function gtm_code() { ?>
+44 (0)20 7202 2620
close

Tradition to Innovation: Racafe, Anei and CGLE

It’s not everyday that you get to visit origin for the first time. This report comes from a different perspective than what you’ve likely come across from us before. Having a background in photography, you may see an abundance of photos. Reach out to marketing@drwakefield.com if you would like these photos for the coffees you’ve purchased!

It’s been nearly two years since our last visit to Colombia, and we were thrilled to return. This May, our travels took us through Cundinamarca, Bogota, Cauca, Cesar, Valle de Cauca, Magdalena, and Antioquia! Our journey had three main objectives: first, to delve into the Crecer Project with Racafe and explore the farms that supply our regional coffees. Second, after over 5 years of sourcing from ANEI, it was finally time to visit and deepen our understanding of their community projects. Lastly, with CGLE’s recent move to a new office and mill, we were eager to check this new space out and learn more about the work being done on coffee profiles and varietals.

On this trip were Hannah Wakefield, Priscilla Daniel, Brian Milne from Macbeans, Mark Chislet from Method and myself, Hriday Gupta.

Brian Milne - Macbeans, Mark Chislet - Method, Hriday, Priscilla, Hannah

Racafe – Viani

Racafe were founded in 1953 by 3 brothers in Cundinamarca. Similar to DRWakfield, they are independent and family-owned. Being one of Colombia’s leading exporters of specialty coffee, they represent over 5,000 individual producers and 45 producer groups. DRW has worked with Racafe for many years, developing our regional offerings as well as commercial lines with them. Viani is one such regional blend that we source through Racafe. We met with Pablo, Trader at Racafe, to begin our journey meeting the producers of Viani.

Collection Centre

Our first stop was the collection centre. After a three-hour drive from Bogota, we met with Sr Joseel. He has been selling coffee to Racafe his whole life, and not just him, so did his father ……. and his grandfather. Since the implementation of the CRECER program, 100% of the coffee that makes up the Viani blend is now sourced through Sr. Joseel, compared to 70% earlier. This shift reduced the number of contributing producers from 400 to 90, all adhering to the CRECER program. 

Sr Joseel, Collection Centre, Viani

Due to this past year’s weather conditions, producers are struggling to dry their coffee, delivering more wet parchment. Sr. Joseel, who typically buys only dry coffee/parchment, is having to run his on-site Guardiola dryer more frequently, which takes 24 hours at 90 degrees to dry 5,000kg of coffee. Approximately 40% of the coffee delivered this year was wet, presenting a significant challenge for both Joseel and the producers. Unfortunately, Joseel can only buy dry coffee/parchment as CRECER. Producers are faced with difficult decisions as they can’t always sell all their coffee in dry parchment but also are struggling to dry coffee with limited sunlight and prolonged monsoons. In light of this, the Crecer fund will contribute towards drying tunnels for producers, allowing them to dry their coffee despite the wet weather conditions of late. If you’re interested in learning more about the Crecer Program, click here

Another challenge Joseel faces is security as he pays producers in cash. Sometimes, he buys nearly a container, costing about $120,000. This is very risky especially in the town that they reside in. We saw many producers come and deliver parchment during our time there, and they all deeply respect Sr Joseel. To safely process and pay for this coffee, he travels over an hour to the nearest bank on a random day at a random time via a different route, and obviously – he tells no one. In Colombia (and likely other places) coffee is money, or maybe more like a cheque. To safely deliver all this coffee to Racafe, Sr Joseel works with a dedicated driver who has been driving for him for over 20 years who he trusts.  

Producers of Viani

Next, we visited four contributing producers of Viani that deliver at the collection centre.

The farms of the first three producers all neighbour each other. We started at El Respaldo, where we met with producer Julio Alphonso and his wife Jasmine. Their farm is 2 hectares and located in La Botica, Quipile, where they grow coffee and bananas.

Julio Alphonso, El Respaldo, Viani

One surprising detail was how he dried a portion of his coffee. Despite having a solar dryer, he also has a ‘secret stash’ of coffee in his attic. While I can’t confirm if this is a common practice, it was unique amongst the farms we visited.

