Visiting Huila, Colombia. August 2016 September 02 2016
We just returned from our annual sourcing trip to Colombia to meet with Azahar Coffee and visit producing partners. Azahar is a specialty coffee exporter from Colombia, working with dry mills and coops around the country to search out the very best microlots. We had a really successful relationship with Azahar last season, and we had high expectations this season as well. We cupped through 55 lots and decided to purchase the top scoring 14. Most of the coffees we picked this year are coming from the regions of Huila, Nariño and Valle de Cauca. The average coffee farm in Colombia is 5 hectares (10 acres). Given the size, we often end up purchasing the entire harvest from a farm.
After cupping in Armenia, we flew down to Neiva, where we planned to travel through the region of Huila for a few days, visiting some of the farms we are buying from this year.
Luz Dary Polo Piaz, mother of 3, has been working in coffee for 13 years, first on her ex husband farm, now her own. She bought Finca Esperanza one year ago, a 2 hectare coffee farm. She built a new raised, covered drying bed and a new upper soaking tank. She built and cultivated this farm to produce specialty grade coffee. She did soil testing and fertilized specifically for its needs. She also picked more carefully, harvesting only ripe cherries. Finca Esperanza is a success story. A single mom deciding to take a chance and invest in a small coffee farm to make a future for herself and her kids. We paid her 61% more for her coffee than she would have gotten selling it to the local mill for commodity. If she can keep producing coffee of this quality, the price will go up from there. Her coffee tasted like panella, berries and white pepper.
Buena Vista, in the Santa Maria municipality, is the most beautiful farm location I’ve ever been to. Justo Pastor Sepulveda owns the farm, managing it with the youngest two of his 8 children, Marko and Juan David. The farm is at 2100 meters above sea level,15 hectares in size, growing 6 hectares coffee, as well as Granadilla (sweet passion fruit), frijoles (beans), and aguacate (avocados). They live off the profits of coffee. This is their first year selling to Azahar, not because their coffee hasn't always been this good but because they didn’t know people paid for quality like this.
We took a partially washed out mountain road to the farm, 1hr above the town of Santa Maria, which itself is difficult to get to from our home base in Neiva.
Justo has owned the farm 25 years, but planted coffee only 10 years ago. They used to grow Frijol only. The farm is so steep, all the coffee is planted a dangerous grade. So they built a depulper in the middle of the the crop, and then ship the depulped coffee across the mountain in a Garrucha, or suspended cart, which I rode in and thought I might die. Following the Garrucha, they do a 24hr fermentation in the tanks, given the higher elevation, and dry it for 5-8 days on raised, covered beds. Their coffee tastes like melon, stone fruit, grape juice and raspberries.
I have seen so many high elevation coffee farms in the mountains, and it seems so few sell to specialty. I have heard several people say this is their first time or they didn't know people would pay them differently for it. They were just trying out specialty, as one farmer said, or their coop recommended the coffee to Azahar. Most farms just harvest and dry their coffee and sell it to the local mill for commodity pricing. The idea that roasters like us will pay a high premium for their crop is still a new idea to a lot of the farmers, and they are as excited as we are. What Azahar and we are hoping to see is that they can keep up the consistency from year to year. Every farm processes and dries their own coffee, so there is plenty of room for error. But there is education available on the ground level, and now they know that we are willing to pay for it, I hope we will continue to see more and more excellent coffee coming from Colombia.
The end of one green season, the beginning of another. November 06 2015
October and November can feel like a lull in coffee. The excitement of the summer months has receded, and we begin ramping up for the winter holiday season. We also find ourselves finishing up the Central American harvest’s green coffee supply, and eagerly awaiting the South American green that is on the water as we speak.
We have made it one of our top priorities at Kuma to focus on bringing in the freshest seasonal coffees we can. The time from when coffee cherries are harvested, processed (depulped, fermented, dried, rested and stripped of parchment) and shipped, to the time we roast them is of vital importance to quality. Once green coffee is taken out of its parchment, it begins the very slow decline in moisture levels. When coffees are processed correctly, they last the longest. If only this were always the case. Slight miscalculations or errors in processing green coffee can be detrimental to the flavor and shelf life of green coffee quality. Every roaster has encountered this, either in their own stock or in samples they receive from importers. Importers are often the ones that assume this risk, but those that buy direct run the risk of coffees showing up in the US in much poorer shape than when they were purchased at origin. As we learn from our experiences, we take steps to mitigate those risks.
We brought in 10 individual lots from farms in Guatemala this past February. We also purchased a water activity meter, which is a tool that helps us know the movement of moisture in green coffee at any given time. It is only one piece of the puzzle, but over the course of weeks and months, it gives us some idea of how quickly a coffee is holding up. Of the 10 lots we brought in, one had exceedingly high water activity readings from the start and continuously. As we roasted samples of it from month to month, the cup quality degraded to the point we didn’t feel we could release it as one of our offerings. To add insult to the loss, it was one of the highest scoring lots when we cupped it at origin.
When Mark went to Colombia this past July to purchase coffee direct for the first time, he made sure to try and collect more water data on each lot he was purchasing, in hopes of avoiding such future losses. Green buying is one of the most disciplined and difficult parts of the coffee roasting business, but the rewards make it so worth it. Our Colombian container should be arriving within the month, and we eagerly await the awesomeness it holds. In the meantime we bought in a few superstar Colo lots from our friends at Red Fox Coffee Merchants, which will be releasing starting today. We love being able to share our coffee with you, thanks for being a part of it!