on the way up. There was more on the way down.

The wet and dry mills on the farm were quiet whilst we were there, but not dormant. Blue barrels carefully labelled with varietals, dates and process code lined the building with mechanical driers ready if the greenhouse of raised beds was not to be used. There is a new cupping lab being built too, with old processing rooms below. A storage warehouse too is there and waits for enough volume before being loaded onto a truck to go up the valley to Caicedonia and the storage facilities there.

Las Margaritas and Potosi

Following a short drive for a couple of hours, we crossed from being more on the western cordillera to the central, close to the border with Quindio. Here the character changes, from open summits in the clouds to a more forested, greener feel also in the clouds.

After a brief stop in the town itself to see the offices and QC lab, we then headed up more winding roads and landslips reaching first Las Margaritas. Despite the mist and clouds, we were already used to, Las Margaritas feels wet. There is a small river that flows down from the mountains which needs to be forded before driving up the track to the farm itself. Here we were met by the manager for Las Margaritas and Potosi Juan Carlos with a welcome and delicious selection of food before inspecting the wet mill facilities.

Similarly to Cerro Azul and La Esperanza, processing is split across the two farms. Las Margaritas does the majority of the wet processing and has recently installed a large segmented silo in order to manage and control this. A larger facility was planned but hit a few snags due to the uniqueness of methods used by CGLE and now some of the equipment purchases lie partly unused. One part that is functional though it the vertical demucilager -allowing for depulping with less water, which given how easily it is accessible here tells you a lot about their mentality and care for the environment.

At 39 hectares, Margaritas packs a punch with Sudan Rume, Geisha, Pacamara and red, yellow and pink  Bourbon. More recently, it has been the home of CGLE17 (also called Hybrid 17 for the early adopters, but changing its name to avoid confusion with a similarly named Costa Rican variety that is of no relation at all). This is a very exciting development cementing their specialization in the production and commercialization of specialty coffee varietals. Developed back in 2017 it is slowly building availability (though still under 100kg this year) but is a serious challenger for the geishas crown, being a selection, cross breed, and another selection between Caturra and Geisha.

River at the bottom of Las Margaritas falls

Heading up from the house and the milling facility, the same river was crossed again as the sun tried to burn through the clouds. Pausing by the Sudan Rume we walked up through the Pacamara fields that are again starting to produce good yields after a full renovation that has curtailed availability for the last couple of years.

Here we reached the Field of Dreams. For Don Rigberto, coffee goes deeper than just a plant or business. The plants themselves are connected to nature and nature connects its energy to the universe. Planting and tending to plants connects us to this, and so we were all asked to choose our own varietal, spend time reflecting on our dreams and wishes, and connect to that energy by planting in the ground. This was an intimate personal break from all the info gathering, picture taking, learning and camaraderie that goes into these trips, and speaks to the Rigoberto behind the coffee. A small sign marks all the visitors to the farm that have taken part in this ritual, and we were able to find trees from not only Phil and Henry from a previous trip but our friends at Bennetts in Australia too. A small reminder that in the enormity that is the coffee industry, it is often made of small connections and lasting relationships with friends and like-minded people.

Pictured: Juan Carlos, manager of Las Margaritas and Potosi farms (Left), MT Camilo CGLE sales and Jamie (Centre), Sigifredo at Potosi (Right).

As the light began to wane, we headed as quickly as we could to the neighbouring hill that held Potosi. The first sight we saw was the house and small covered table. The house itself is closed across the front by a tarpaulin, to protect it from the weather. It is here that the tale of the three dragons stems from.

Colombia never used to produce naturals, and CGLE claims to be among the first. Lack in the patio space on the farm they switched instead to mechanical driers to deal with the volume and quality they wanted to do. A spark from one of these carried across the yard on the breeze and set fire to the house in 2018. Being more than 45 minutes drive from the nearest fire station, flames quickly took hold and unfortunately the house, but luckily no lives were lost. It will finish being rebuilt this year, but the naming of the driers and subsequent coffee it produces has become the legacy of this incident.