Julio has been wanting to get certified organic as he has adopted all the organic practices but has not been successful in obtaining the certification. Due to the presence of a neighboring higher-altitude farm using chemical fertilisers prevents certification due to contamination. Despite the frustration, Julio and his neighbours continue their best practices without the certification.

Julio also highlighted the lack of labour in this region. This means that during harvest, including the family, they have only 8 pickers. Julio was not too happy about this, nor were the other producers of Viani.

A short walk away from El Respaldo was Jose Guillermo’s farm, Villa Sandra. He lives there with his wife Blanca on this one-hectare farm. Here, they grow coffee, avacados, oranges, and chayote. Considering we were 1800m in elevation, they were also farming fish (and fish food).  Jose is also a beekeeper and believes the health of his and the neighbouring farms has improved drastically. 

The final farm we visited in this locality was La Joya, owned and run by Jose. This farm is 14 hectares and primarily grows coffee. Earlier, these 3 producers were working with Nespresso but since the implementation of the CRECER program, they have been getting a lot of support from Racafe which has encouraged them to contribute into the Viani blend instead. 

What I appreciated most about these 3 producers was the sense of community they had created. They all lived together, shared experiences, raise their families and grow coffee together. They also help each other out due to labour shortages and they also share resources from time to time. It was just wonderful to see this approach of sharing knowledge and resources for the betterment of the community. 

30 minutes away from these farms was the last Viani producer we met, Jamie Gerero of Santa Rosa. This farm is 14 hectares and operates at a relatively larger scale than the previous farms. Seven years ago, Jamie worked in a jeans factory and then ran a cab business. One day, he realised he wanted more for himself, sold everything, and bought a farm. He now lives partly on the farm and partly with his wife in Bogota.

The challenge he faces here was labor but mainly in terms of maintenance. His farm is struggling with too many dried leaves all around the farm. This causes:

  • Mould Growth
  • Deprives soil of oxygen
  • Prevents water from reaching the roots, leading to improper growth
  • And lastly, it creates a breeding ground for pests like the coffee borer.

The producers of Viani, being relatively close to Bogota, are very well aware and connected with the political situation. They had fears Colombia is heading in the direction of Nicaragua and becoming more radically left wing. They all seemed to share this opinion so something to bear in mind. 

Colombia Viani

Learn more

Racafe – El Eden

Located in the Quindio region, Armenia, we visited two contributing farms of El Eden; El Paraiso and La Albania. Quindio has a high concentration of coffee producers in the area and it is one of the key production areas in the country. Quindio is an infamous coffee growing region in colombia despite being the 2nd smallest. Whilst having the ideal climate, altitude and soil, Quindio is part of the UNESCO-listed Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, a recognition that highlights the region’s rich history and cultural heritage in coffee cultivation.

El Eden is a blend from entrepreneurial farmers and the name is derived from the venue where the group frequently met to discuss best practices, business challenges, and opportunities. Being the regular meeting place, the group became associated with the venue – Rancho Eden – which inspired the name of their coffee. Since the implementation of the Crecer program, there are now 18 contributing farms to El Eden as compared to 16 in previous years.

El Paraiso

This farm was purchased by Juaco 10 years ago and is 24.6 Hectares with 16 hectares for coffee. He is a doctor turned full time farmer since Covid-19. The farm is now run by Arturo, Juaco’s son, who received his business education in Germany. Arturo is in no rush to get Organic certified, nor do Racafe mill Organic coffee in this region, but Arturo is deeply passionate about organic farming. They grow Cenicafe and Caturra and only process washed coffee but are looking to start work on naturals too.

Arturo and Juaco, El Pariaso

Arturo’s priority has been regenerative agricultural farming through the production of organic fertiliser. He aims to first produce enough for himself, a task more challenging than I anticipated. Eventually, he plans to scale it up to a business, providing producers in the region with high quality organic fertilser.

Two years ago, the farm had no animals or birds visiting but since they switched from chemical fertilisers to organic fertiliser, the wildlife has made a remarkable comeback and is now flourishing. We noticed hundreds of birds circling the farm during our walk. Arturo has taken the additional step of planting various flowers to attract different kinds of bees too!

