They’ve arrived!! Colombian originals

Last October I had the chance to return to Colombia to do a tour of coffee farms that could become potential suppliers, and to visit farms that are already suppliers that I had previously visited. Two of the coffees from that visit have now arrived in Canada and are available for people to enjoy. Both of the coffees are from previously visited farms who are already suppliers to Single Origin Coffee who I purchase from in Calgary.

The first arrival is a Rainforest Alliance Santander that I have carried for a number of years. Two years ago on my first visit, I had a chance to meet the Wandurraga’s, a family of siblings that are running a large farming operation in Colombia. Santander is a prominent department (think province) in Colombia and the Wandurraga’s are producing an exceptional coffee. One of the connections for me personally was the twin girls who we met as I am also a dad of twin girls. On my first trip,the  girls were getting ready to graduate and were making plans to attend university.  Direct purchasing from the farm provides a better price for the coffee, which allowed the family to send the girls away to school. The quality of the coffee is exceptional as well, and it as become one of my favorites on my list. Single Origin Coffee purchases the entire crop, which was 325 bags this harvest year.

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The second coffee is also from a farm that I visited on my previous trip. Los Mandarinos is another family farm that produces very high quality micro lots of coffee. Luis Alfonso Rangel and his family take special pride in the coffees they produce. This coffee, Don Alfonso’s Passion, is a special micro lot. This coffee is selected as the best of the harvest from the farm. It is meticulously picked and processed to produce an exceptional cup. Only 21 bags of this wonderful coffee are available, and to a select group of roasters through Single Origin Coffee. I’m thrilled to be able to offer this wonderful micro lot coffee to my customers.

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Last day in Bogota

Our last day would be spent touring around Bogota to see some sights, as well as some shopping before heading home. Our main stop was at the Colombia Gold Museum where we had a chance to learn more about the history of Colombia, as well as how gold has shaped their history. As we were leaving, we noticed that this lady was selling, well, what’s considered a delicacy in Colombia. We weren’t too eager to try them out, so the picture will have to do.

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After some shopping, we then went to a local restaurant for our last meal in Colombia. It was a 5 story building, with the restaurant and bar taking up all 5 floors. We were treated to some fantastic beef and rib dishes, and also got to pre-celebrate a birthday with one of the ladies on the trip. It was a fun way to spend our last night in Bogota. We were then off to the airport for our midnight departure home.

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Bucharamanga

Our next morning saw us departing early for a return trip to Bucharamanga and a visit to the FNC office there. We would be doing one final cupping at their main cupping room, which again, is usually limited to their staff only. Having some connections definitely helps open doors. We also had made arrangements to meet Monica and Veronica, the Wanderugga twins I had met on my previous visit. Both girls are attending University to pursue different degrees, which will be a first for the family. Part of the reason they can attend University is the commitment that Single Origin Coffee has made to the family to purchase the entire lot of their coffee each year. Direct purchasing like this makes much more economic sense to both the buyer and the farmer, but more so to the farmer, as they are being paid more for their top quality coffees. Of course it was also an opportunity for one of my kids to meet these two young ladies.

 

Cupping coffees here is always a treat. We get to meet many of the top cuppers in the FNC who are responsible for grading each coffee that comes through. While there, we also met a group of young coffee farmers who were attending “Coffee Boot Camp” being put on by the FNC.  They were being shown the in’s and out’s of coffee farming, and happened to be in the office the day we were there. This group of young farmers is the future of coffee in Colombia so it was great to be able to talk with them a little.

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At the far left of this picture is Jorge, our FNC Yellow Shirt guide. He travels with us to almost every farm,  and is a valuable resource to have with us.

We said goodbye to our FNC and family friends here, and traveled to the airport to fly back to Bogota for our last couple of days. We went out for a very special dinner with Carlos and some of his old friends who still live in Colombia before returning to our hotel for the night. Our final day would be spend sightseeing Bogota before departing on the red eye for home.

Los Mandarinos

One of our last farm visits was to another farm I had the privilege of seeing on my first trip to Colombia. Los Mandarinos. Yes, the name actually refers to oranges, which they also grow in large volumes. And they are delicious. More importantly, they produce fantastic coffee in micro lots that people can enjoy. Their signature Los Mandarinos is the bulk of the coffee that comes from the farm. However, this year, I was able to get my hands on a small batch called Don Alfonso’s Passion. This is a meticulously picked and sorted coffee available in very small lots only. It is a wonderful rich coffee that is the result of the detailed process of picking and processing. Once again, we were treated to a wonderful meal, and then had a chance to tour the farm and see the coffee plants and mandarino trees starting to produce oranges.