It is sister to Sweet Valley, produced originally for DRW and exclusively available in the UK but now hugely popular across Europe if you can get hold of it. Both coffees are processed similarly (a longer fermentation happens in Tres Dragones) but Sweet Valley is a field blend from Potosi and neighbours and Tres Dragones exclusively Colombia, and exclusively from Potosi.

Sweet Valley, from Potosi point of view

The year before that, CGLE planted their first Sidra on the farm. This was originally thought to be a cross between bourbon and typica, and more of the bourbon type, but subsequent investigation by World Coffee Research has shown this to be an Ethiopian Landrace instead. 3038 trees sit on the farm with another Yirgacheffe heirloom too and continues the African connection with SL34. Of course, we wouldn’t be in Colombia without there being some representation of the eponymous varietal, but the San Juan that used to be present has now been removed.

Sigifredo, production director for Café Granja showed us one of their latest experiments, demonstrating the cross-pollination of flowers that has led to two lines of coffee growing with Geisha as the mother or as the father to understand the quality each brings. They have CGLE17 here too, though have started to note production is limited to the top of the tree only. This could be a spacing issue as trees here were planted 1.5 metres apart, so they will shortly ‘descopare’ it, or chop the top off. Currently, one tree will produce around 10kg of cherry per year, and roughly 3.35kg of green beans.

Staying overnight in Caicedonia, meant a touch colouring in with handily provided felt tips at a burger restaurant, sampling the local aguardiente and musical playlists before getting a good night’s sleep in preparation of the culmination of our time with CGLE; the cupping.

The offices, lab and climate-controlled store-room are just around the corner from the hotel in one building. They have a larger facility just up the road where the containers get filled or coffees that need their resting accelerated can be stored.  A small re-jig of the furniture was required to accommodate us all but was set and ready to go by the time we arrived. Whilst things were being prepped there was just enough time to check out the stock waiting to get hulled, gorgeously marked by microlot and some in the colourful Colombian bags.

Natalia and Manuel were cupping with us today, and as ever cupping at origin is a useful experience understanding not only coffees available, but calibrating with the team too. Siocci natural, K7, and the Yirgacheffe natural debuting alongside the ever syrupy Yellow Bourbon, Mandela, Mokka and Pink Bourbon. Scores recorded and with Hernan, our next host knocking on the door it was time to wrap up,  pass on our thanks and move on with the adventure over the county border to Armenia, Quindio.

Pictured: Granja La Esperanza handwriting (Left), Camilo, Natalia, Rigoberto, and Manuel (Right).

Racafe

El Eden, Armenia

Pris and Dave had not long left on their trip before Hernan was being pressed into action again, cheery and ready to get going. Armenia is only 30 minutes up the road so it was not long before we got to the first farm to visit San Diego.

This is a farm you may not recognize the name of from our offer list, but this is because it goes under another. Salvador, and his wife Maydi are the managers here, but the farm belongs to Mrs Marieta Jaramillo Velez. They contribute, alongside 15 other farms coffee to our regional offering El Eden.

At 44 hectares (making 550 bags per year), it’s a traditional Quindio farm. Growing Castillo, Caturra, Catimor and Colombia it’s produces washed coffee like 95% of coffee growers. The coffee produced here goes to the Mill facility Racafe owns in Armenia ready for blending before reaching us, and all was so far as expected until we walked into the wet mill.

Lying before us was a long raised trench, I guess, with what looked like a dormant paddle from a steamer spanning side to side. Perforated at the bottom, it soon became clear that this was a very traditional (read rarely seen) Patio Quindiano.

Wet parchment is poured into the trough and a burner at one end would blow hot air under the bed. This would rise through the perforations to dry the coffee, and the paddle would ambulate up and down the bed using a toothed rail/cog combination to do so. As it does this, the paddles rotate and mix the coffee ensuring an even drying over the roughly 45 hours.