The work Arturo is doing on fertilisers is fascinating. In the images below, you can see he is aerobically fermenting them to make the microorganisms more effective. For this to be effective, he needs 12 metric tonnes per hectare. In order to produce this volume, he has to externally procure chicken waste, blend that with what is available on the farm, and add oxygen to it. I must say though, the overpowering stench in this room left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable.

He started working on this project 8 years ago after a friend advised him. Around 3 years ago, when the price of fertiliser tripled and the exchange rate depreciated, he greatly benefited from this’ move’ and was very proud of it.

An interesting practice to note was their stumping technique. On this farm, they practice skull stumping, removing just the branches but leaving the trunk and the top bit of the plant. This has been working well on the farm lately, improving yield 

El Eden

Learn more

La Albania

La Albania is one of the most beautiful farms we visited. Apart from having a stunning driveway with flowers along the path, the farm also has the largest river in the city flowing right through it. The 32ha farm is owned by Hernan Israel since 2012 and has been left to the capable hands of Juan Carlos, the Farm Manager. Interestingly, Israel is also the Mill Manager at the Racafe mill located nearby. He has officially retired as of June and is now turning his full attention to the farm.  

Although this coffee is part of El Eden, we also source it as a single farm lot. Click here for more information.

Hernan Israel, La Albania, El Eden

He bought this farm back in 2012 after saving money from working in the mill. On the farm there were 12 staff that lived on-site with all the necessary facilities. During peak harvest, you can find up to 60 workers being hired. La Albania is the only RFA certified farm contributing to El Eden.  

On the farm, there is a natural spring through which they get water. He built a tank to pump the water to the house and also uses it for irrigation. Normally, 35% of the farm is always under renovation as they want to plant new trees. The average age of a coffee plant in La Albania is 7.2 years, and he wants to bring this down to 6 years. Here, he grows only Castillo and Catimor.

As the city expands, the distance between the city and the farm keeps getting shorter. You can now see the city from the farm, and the entrance to the farm is directly from the main road. There is also an international airport nearby, making this prime real estate, and there is now pressure on Israel to sell the farmland. 

La Albania

Learn more

Racafe Armenia Mill

Racafe have 7 mills across Colombia, the one in Armenia being the largest, can process up to 200,000 bags of coffee per year. Here they have two units, one for the internal market and the other for export. The coffees that come through here include Supremo, Excleso, La Albania and El Eden. 

We met with Juan Salvador, who was the Mill Supervisor during our visit but has since been promoted to Mill Manager. Racafe carefully considers who will manage the mill, as this role is crucial and cannot be entrusted to just anyone. Salvador along with 3 other Mill Supervisors have been in training for many years just incase a replacement is needed. Meaning this position will always be filled internally.

Producers will arrive here in their jeeps or carts to deliver parchment. Salvador will check the coffee, and then the producer will often taste the coffee in their lab with Natali, the Q grader on site. Producers receive their payment via bank transfer but can often deposit their coffee here and collect their payment at a later date, depending on how the market moves, and to also ensure it’s delivered in the ideal conditions as Racafe can often warehouse/store this in a better fashion.

We then met with Cristian, the Production Supervisor, who gave us a tour of the mill. The mill had some very expensive and fancy equipment, but what stood out most was their automatic palletiser. Normally, it takes six people to pack a pallete but here one man operates the machine and it happens to be the only one in Colombia. I have been requested not to share too much detail on this mill, so I’ll leave you with some photos.


Anei

History of Anei

For those of you that may not know Anei, they are based in Valledupar in the Sierra Nevada, and predominantly works with indigenous communities. Founded by Aurora Izquierdo in 1995, it is now led by her sons Juan Sebastian and Jorge, members of the Arhuaca community. “Anei” simply means “delicious” in their dialect. Earlier this year, we featured Aurora in our Coffee and a chat series that you can read here 

At the heart of Anei is a commitment to preserving and protecting their cultures, which are deeply integrated into daily life. The Sierra Nevada, considered the heart of the world, rises to 5700 meters above sea level and boasts some of the highest biodiversity levels globally. Recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve since 1982, the indigenous people of Sierra Nevada were acknowledged as part of the World Heritage in 2022. 

