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Notes from Origin: Colombia, September 2019

People should enjoy coffee with friends. 

At Workshop, we always take a moment together to appreciate coffee grown halfway around the world by the producers we work with; made all the more delicious if shared, we suggest you do the same. 

But what if some friends are also the ones who introduce you to those incredible coffees you purchase? It's harder to maintain relationships when 5,000 miles and the Atlantic Ocean lie between people, but when you do finally meet again, it's even better.

Salomé Puentes chats to Fabio Artunduaga, a producer from Pitalito.Salomé Puentes chats to producer, Fabio Artunduaga - Pitalito, Huila.

Origin travel sounds like the dream to most and in many ways it is. Visiting the tropics, meeting producers, tasting and selecting delicious coffees, it can be pretty idyllic. However, the life of a coffee buyer is not perfect. On the bumpiest of roads for hours at a time, with anti-social start times resulting in supremely long days and the ever-present risk of stomach problems, all pale into insignificance compared to the loneliness experienced in remote hotel rooms and on long journeys. Being away from home and those you love hurts the most, so when those with you become more than just business associates, it dispels many moments you could feel alone.

Iliana Delgado Chegwin and Jairo Muñoz, Azahar CoffeeIliana Delgado Chegwin and Jairo Muñoz from Azahar Coffee - Yacuanquer, Nariño.

My relationship with the country of Colombia has been precisely that. Salomé Puentes from Caravela and Iliana Delgado Chegwin from Azahar started as guides and translators as I travelled Colombia looking for delicious coffees. Now I call them friends and each visit sees those bonds reinforced; moments of loneliness dispelled, long car rides become a time to talk, play new music and hang out.

To the job in hand then. Coffee.

Starting this trip in Pitalito, Huila with Caravela and Salomé provides a chance to meet producers who supply coffee to the Naranjos Espresso we released in June last year. The first stop is José Hernando Dorado and his niece, Marcela, whose farm straddles the main road to San Agustín, 1°51'25.3"N 76°13'49.0"W.

José Hernando Dorado and Marcela - San Agustín, Huila.

Growing Caturra and Colombia, alongside oranges (Naranjos), cacao, avocado and plantain, José manages the family farm and is currently teaching Marcela the ways of farm management and processing. Utilising washing channels to help remove the less dense beans, they ferment for around 24hr before transferring to the drying facilities José plans to rebuild in the coming months.

As with every farm visit, coffee is served. In most cases, the producer's own coffee, over-roasted and served already containing sugar, I struggle it down. Not here. Marcela, using a cloth filter, brews the best farm coffee I've ever experienced. Roasted by José in San Agustín on a hired roaster, I instantly message back to London with news of delicious farm coffee, before asking for a second cup and more details. 

Lidier and Nery - Finca El Mirador, Pitalito, Huila.

Pitalito, 1°51'02.2"N 76°02'50.7"W, the largest town in Southern Huila, has a population of around 135,000, so there's plenty of places to eat and drink in the evenings. Some good, some not so good, you'll never go hungry and there's always a cold Club Colombia available. Coupled with Stop 44, the bar opposite the Gran Premium Plaza Hotel where I rest my head, there's plenty to do in the evenings after a long day visiting producers.

The handover to Azahar and Iliana takes place in Pitalito, but we don't dwell in Huila. Heading back to Bogota and a quick stay in an airport hotel (depressing and expensive in equal measures), the next day wakes at 04:00 with a flight to Pasto, the capital city of the Nariño department.

An airport runway situated on top of an Andean mountain, flights regularly get turned around and sent back to Bogota. Even when but 10 minutes from landing, the elements can change in an instant as clouds roll in from the Pacific.

The weather holds. So begins Workshop's first visit to Nariño.

We've bought Nariño coffees before, from producers Nectario Pascuaza and Eiver Gomez Melo. Both were outstanding and offered vastly different profiles from coffees we buy from Huila and Tolima. This is a different world to those regions. This is the Andes proper and the impetus for our visit.

Located at 2897m, Pasto, like Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, sees you descend to get to the coffee. Dominating the western skyline sits Galeras, a 4,276m stratovolcano, and currently the most active volcano in all of Colombia. Surrounding Galeras, a relatively new ring road circles the entirety; like a smaller, quieter M25, the distinct risk of eruption at its centre.

As the trip is relatively short, we don't stray far from Galeras, instead visiting a handful of communities that lie just off the ring road. Finca San Javier, owned by Javier de la Rosa, situated at 1° 05'14.9 "N 77° 25'35.3" W, falls under the locality of Yacuanquer.

Jorge Hernando Morales Daza, farm manager at Finca San Javier - Yacuanquer, Nariño.

Here the ground is fertile but incredibly rocky. I'm in no doubt that growing coffee can be laborious work, but I witness the most back-breaking of all at Finca San Javier. Three workers charged with removing a whole field of coffee trees. Having stripped the trees of leaves and branches, they now start to excavate the resulting bare trunks and remove what they can of the root systems.

Pick-axes and shovels wielded in 33° heat, the striking of volcanic rocks strewn throughout the soil, ring out. Enquiring how long to clear the last of the trees? Two weeks the answer.