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There was also a lot of coffee out on the patio drying, which of course requires regular raking to help it dry quickly and evenly. A little free help never goes unappreciated.

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While walking among the coffee trees, we came upon this giant, which is pretty unusual to see. It was still producing well, so they have decided to let it continue to grow. It is at least 5 feet taller than I am.

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Another great visit with friends in Colombia. From the farm, we headed to a little tourist town called Barichara to walk around and take in the sights and scenery. It’s located on the top of a mountain range, so the views were quite spectacular. We headed back to our hotel for supper as we had another busy day planned to start early in the morning.

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Finca Santa Cecilia

One of the farm visits I was most excited about was a return visit to Finca Santa Cecilia, a farm run by a family with one sister and 3 brothers each operating their own farms, but all working together to produce fantastic coffee. This is also the farm where I first met two young ladies who were close to my own daughters age and were also twins. There was an instant connection with the family, and I’m happy to say it continued during our visit. We arrived early morning, so of course, breakfast was the first order of the day.

It was an amazing way to start the day. We then toured the farm and were astounded at the volume of coffee hanging on the trees. The branches were loaded.

The farm is quite diversified as well. They have chickens for eggs and eating, plantains, bananas, yucca, and a few avocado trees. They also grow another plant that is used for making the jute bags that coffee is shipped in. The leaves are cut off the plant, then shredded and dried to prepare them.

This clip give you an idea of the process. Not many work safe policies in place, but no one lost any digits while we were there.

The coffee from Finca Santa Cecilia makes up 70% of the Colombia Rainforest Alliance Santander that I always carry. The other 30% comes from another farm just down the road run by the Rosso family. Here again we met the family who owns the farm and manages the harvest. And of course, we had some amazing fruit as well. Here in Canada, what we call dragon fruit is nothing at all like Colombian dragon fruit. The Colombian version may be my favorite fruit of all time. Incredibly sweet and juicy.

After visiting the farm, we made a quick stop at a coffee warehouse that was preparing for the harvest season to begin. The warehouse would see 5 million kilos of coffee come through during the year. Each coffee is cupped and graded before being prepared for milling and shipping. 20181010_175543

 

Finca Brazil

Our second farm visit took us up into the mountains on a typical Colombian mountain road (in some places more of a trail.) After a 30 minute climb, we arrived at Finca Brazil, a farm with 2 hectares of coffee planted on the farm. Fabio and his family have done a fantastic job creating a thriving coffee farm. And this is their retirement project. We were able to walk through the trees and could see that the branches were loaded with cherries. As we toured the other facilities, it was obvious that Fabio was working closely with the FNC as a number of advances to conserve and filter the water from the processing were being implemented.

 

 

We then cupped one of their coffee’s that were roasted differently. The lady who does their roasting was there and was able to tell us about the coffee and help work through the process. And then of course, lunch. Another fantastic traditional lunch, with soup, the main course, and fresh fruit for desert. We then departed for San Gil where we would be staying for 3 nights as we visited other farms.

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The views were pretty good from the farm as well.

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Return to Finca El Silencio

Our 4th day saw us returning to the farm to finish what we had started. Our coffee beans had been moved into the second tank for their final washings, after which they were loaded into baskets to be taken to the drying beds to dry.

I was able to be part of the process as the beans need to be moved around the tank to help break down the mucilage that is still stuck to them, and to help remove any beans that aren’t ripe. In the picture above, everything floating on the surface will be skimmed off and sold as a lower grade coffee locally. Below the surface are the beans ready to be drained and washed again before being put out to dry. We then carried the washed coffees over to the drying beds where they will be left for the next 3 days to dry before being packaged to be taken to the mill to have the parchment removed, the beans graded and prepared for export. It was a great experience to be able to see the entire process.

Laura took us on a late morning hike up one of the hills that they grow their coffee on. We enjoyed a small picnic with local fruit, guava chips, and a tutti frutti type drink with juice and fresh fruit cut up in it. Very refreshing. It was a fantastic way to end our time at the farm.

We then returned to our house for another fantastic local meal, and then had the afternoon to relax before we hit the road tomorrow for 5 days of travel and farm visits. It will be a busy 5 days, so the down time was very welcome.