The indigenous communities have a history of persecution by Spanish colonisers and missionaries, who attempted to eradicate their cultures and languages, including through an orphanage that separated children from their parents. Despite this, there has been consistent resistance, and since the 1980s, these communities have gradually gained recognition by the Colombian government and culture. 

In the 1970s, there was a push to provide indigenous children access to education. Five children from each community, including Aurora at 15, were selected to study in the city. After her education, Aurora returned to her community, bringing back her knowledge and establishing Anei. Initially met with resistance, she persisted, demonstrating how cultivating coffee could benefit the entire community. 

Alejandra, john, Aurora, Juan

Anei now includes 600 families, exporting 90 containers of coffee annually. All members are Fairtrade and Organic (FTO) compliant. While everything they produce is FTO, only 70% is sold as such. They primarily work with the Colombia varietal but some farmers are experimenting with other varieties. They have a team of seven agronomists and three buying stations in Pueblo Bello, Codazzi, and Valledupar, each with a Q grader.

Anei considers all their coffee as family coffee, emphasising unity rather than creating divisions within the community. While they have women’s and youth associations, they avoid labeling coffee as such, believing that couples and families are stronger together. They aim to sustain their communities for generations, currently being in their second generation with aspirations for a seventh.

Their focus is on sustainability and self-sufficiency, teaching members to work with the natural environment and grow a variety of fruits and vegetables for trade within villages. Maximising yield is less important than sustainable practices that ensure long-term security for these farmers. Some members even align farming practices with lunar cycles.

Pueblo Bello Collection Centre

Our first stop was Pueblo Bello Collection Centre. This centre is run by Alcira Judith Izquierdo Torres (Aurora’s Niece) along with 5 others that work there too. This centre was set up in 2011, receiving coffee from over 200 members. Although dry parchment is delivered primarily, they also have dryers for wet parchment.

Alcira Judith Izquirdo Torres, Manager at Pueblo Bello Collection Centre

The mountains of Sierra Nevada are no joke, having made only a fraction of the journey the producers make, we found it very difficult and tiring due to the inclination of these mountains. Each locality usually appoints a representative who collects the coffee from around 20 producers and then makes the trip to deliver. This makes more sense as the volume of an individual producer is usually to less to make the trip worth their time and effort. A round trip journey can often take anywhere between 5-10 hours for many of the producers. Being the biggest of the 3 collection centres, they collect 1 million kilos of parchment per year and as per protocol, they would cup the coffee with the delivering producer.  

Aurora felt that to truly understand Anei and their coffee, we should stay in the community where it all began and that’s where we headed. Their community resides at around 1800m over the Sierra. These are protected areas for the indigenous people of Sierra Nevada and the entrance is blocked by a gate. Despite being on the mountains of the Sierra, it is considered private property and you can’t enter without prior authorisation.  

We started our journey up to the community. At these altitudes on the Sierra, the visibility can often be lesser than 20 feet as you drive through the clouds. Initially Anei were building a road but called it off and so there are no roads for over 95% of the journey and just rough rugged terrain. Now, the rest of the evening was focused on understanding their culture and how it has influenced coffee production. They very graciously brewed us Aguapanela and prepared dinner for us. Everything we ate whilst visiting Anei was produce straight from their land, except the rice – this is a new project they are working on to start rice production for sustenance consumption.  

After a hearty welcome, we were taken into the gathering hut where the community gets together to not only discuss issues but also use it to connect with their spirituality and release negative energy at the end of the day. Following this, early the next morning, we got together for another ceremony. This time, focused on absorbing all that the earth has to give us.  

Alba Suarez

It was time to witness firsthand how the members of Anei produce their coffee, starting with a visit to Alba Suarez’s farm. Alba, a delegate of the Jerwa people, leads the women in the community. Our visit coincided with Mother’s Day, making the experience even more special. We were warmly welcomed by many women gathered at her farm, and the atmosphere was festive, as we danced to Arhuaco music played on an accordion. 

Alba’s farm is centrally located, making it an ideal spot for the community to hold meetings. She has built a communal area on her farm for this purpose and stores various supplies for the community, given that it can take 5-6 hours one way to reach the nearest town. 