Sr Salvador does not use this method anymore unless high volume demands it, the Patio Quindiano being usurped by more modern mechanical driers. This exemplifies the charm of visiting origin. These old finds, markers of agricultural practices if not defunct, are certainly less used but influential in the thinking and understanding of processes today. Each finds you encounter enrichens your understanding of the coffee world, and so often innovation just comes from an updating of old technology to reflect today’s standards.

Old as the farm may appear, it is full of small updates. The well-kept depulper showed the signs of care and attention over the equipment, and but the water use told the bigger tale. The wet mill is located very close to the river, so water is not an issue here, but the farm has made changes to the traditional methods to reduce their water usage from around 20 litres for 1kg of parchment to 1litre. If we extrapolate that up accounting loosely for the parchment loss, then you can see they have gone from somewhere around 975,000 litres of water per year to around 50,000 litres. A monumental saving of water, as well as money required to treat that water before returning it to the environment.

Sticking with water though, we discussed the effect the weather was having.  The amount of rain, less predictable rain, and changing weather patterns, in general, are causing very real concerns. We’d seen and heard about this with CGLE, but here too it was impacting on the harvest. This year they hired only a third of the normal workers as yields were so low. The questions turned to whether if this continues the workers would ever come back to picking, as many have gone off to work in construction. It would not be the last time we hear this concern.

Wrapping up, we headed to the mill in Armenia where the coffee comes in. A cursory security inspection and hand sanitisation later and we were in, staring at a mound of green gold that it’s hard to imagine the volume of.  Outside, the loading bay is where the coffee is delivered. Sr. Israel Oquendo keeps an organised eye on the processes here and the attention is clearly evident, gained over his 29 years with the company and the warehouse.

Coffee gets delivered in parchment, and a sample is taken, prepped, roasted and cupped for defects before being accepted or rejected. The whole process takes about 25 minutes, after the sampling. Based on this, the driver is made an offer and is free to accept or reject it.

Eunice and Nathaly Quality Team at the Mill

Eunice Delgado and Nathaly Jaramillo are the quality team at Armenia mill. Obviously, with such a short turnaround time they focus more on cupping for defects rather than the top end of the scoring. There is another cupping room and team for this need.

Racafe Mill

Despite their size, Racafe does not force anyone to supply them. They aim to deliver the best value and service and this way keep their farmers. Fair pricing and the additional resources of field staff and agronomists on top of the marketing and customer reach all play an important part in competing for the business. The upturn in pricing has for sure seen this be challenged, and some farmers absolutely have decided to sell without the quality requirements Racafe ask for to other exporters and buyers. Some people are very much business-minded and more money for less input compared to a couple of years ago makes a lot of sense; the risk is on the damage of relationships and what happens a couple of years down the line.

Different to the commercial offering is the speciality. This remains in the bags as it comes in, rather than homogenising in the commercial store. Both coffees will still go through the laser colour sorter, density tables and green cleaners post-acceptance and of course the tasting team of Eunice and Nathaly pre-acceptance. Bagging is fully automated which is great to see, and we got to spot bags from another importer too that had asked Racafe to help them out with their expertise, a true sign of how the industry respects their knowledge.

It was dark now, and we still had a hotel to check in to and dinner to eat. Arriving just in time for the rooftop pool to have closed (dammit!) we still had a quick freshen up before heading out for another traditional Colombian speciality, steak. Armenia itself has made a real play for tourism to build their economy, Hernan told us, and you could see this was indeed evident. Agriculture still played a major role though, the fertile soils between the two cordilleras making sure of that.

The next morning was another early start, fitting in three more farms before flying back to Bogota. First La Bella, with Sr Jair the farm manager showed us around the property he has looked after for 10 years. A 55-hectare farm owned by Sra Luz Maria Gamboa, they mostly grow Castillo and Catimor, but have some Caturra too. Twenty people work here full time and that can grow to 45 at the peak of harvesting times, but these were not now. From the production of 690 bags in 2019 and 2020, 2021 saw just 350 bags, with rain again being blamed for this loss.