Visiting Nariño, I was adamant about experiencing the local dish - Cuy (Guinea Pig). Colombians are under no illusions they are cute, with many soft toy cuys in shops, but that doesn't stop them featuring on the menu. CuyQuer is the place to visit in Pasto, the main dish a whole Guinea Pig, roasted and quartered. Photos sent home of the meal are greeted by a multitude of emotions from friends and family; from outright anger and disgust to somewhat jealousy and many queries as to how it tasted. It really was quite delicious. Would eat again.

Having just approved recent samples from both Caravela and Azahar, we look forward to the arrival of 4,200kg and 3,500kg of coffee from San Agustín and Yacuanquer respectively. Look out for them in the coming months, these will both be roasted for espresso and delicious additions to our range.

April 01, 2015

Colombia › Fresh Crops ›


Fresh Crops: Four from Colombia

Regardless of the earlier glories of a particular coffee, if the green coffee itself is past-crop, so from a previous harvest and generally a year or so off the tree, nothing will make that coffee taste great again. Once a coffee has begun to age, both the farmer’s work in cultivation and processing and the skill of the roaster become meaningless as there is simply no way to get the quality back. It may surprise some, but every now and then we remove coffees from our range, not because they have sold out but because they have gone past their best.

Coffee grows throughout the Tropics, but the climates differ greatly between countries, regions and even micro-regions. This means that while farmers in Kenya are harvesting their coffees, Brazilian coffees are already on ships going to coffee roasters around the world. Over the winter months it happens that the freshest, sweetest and cleanest coffees landing in the UK are all, in our opinion, coming from one particular country: Colombia.

 

 

Having an exclusively Colombian range of coffees might be unthinkable for other roasters, but for all the reasons mentioned, it is exactly what we have decided to do. As well as being from the same country, each of the four Colombian coffees we currently have available were produced within 150km of each other, yet all are markedly different and brilliant in their own way.

Our first fresh crop Colombian release, from the November/December harvest of 2014, came from La Tribuna. This 10 hectare farm owned and managed by Jairo Torres is a great example of how even good farms in Colombia are producing a variety of quality levels, with the best being portioned off to sell at higher prices. We originally picked La Tribuna to be a filter coffee, but decided at the last moment to bring it out as an espresso instead. This was definitely the right decision as this espresso shows just how clean and balanced Colombian coffees can be, with the natural sweetness present in this coffee particularly astounding!

 

 

Both La Soledad from Plinio Lopez and Santa Rosa from Alicia Joven come through a programme that engages directly with farmers who may be producing high quality coffee, but have not previously had access to the premiums that this market brings. Together with our import partners and a farmers’ co-operative in Huila, we were able to have these coffees separated out rather than put into the anonymous bulk blends they otherwise would have been party to. We hold great hopes that this programme and others like it will encourage farmers to see the rewards available for those who are willing to invest additional resources and energy into producing quality coffee. 

 

 

The final release in this block of Colombian coffees is El Diamante, out now as our Cult of Done espresso, and it’s another remarkable coffee, not just for its quality but also for the fact it's comprised entirely of the Yellow Bourbon varietal. The other coffees in our range are from the Caturra and, to a lesser degree, Castillo varietals, both of which are very popular among farms in Colombia and other areas of South America. In contrast with these more common varietals, Yellow Bourbon has lower yields and is generally less resistant to the fungal infection Roya or ‘leaf rust’ and other coffee plant diseases. As Roya has particularly decimated farms over the past few years in the country, for the farmer Oscar Agudelo Hoyos to go with a low yield, low disease resistance varietal may strike some as folly; results such as these prove it can be done in the right hands.

Don’t get too comfortable wrapped up in Colombian coffee though, as fresh crops are on their way to us right now. Kenyan, Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Costa Rican and El Salvadorian coffees are either on the water, or awaiting export in their respective countries. Some may even be landed in the UK already. You’ll just have to wait and see what appears first, but trust us when we say it’s going to be a glorious spring and summer of coffee at Workshop.

All photos taken during our November 2013 trip to Colombia. 

April 17, 2014

Colombia › Sourcing ›


Sourcing: Huila, Colombia

I still haven’t made it South of the Equator in my life but I got pretty close this time. A trip to the Huila region of Colombia for two weeks, organised by Café Imports and Fairfield Trading in November 2013, meant that I got within a few hours drive but never broke through. I did however experience a tiny part of a huge country that saw the group I travelled with welcomed openly into farmers’ houses, offered produce straight from the allotment and witness a fraction of the immense amount of work that goes into the cultivation of the coffees we buy.

Workers return from the fields of Omar Cardenas, Finca La Esperanza, Acevedo

Based at San Agustín, a small town at the southern point of Huila, the goal each day was to cup coffees from different groups in the region at the newly built Los Naranjos group cupping lab in the town centre, before visiting farms of coffees that scored highly. With cuppings set up and cleaned down by a pretty slick team of young locals led by Eduardo Sanchez, and all just starting their careers in coffee, we had but one task: cup. Over the course of four mornings more than 50 coffees from the groups of Gigante, Primaveral, Coocentral, Nariño, Palestina, Pitalito and Los Naranjos were assessed and happily each table offered up a few stand-outs that I could really focus on.