Alba Suarez, Anei

As part of the mothers day ceremony, the women brought their best fruit and veg to trade and share with the community. They pay attention to the quality to learn from those that cultivate the best produce. The women started the young growers community as it was a problem they recognised where they get training in agriculture, processing, fertilisers etc.

Alba lives on the farm and has 3 kids. Her oldest daughter, Careen, is at university studying human rights and is part of the youth project movement of Anei. Alba grows Castillo and Colombia on her farm.

Juan Torres

Next, we met Mayro Nino, an agronomist, who guided us up the mountain to visit Juan Torres’ farm. Juan cultivates 100% Colombia varietal and practices selective pruning to maintain his farm. His farm, La Unica Esperanza, spans 7ha, with 4 dedicated to coffee. Juan follows organic farming practices, letting trees grow naturally unless there is an issue, and he aligns his farming with the moon cycle.

Juan Torres, Anei

Thanks to the support from Anei and Fairtrade, particularly through the FLO premium, Juan has access to a new pulper and solar drying facilities. This assistance has also included additional training, enabling him to experiment with different processing methods. Despite these advancements, Juan primarily produces washed coffee. The challenge of maintaining micro-lots for the market lies in the high costs for Anei in separating small quantities.

Villa Daliana 

Our journey continued with another early wake-up call as we drove to Atanquez in the Chemesquemena district of Guatapuri, where the Kankwama reside. Here, 88 producers contribute to Anei. Although they are indigenous, they have lost their native language and clothing to colonisers.  

We walked for an hour under the scorching 38-degree heat, accompanied by Alfonso Arias, an agronomist with Anei, also known as “the professor.” As we made our way to the farm, we were treated to the breathtaking sight of the highest mountains in Sierra Nevada, still capped with glaciers and ice (somehow). This incredible scenery set the stage for our visit to Villa Daliana, owned by Aida Carina Arisa Rodríguez. This farm is named after Aida’s oldest daughter ‘Daliana’.

Villa Daliana, Anei

The farm is a true family endeavor, with Aida, her father and mother all working together. They produce 99% Castillo and the rest Cenicafe 1, with plans to plant Tabi this year for a first harvest in two years. Inspired by another community farmer’s success with Tabi, they decided to establish a large nursery to provide this varietal to other producers, thanks to its good cupping scores and productivity. 

Aida and Parents

The farm is managed with agroforestry and organic practices, supported by Anei, who provide organic materials for fertiliser production following their biofabrica protocol. Their farm boasts various trees such as Guandul and Guamo (nitrogen-fixing and shade trees), Higuerón, Cedar, and Plantain. They also maintain plants and weeds, which they clean every three months and leave on the soil to create biomass. This is a stark contrast to Jamie’s farm, Santa Rosa where this was a challenge he was facing. 

Villa Daliana benefits from ideal coffee-growing conditions, with 1,500 to 1,800 hours of sunlight annually, average temperatures between 20-25°C, and 1,800 mm of annual rainfall. However, due to less rain in the area this year, they have kept more shade to maintain soil moisture and avoid excessive stress on the plants, which would otherwise produce leaves instead of flowers or cherries. This careful management ensures the health and productivity of their coffee trees, contributing to the overall sustainability and success of their farm. 

BioFabrica

Before we departed Valledupar, we made a final stop at the Anei Office. We came here to not only taste the coffee but learn more about their Organic Composting project. We met with Alecy Andrade, agronomy engineer and agroecologic coordinator. Alecy used to work at FNC but after getting to know Aurora, he joined her in 2000 to support her mission.  

Up until a little while ago, producers used materials from the farm to make their own organic compost. Often this may not be enough, so ANEI constructed their own site to give more compost to the producers. The main focus is on improving soil health by keeping as many microorganisms within the soil. Farmers at higher altitudes typically have more compost to share as they do not require as much.

They have one main plant where they produce the compost, share knowledge and innovate on new projects like how they can start producing rice. They receive students from universities who come to work and improve this project. They take the soil as samples from different villages and customise the fertiliser accordingly to make it appropriate for the area. They also have 3 satellite compost stations near the 3 collection centres.