The farm is run with an environmental forethought. Plentiful across Colombian farms is the Casa Elba, a drying bed with a roof on rails that can be pushed back or pulled over the coffee depending on the weather. Jair likes this as it doesn’t require the energy input that mechanical driers use, and nor therefore does it pollute.  They do have a Guardiola for times of high volume, and even soaking tanks should things really start to back up, but on the whole, for the coffee he is responsible for, it’s the Elba.

Pictured: La Bella manager Mr Jair (Left), Casa Elba, central view, La Bella (Centre), New growth, new planting (Right).

A quick cup of coffee served the local way (mixed with panela, and served black) and we were off to the next farm. You can just about see in the pictures above a hint of what we were to be met with next – the renovation of trees.

The FNC has been urging people to renovate and invest in their farms with the high prices. Pulling up at the largest farm that contributes to El Eden, La Floresta, we could see 100,000 new trees in neat rows marking the contours of the hills like a pointillist painting.

A road closure and later than expected arrival meant we did not meet the farmer, But Sr Herman Botero is the owner of the 94-hectare farm, producing around 1600 bags of green coffee per year. His brother owns El Guyabito, the second largest farm that contributes to El Eden, though we were not scheduled to visit that.

Again most of the trees were Catimor and Castillo, with the new planting 100% Catimor. The yields are seen as the key attribute that is driving this, and certainly, at times we could see some very heavily covered branches. Renovation as stumping is done every 5 years, after the harvest, and after 7 renovations the tree is replaced. There are 3 main types of stumping practiced here; traditional, leaving a small part of the stem for new branches to grow out of (the number you choose to allow to regrow is more personal opinion it seems), leaving the stem is also done, similar to skeletoning I have seen in other countries, or high stumping, where a the top of the tree is chopped leaving a few branches and a much longer centre.

We were to see one more farm that day, that does give some coffee to El Eden, but stands alone a little more for us to. Perhaps then it is best to tell the story of El Eden itself now. There is not a region or a farm that gives this coffee its name. Perhaps in a nod to modern society, it is an internal reference on a calendar to a group of people that Hernan regularly meets with to discuss business, opportunities, and the world of coffee. The connection is their entrepreneurial spirit and a lot are involved in other businesses too. You may even have noticed a number of these farms are owned by someone other than the person in charge of the day-to-day running of the farm. This is not an unusual practice, and often farms come down through families while family members work in cities and use the farms at weekends or holidays.

We were driving around a roundabout on the way to the airport when Hernan pointed El Eden out to us. In his calendar, the group is simply referred to as El Eden because of where their regular meetings are held, a convenient spot for all of them. A fairly inconspicuous bar/restaurant at the side of the road.

La Albania
La Albania farmhouse

The third farm of the day is a tricky spot to fill. If you’ve been up since 5 travelling and being bombarded with information the fatigue can start to set in. Thoughts were turning a little to the flight ahead and the return to Bogota so it was a delight to see the blue in the sky reflected in this house with immaculate lawn and flowers planted the length of the drive. This was somewhere different. This was La Albania.

Here too, the owner did not spend all his time working the farm, leaving it in the more than capable hands of Sr Juan Carlos. But perhaps this was somewhat different to other stories, as Israel Oquendo is the owner, and manager of the Armenia mill.

Buying it in 2012, he had harboured a dream to own a coffee farm for far longer. He worked hard to save money whilst working at the mill and then took ownership of the main plantain farm when the opportunity arose. He removed a lot of the plantain to create space for coffee, but some remains, as windbreaks, plot markers and food for the farm workers.

Castillo and Catimor cover the seven lots that complete the farm. Between them producing around 1000 bags of green coffee. Harvest will see 50-60 workers be hired, and Israel has built a shaded canteen as well as accommodation with facilities for those that want it.

More recently he has become Rainforest Alliance certified, recognizing that their management system, for him, is a great tool for running a farm for good, with useful and practical management systems. Requirements were hung on a wall so they could easily be tracked or prepared for, which given the way he ran the Armenia Mill for Racafe was no surprise.  The organization of the farm in turn yields a more profitable business, and the premiums allow him to provide better living conditions. It was great to see him so proud of what the farm had achieved, especially as he told us he had been working towards this goal for 5 full years.