 Eduardo (in red) and the local cupping team

The first table of the first day threw up a clear winner; a Caturra lot stood above the rest in terms of clarity, sweetness and aroma. Produced by the current president of the Los Naranjos group, it just so happened to be the first farm we visited too; Asturias, owned by Miguel Augusto Ortega, a modest 4 hectare farm just outside of San Agustín. At an altitude of 1650 masl and planted with well established yellow and red Caturra alongside the more disease resistant, newer strain of Castillo, Miguel keeps his two varietals separate at all times through production and processing. Fertilising twice a year, he uses no insecticides to minimise dependancy on chemicals, however, as with all the farms we visited, Roya is present and has to be contained using fungicides when necessary. His farm was impeccable in its presentation with all trees showing healthy and abundant growth in the first few weeks of main harvest, and more importantly the cherries picked showed uniformity in ripeness before pulping. As soon as I could get a quiet word with the guys at Café Imports I expressed my interest and we are now pleased to be able to offer Finca Asturias as our next Single Origin espresso release.

 

Miguel Augusto Ortega, President of Asociacion Los Naranjos 

Ripening Red Caturra

Fully ripe Yellow Caturra 

Feeding red and yellow Caturra down through a disc pulper at Finca Asturias

Unfortunately not every farm visited showed the same consistency of ripeness in cherries pre-pulping. Even though each farm washed and skimmed the floaters once pulped, the quality of the finished product at some of the farms will inevitably be debatable due to the amounts of under and overripes that make it through. From a roaster's perspective, no doubt each batch roasted would require a fair amount of hand sorting in the cooling tray to remove these defects.

A mix of ripe red and yellow Caturra with green unripes and black over-ripes

The step of pre-pulping sorting is not the norm across Colombia but one farm is leading the way whose coffee Workshop know well, Finca Tamana. As the rest of the group returned to their respective countries after a week full of cuppings and farm visits with Café Imports, I was lucky enough for Alejandro Renifo of Fairfield Trading to arrange for me to spend two nights at Tamana, his son Sascha acting as interpreter. I already had the pleasure of meeting Elias Roa, Tamana's owner, earlier in the week when we'd stopped in at his other farm in Acevedo but now I was to be a guest under his roof and shown the workings and practices that make Tamana an example for others when it comes to specialty coffee production in Colombia.

Elias cleaning pre-pulp sorting tables

Skimming floaters

Pre-pulping hand sorting

Working closely with Tim Wendelboe of Nordic Approach, Elias has embraced a number of additional steps and controls  required to increase the overall quality of the final cup. Hand sorting, a zinc-lined cherry hopper that is kept spotless, a washing process that makes ample use of the natural spring found on the farm and more besides; all contribute to coffee that has superior cleanliness and clarity of flavour. Paying his workers 50% more than other farms in the area to ensure that the extra steps are duly followed, and as a man with long-term vision and a desire to produce the best coffee he possibly can, Elias is now seeing the results after just a few years hard work. The innovation doesn't stop either. With Wendelboe visiting regularly, further improvements and procedures are being introduced and experiments carried out in areas such as drying, all with the same objective of attaining a higher level of green quality and longevity.

Colombia is somewhat different to most producing countries due to it's production being split into two harvests over the course of the year; the main harvest and the mitaca, a smaller harvest that produces about a third of the main crop. Fairfield Trading explains it as follows:

Colombia has an unique advantage in terms of offering fresh coffee all year around because it has two distinct alternating harvesting seasons. Regions, located to the north, have their main primary harvest during the second semester, and a smaller secondary mitaca harvest during the first semester. The reverse occurs in the regions towards the south

Factors like altitude, luminosity, soil and unique micro-climate patterns cause exceptions to this rule. In these areas the harvest cycle tends to be evenly distributed during the year, or a single short harvest.

Due to the factors mentioned above, farms separated by as little as 100km can be in different harvests, so whilst the region around San Agustín was in full harvest, Tamana, 200km to the north but still in Huila, was in mitaca. Elias only had his core picking team of eight tasked with clearing the mitaca harvest, working the farm in separate lots to a set schedule each day, yet it is not only picking duties this team perform. All are coached in spotting the early signs of roya and combatting Broca so walking through the farm it was obvious the trees remain in great condition regardless of the problems that can befall coffee, a combination of training and teamwork being the most effective weapon.

 

A few isolated spots of roya, a sign of excellent farm management at Tamana

Elias and Tim are rightly very proud of what they have achieved in the space of a few years at Tamana, so much so that Finca Tamana by Tim Wendelboe has just been released, a beautiful photographic documentation featuring insight into the farming practices that make Tamana the coffee we know and love. Workshop are under no impression that the work is finished at Tamana, however we are glad that we have helped through our purchase of the coffee and look forward to tasting new crops to come and further visits to see Elias and his team at the farm. What we do have is a greater understanding of the amount of effort and dedication that goes into producing coffee both at Tamana and also the work of other farmers around the region of Huila, Colombia. And boy was this little guy awesome.

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