This compost is only used on farms where there is less than 8% organic material in the soil. This means there should be 50kg of Nitrogen in the soil per hectare. Before providing the compost, they encourage producers to plant the Guamo tree, providing over 20 kilo of nitrogen per hectare for every 70 Guamo trees. If a particular ‘zone’ is deficient in potassium or phosphorous, they would procure this externally. Rather than taking samples from all 600 farms, they normally tackle this via ‘zones’ representing the soil health of a certain area.

Anei

Learn more

Café Granja La Esperanza

Finally, we travelled to close to Caicedonia, Valle del Cauca, to visit Café Granja La Esperanza. I’ve been a fan of CGLE and their coffees for a couple of years now and was thrilled to be visiting their farms and most of all the people behind these fantastic coffees. Despite our initial plans to visit La Esperanza and Cerro Azul being thwarted by flooding, our time was well spent visiting Potosi, Las Margaritas, and their state-of-the-art new facility. We met with Alejandra, Sales Manager for the US and EU, who showed us around and introduced us to the team. 

CGLE Team

They moved into a new facility in Caicedonia earlier this February, where their mill and office are under the same roof. They have approximately 13 full-time staff, 3 climate-controlled warehouses, a hand sorting facility with an additional 16 workstations for the women, a green analysis room, a quality lab, and a full-fledged roastery for their internal coffee brand, Enigma. More on that later.  

The hand sorting team is capable of processing 200kg of washed coffee or 120kg of natural coffee daily. Here, they pay their workers 29% over the minimum wage. Only high specialty coffee is processed at Caicedonia, with the rest being milled at Tulua and brought back for packing. Notably, 87% of CGLE’s total production is natural, with the remaining 13% being washed. The conversion factors for naturals are 150kg of parchment for 70kg of green coffee and 98kg of parchment for 70kg of green coffee for washed. Only the best of the best cherries are used!  

They have developed cutting-edge software over the past five years to ensure full traceability of every lot and bag of coffee. This system uses QR codes to track each lot from the plot on the farm to export, providing a comprehensive history of each bag of coffee. Next, we drove up in the back of the willy to Potosi and met with Roberto Carlos, Manager of Potosi and Las Margaritas. It was very misty and rainy which gave a lovely mysterious vibe to the farm. We saw the CGLE 17 varietal they developed. It was taken out of the nursery and planted in the year 2017. For round 2 of their trials, they have marked various trees with either a pink, orange or white ribbon depicting various attributes like fruitiness and floral flavours. This will take around 4-6 years before it’s ready to export.  

Then, we visited Las Margaritas, where they have a parrot that 100% matches the colours of the farm. There used to be a school on this farm, but in recent years, the government has passed a law preventing private companies cannot interfere or fund a public school meaning they have had to stop supporting it.  

Las Margaritas does the majority of the wet processing, where they have installed a large segmented silo in order to manage and control this. On Potosi, they primarily focus on naturals.

Las Margaritas houses a range of varieties like Sudan Rume, Geisha, Pacamara and Red, Yellow and Pink Bourbon. After a walk through the coffee trees, we reached the Field of Dreams. The plants themselves are connected to nature, which in turn connects its energy to the universe. By planting and tending to these plants, we tap into this energy. During our visit, we were asked to plant a coffee tree, reflect on our dreams and wishes, and connect with this energy. A sign marks the trees planted by previous visitors, including Jamie, MT, Phil, Henry and some of our customers too. It’s a reminder that the vast coffee industry thrives on small connections and lasting relationships.

CGLE’s commitment to social responsibility is evident in their partnership with a cooperative in Caqueta, a region affected by unrest and guerilla activity. This project aims to help the cooperative achieve autonomy and improve cup quality, eventually selling under the “Friends of CGLE” label. Despite the challenging environment, early samples have shown promising results.

ENIGMA

CGLE have their own roastery that they set up two years ago called Enigma where they roast on a probat. 98% of this is sold to the internal market. They sell three coffees and change the fourth on a monthly basis. These coffees score between 85 and 90, so definitely the crème de la crème from their harvest. These coffees are developed on a profile so the name stays the same, while the coffees may vary monthly.

Enigma CGLE

I have so much more to share, but I realise I have gone way over the word count. I am grateful to have met some incredible people, tasted some of the best coffee, and visited the full spectrum of Colombian coffee production. Thank you to everyone we met on this incredible journey!