In our new Origins series, we follow the team from Caravan Coffee Roasters as they travel the world sourcing the best coffee beans they can find. This stop, Colombia.
What is the history of Specialty Coffee in Colombia?
It would be unfair to say that Colombian coffee hasn’t always been special. It has multiple regions with the perfect climate for coffee production. Couple this with high altitudes, volcanic soil, natural water sources, hard work and determination, and special coffee is guaranteed.
Credit must be given to one of the major contributors to the rise of high quality Colombian coffee, the FNC (National federation of coffee growers of Colombia) It was one of the first national bodies established to protect farmers from the fickle coffee market. It does so through a network of 36 coffee cooperatives with 540 purchase points; the FNC guarantees Colombian coffee growers the full purchase of their harvest at a fair and transparent price that is based on current international prices.
The modern world of coffee in Colombia is still fairly similar; farmers either sell to the FNC, or work with one of the many independent exporters, such as Raw Material/Azahar Coffee Company, our exporting partners in Colombia. Their mission is to help farmers leave the commodity market to enter the specialty coffee market. This gives them access to a higher pricing structure, not determined by the commodities market price. This coupled with education and long term purchasing strategies has helped to create a sustainable future for many farmers.
How is the coffee processed and why?
Coffee in Colombia is categorically prepared as washed processed. The technique varies from region to region but generally consists of 12 to 36 hours of fermentation, usually underwater, although some farmers ferment without water. The fermentation process is crucial to the flavour development of coffee and if not controlled properly can cause sour, savoury profiles.
Developments are taking place in Colombia with other processing techniques; Raw Material started a project in 2013 called the ‘Quindío Honey Dozen’. It was an experiment, which involved 12 producers who were asked to create a small amount of coffee using the non-traditional semi-washed (Honey) technique. The successful lots were exported to New Zealand as one of the first non-washed coffee exports from Colombia. We're hoping to repeat this in 2016 with the aim of bringing in a small allocation to the UK.
Tell us about the farmers you work with.
We've been working in the region of Quindío for the past three years and have established a strong relationship with a group of young entrepreneurial producers.
Miguel Fajardo Mendoza and Gabriel Lopez (27-31) form a group called CoWork —they aim to foster specialty coffee education in the region, teaching neighbouring farmers about the finer details of coffee preparation. They both have well-established farms; Gabriel has created an extensive set up for the production of natural processed coffee. We've been providing assistance to Gabriel for the past two years on the project, giving feedback on samples to help him perfect the craft. Although both are extremely busy managing coffee farms, they manage to find the time to run a beer brewery called Continental, which is at Gabriel’s farm!
One of our favourite coffees comes from a producer in Huila called Carlos Mario Guamanga (31). He is from the famed coffee-producing town of Pitalito. His farm El Recuerdo has consistently produced amazing coffee, represented on the world stage by the New Zealand Barista Champion in 2015; it was also a cup of excellence winner in 2013. We are extremely excited about its arrival early next year.
When you’re not sourcing coffee, what’s your favourite thing to do in Colombia?
The hospitality industry in Bogota is absolutely booming. Check out our friends Juan Manuel and Alejandro at Salvo Patria for a modern take on Colombian cuisine paired with incredible service. For brunch, Abasto in the trendy neighborhood of Usaquen is a must. Another great spot is Julia’s; it’s a tiny restaurant just around the corner from Abasto, with a homely décor and great pizza!
When in Quindío, head to Salento to see original bahareque architecture typical to the region. Not far from Salento is the Cocora valley, a tranquil place ideal for walking trails and time spent relaxing in nature. For an 'authentic' Colombian experience head to the town square of Filandia, grab a beer with the locals at one of the many traditional bars, and then head to Helena Adentro for dinner.
No trip to Colombia would be complete without a pit stop In Cartagena. It’s warm weather; great beaches and compelling history make it the ideal place to kick back after endless hours of driving in the coffee regions.
Stay tuned for the third installment of Origins, out in January.