Viani

Heading out of La Albania to the airport, it was time to head back to Bogota. Here we would finish up the trip, heading north in the morning not too far from Sasaima, where we started, to visit farmers that contribute to another of our regional lots, Viani. Joining us from the Bogota mill was Luis Fernando, manager for 36 years and keen to catch up with what was going on in the area.

Monday saw an early start for us in an effort to escape the ring of traffic that surrounds the city. Only partially successful, we stopped for a quick bite for breakfast not far from Quipile, smack bang in the centre of where Racafe started nearly 70 years ago. With the Bogota mill so close, they work with collectors here, the main one being Joseel, who we were on the way to see. He’s been working with Racafe for 23 years and acts as central point for the smallholder farmers in the area.

A collection centre can act as more than just a drop off point for coffee. Farmers have the option to sell it in need of drying, not just in parchment, and so it was that we pulled up to see steam billowing out of the Guardiola mixing with the incoming clouds. Stepping out of the building in La Sierra, Joseel took us over the road to the warehouse where he stores the coffee.

Viani Collection centre

Joseel started to explain how he collects the coffee. In times like this, when it is quiet, it’s mainly through the Saturday market, where farmers bring all sort so of produce to sell. Prices paid vary depending on the level of moisture, or if the work has been done already. Some smaller farmers won’t really have the facilities on their farm and use the space for alternative crops or livestock. However, if coffee is in need of drying, then Joseel will make sure it’s still dried in time and the quality doesn’t drop.

He buys from 5 municipalities in total, Quipile, Bituima, Viani, San Juan de Rio Seco, and Puli, and strongly prefers to sell only to Luis Fernando. They communicate regularly with Luis Fernando agreeing the price with Joseel that he can offer to the farmers for the various types of coffee.

Jamie and Joseel, Viani collection centre

Production levels over the last three years have been dropping, but hopefully this is down to the amount of renovation that is happening on the farms. There is a lot of it, and once stumped, a tree takes 2 years to produce a decent harvest level. Farmers do want to improve their coffee, but need to invest in greenhouses and processing equipment in order to do so. These are bigger ticket items, and so come with a bigger impact when purchased.

Around 70% of the coffee that makes up the Viani comes through this collection point, the remainder coming from two smaller points. This centre deals with around 400 farmers, and when Joseel has around 10,000-13,000kg, he’ll call his regular truck driver of 25 years for the journey to the Bogota mill. The mill works in the same way as in Armenia; out of 100 or so lots that get delivered 64 of these are separated to become regional and speciality lots.

By pure good fortune, a car pulled up, laden with a giant, coloured sack of parchment ready to be sold. This was Sr Jose Vicente Castiblanco, the owner of a 4 hectare farm that was mixed production. 0.65 ha was coffee, with the rest being split between cows, avocado, plantain and fruits like mangoes.

Jose delivery of parchment from jose Castillblanco

Joseel placed the sack on the scales, noted the weight, opened up the bag, and inspected the parchment. We’d all noticed a small rubber mat when we’d come in, and some coffee was sprinkled on this and then ground underfoot as a makeshift mill. The beans inside looked good, moisture was good, and both parties seemed happy so money was paid.

One of the challenges facing Joseel is security. There are no nearby banks, and farmers need cash, so he has to make a regular run to withdraw large amounts and then find somewhere safe to keep it. It’s definitely a risk and one that Joseel is not that comfortable with, but at the moment, there are no other options. As we knew all too well by now, a round trip to Bogota sucks up a lot of time.

We had three farmers who contribute to Viani to visit before heading back, so, with Joseel joining us as well, we took to the vehicle and hit the road. First up was El Refugio, The Refuge, overlooking the town of Viani on the opposite slopes.

