Colectivo’s commitment to high-quality coffees and to the people who produce them never waned as we have continued to expand as a company. Rather, our relationships with growers in multiple origins have only deepened because we can source increasingly large volumes – often for different uses. A Featured Farm micro-lot or a Seasonal Special often is in the same shipment as a Session Coffee™ or a blend component. Telling the story of where these coffees come from is not simply a task or an assignment but rather is an honor that we take seriously. As I often like to say, coffee is not made by robots nor does it fall from the sky. It’s the life’s work of producers around the world who have dedicated themselves to continuously improving quality.
As a result of the Colombian Coffee Federation’s decades-long campaign centered around the iconic Juan Valdez brand, for many Americans Colombia is synonymous with coffee. For many years it was not a safe place to visit, though, due to the presence of drug cartels and the ongoing strife involving leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups, and government forces. Even amidst the chaos coffee continued to be produced and exported, and improvements in safety and security during the 2000s coincided with the specialty coffee industry’s increased interest in this origin. We started uncovering the diversity of cup profiles region by region and fell in love with the Colombian people, whose generous hospitality complemented the immense pride they take in their beautiful country and their eagerness to show it off to visitors. I felt this during my very first journey to Colombia in 2006 and experienced it once again, five trips later.
Our host was Pedro Echavarría, a native of Medellín (Colombia’s second-largest city after Bogotá and the capital of the Department of Antioquia) who returned to Colombia upon graduation from an East Coast liberal arts university and later took over management of his family’s farms, Finca Santa Barbara and Finca San Pascual. More recently Pedro started a specialty coffee exporting company and a high-end cafe, both called Pergamino. We first met Pedro through our importer partner Tim Castle and have hosted him twice in Milwaukee, but I wanted to see his farm in addition to visit some of the producers whose coffees Colectivo is sourcing through Pergamino. He has an office with a nice-sized cupping lab on the southern edge of the city and a relatively small but efficient dry mill operation just next door. Pedro and his business partner Leonardo Henao are now sourcing from multiple producing regions in Colombia and selling to importers and roasters around the world.
The first stop was Finca Cocondo located near the town of Titiribí (about 40 miles southwest of Medellín) and owned by Dr. Luis Emilio Velez, who took up coffee farming after a long career as a family practice physician. In a country where organic agriculture is not widespread, Luis Emilio has dedicated himself to sustainable production since the late 1990s and attained organic certification in 2005. Cocondo is comprised of 23.67 hectares, almost 15 of which are under production with yellow bourbon, colombia, castillo, moka, and tabi cultivars. As an organic producer Luis Emilio has implemented a number of unique farming techniques, including the fabrication and application of MMs (“micro-organismos de montaña”). MMs are solutions made with various ingredients ranging from cow manure to molasses to minerals that are used as non-chemical fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides, etc. The farm even has a bio-digester that captures methane from pig manure and uses it to generate electricity. Truly amazing. Colectivo will be serving Finca Cocondo as a Seasonal Special at all of our cafes the week of February 6th and then offering it in 1lb. bags through early May.
We continued on to Finca Santa Barbara, which is divided into different sections with their own names. In mid-January 2016 we featured a natural-processed coffee from the Agua Linda (Beautiful Water) parcel that was like an explosion of fruit in a cup without tasting fermented. On the day of our visit coffee cherries collected from the Loma Verde (Green Hill) parcel had been spread out on raised drying beds covered by plastic tarps, destined to be part of a natural-processed lot. As part of our “Colectivo at Origin” series, we made sure to conduct an on-camera interview with Pedro before sunset. Keep an eye out for the video to be added to our Web site!
As much as we were enjoying our stay in Antioquia, there was more work to be done. We took almost a full day to fly from Medellín via Bogotá to Neiva (the capital of the Department of Huila) and then drive for four hours into the eastern part of the Department of Cauca, finally reaching the small community of San Antonio in the municipality of Inzá at night. The group ASORCAFE (Asociación de Productores de Café del Oriente Caucano) participates in Pergamino’s Allied Producers program and delivers coffee for the Colombia Paso Fino brand under our Session Coffees™ line. Although the farms are small, family-run operations, they can go head-to-head with the larger estates on cup quality. Our hosts, Alfonso Pillimué and his wife María Rosa Odior, along with members of their extended family manage small plots on the steep hillsides surrounding San Antonio. Their friendly, smiling nephew, Sergio Pillimué, has three hectares planted with approximately 9,000 coffee trees, split evenly between the caturra (both yellow and red) and tabi cultivars. Although he purchased the land from his girlfriend’s father only three years ago, Sergio already is producing amazing coffee and the Familia Pillimué micro-lot that we’ll be offering as a Featured Farm selection the week of January 23rd is mostly from his farm. We had cupped the arrival sample of this micro-lot shortly before this trip, and the two dominant flavors (to me, at least) were pink grapefruit and chocolate fudge. ¡Muy delicioso!
After cupping multiple samples from individual producers, our visit to ASORCAFE ended up with a Christmas party hosted by Pergamino featuring an enormous stuffed and roasted pig that had to be carried in by several people. I had eaten roasted whole pig several times but never seen anything quite like this one. At least 60 to 70 people attended the party yet there was plenty of food left over, and somehow bottles of dark rum and aguardiente (the clear, anise-flavored national liqueur of Colombia) kept mysteriously appearing especially when the music started. Whoever was controlling the playlist certainly was trying to get as many people as possible to dance, and as I had fully expected we weren’t going to escape without first being dragged out on to the floor. We spun (and were spun) to the blaring beats of merengue and salsa, capping a short but packed trip that showed us a fairly wide spectrum of production in Colombia. We rode horses, chewed on stalks of freshly cut sugar cane, stumbled down steep hills, bounced along muddy and unpaved roads, tasted freshly harvested micro-lots, and spent time with the producers of our own coffees. And, guess what? They’re not robots.