Pictured: El Refugio farm run by Mr Ulex (Top Left), El Refugio farm (Top Right), Nursery of Pink Bourbon (Bottom Left), Patio (Bottom Right)

The farm belongs to Sr Cesar Acosta, but is managed by the affable Sr Ulex. At 5.7 hectares the whole farm is avocado and coffee. As we walked down the driveway, a very neat field of recently stumped trees suggested care and attention were spent.  Most of the coffee here is a mix between Castillo and Tabi, though word amongst farmers is that Pink Bourbon is a good quality and fairly rewarded coffee to grow, and so the nursery was full of 17,500 seedlings brought as seed from a connection in Huila, purported birthplace of the varietal. Although the name might suggest otherwise, current research suggests it’s actually a mutation of Colombia from San Adolfo.

The farm produces 100 bags of green coffee per year, dried mainly on patios under cover to protect from the rains. They had actually received a mechanical dried from the FNC, but such was the preference for the patio that it sat, unused, on the farm.

Coffee is depulped here, and then dried first on the raised beds for the main dehumidifying before moving to the patio portion of the greenhouse. If the weather is good, total time is 7 days; if rainy, it can be as much as 15-20 days. The weather had had an impact here too – 20 years ago they got one main crop, but now they find with Castillo and weather changes they get a constant small harvest throughout the year too.

A closed road, a deceptive muddy field that felt inclined to retain our van and a spattering of mud later, we found ourselves in Viani town square. Coffee here is so embedded there is a statue paying homage to the Campesino Vianiceno, and even had some drying coffee in the square itself.

Santa Rosa, Jamie Gerero's farm for Viani

A short hop later saw us on the farm of Jaime Gerero, ex Jeans factory manager and one of the happiest farmers we had met in a long time! Santa Rosa, his farm, is essentially his retirement project. 5 years ago, when he bought it, he kitted it out with an Eco Pulper, very on trend at the time and which has a big impact in reducing the amount of water needed to process coffee. Handy when you are at 1700 metres above sea level. The water it does use, he then treats in a series of semi buried tanks before it is cleaned and can be used elsewhere on the farm.

Pictured: Santa Rosa Farm (Left), The owner Jamie Gerero (Centre), Wet Mill (Right).

He has around 25,000 tress and stumps 3000 each year.  His family live in Bogota and he goes back every 2-3 months. He produces around 110 bags each year, and learnt how to do this by watch videos on Youtube.

Final farm of the day, and indeed the trip was Campo Hermoso, a predominantly cattle farm where we were welcomed with a huge spread of food as often typifies so much of the hospitality shown to us on visits. Sr Ramiro Piraquive is the owner, and looks after the 1 hectare that remains as coffee. The farm originally had more, but cattle brought in more money; the 4000 trees that remain though always will do, as a part of them still loves it and it’s a part of the farms history.

Pictured: Campo Hermoso farm (Left), The owner Ramiro Piraquive (Right).

The drying patio here is in the roof, above the small washing station and a chicken roost. At these volumes the washing station is a part of the barn rather than the whole thing. A good year for them would be 25 bags of green bean, though on average they are closer to 12 bags. Similarly to Jamie Gerero from Santa Rosa, coffee is fermented for 12 hours before drying.

Racafe Bogota

Last morning of the trip we had time to pop in to the offices of Racafe in Bogota central, not far from the British Embassy, should you ever need emergency travel documents. Here is where the qc team are based for the export and our logistics contacts as well.  Andrea is the head of quality, Gabriela in charge of new development in quality and Alejandra quality support. All of course are q graders. Angie and Angela are the logistics team that we met too, with trading colleagues Thomas and Sonia, and general manager Luis. One of many facets on an origin trip is actually being able to meet the people we so often communicate with via email or phone, and after a three-year hiatus, it’s good to be back on the road and saying hello in person to so many people we work with day to day.

Here’s to the next trip!

Pictured: Luis Fernando Racafe Bogota Mill Manager and Hernan Racafe Specialty Manager (Left), Racafe quality team Alejandra Andre Gabriela (Centre), Thomas Trade Luis General Manager MT Hernan Specialty Trader (Right).