Cenicafe – Science and coffee

One of the most exciting parts of our trip was a visit to Cenicafe, the FNC or Colombia Coffee Federation’s Research and Development Division. For me, it was an opportunity to see first hand the work being done in Colombia to help the farmers improve in 3 key areas on their farms: productivity, reducing the cost of production, and increasing prices to help the farmers increase their profits. Cenicafe is the scientific hub, and certainly a world leader in coffee science and development.

 

One of the most amazing parts of Cenicafe is how they seem to be ahead of the curve in planning for what’s to come. Roya, or coffee leaf rust, has been devastating crops throughout Central and South America. Years ago, Cenicafe started creating new strains of rust resistant coffees in preparation for this. Today, the coffee industry is thriving in Colombia due to these resistant strains, while many other countries are struggling to keep farms alive. And like many diseases, Roya is constantly mutating to try to affect coffee plants. Cenicafe has been able to stay ahead of these mutations with their ongoing research. It was an amazing morning to see how Cenicafe is benefiting and helping Colombia coffee farmers succeed.

We then traveled to a coffee mill that Single Origin Coffee uses in the final steps of preparation for coffee to be shipped. Once the coffee has been dried at the farms, it is called parchment. This is the last layer of protection around the beans. It’s a dry covering, much like wheat chaff. The mill removes this final layer, grades and sizes the beans, and prepares them for export. This mill works with Single Origin as part of the chain of custody to ensure all the coffees that have their logo on the bag are actually from where it says. The advantage to using this mill is that they will prepare small microlots to be shipped and guarantee no cross mixing with other coffees. The last picture is an example of how this process works and what the final product looks like before it is shipped to Canada for sale to roasters.

It was a great day with lots of travel. We finished it off with a delicious meal at Mama’s house. It was a fantastic dinner to celebrate Thanksgiving for those of us from Canada. I think the pictures of the food tell the story pretty well.

Finca El Silencio

Our morning started with a fantastic breakfast at Hotel Zandu. Arepa with fresh cheese (queso) and hot chocolate (chocolatte) We were then picked up in a 1954 Jeep to travel out to the farm. I knew it was going to be a great day when I saw the Jeep.

We met Laura at the hotel. She is the owner of the farm with her husband Cesar. I was encouraged by the fact that Laura is quite young for a coffee farm owner, so hopefully the farm stays in her family for a long time.

After arriving, we were treated to a coffee, orange, mint and cardamon drink for refreshment, then we had a tour of the farm and area. We were able to cup 4 coffees that Laura is working on at the farm to market, and they were all very good. It was then time for lunch. A very traditional Colombian meal for us, and it was delicious.

The farm itself does not rely solely on coffee. Laura is a very forward thinking owner (who also speaks English) and has expanded what they do to include guava, bananas and plantain that are made into delicious chips, and guadua, which is a larger variety of bamboo useful in construction jobs. Many of the buildings used this guadua as support for the roofing surfaces.

We then had a chance to go and pick coffee cherries and have a little fun competition to see who could pick the most. After picking for almost an hour, I can honestly say that is one job I wouldn’t be very good at. First you are working on sloped fields, which makes it difficult to navigate and work. Add to that the large amount of rain they had received and it was very slippery. Second, being so tall I’m not really made out for that kind of work. But I do have a much greater appreciation for the work that the pickers do. You have to be very selective when you pick so that you only choose the ripe red cherries. And then you also have to carry your pickings down to the weigh station, as that’s how you get paid, by the kilo of cherries you pick. We then depulped our pickings so they could be washed and left to dry overnight.

Of course, the competitive side of me kicked in and I was able to squeek out a victory by less than a kilo over my closest competition Kia.

We then returned to the house we were staying at to unwind and get ready for the evening. More local food and music. A trio of gentlemen arrived to sing to us for about an hour, while we visited and ate meatballs, some different breads, and a variety of arepa’s. It was a perfect end to the day. Tomorrow, we return to Finca El Silencio to move our picked cherries from the wash station to the drying beds. Another first time experience for me.

Bogota Experience

Day 2 of our trip saw us spending it in Bogota. We began with breakfast at the Marriot Hotel as guests of two men who are part of the FNC, or Colombia Coffee Federation. The FNC works hard in Colombia to help the coffee growers succeed, both financially, as well as in their overall operations. They provide a number of services to the coffee growers through their “yellow shirts” who you’ll hear about in later days. Enrique and Henry are both friends of Carlos (who we traveled with) and are men I met on my previous trip. Breakfast had many items including a variety of breads as well as all the fresh fruit you could imagine.

From breakfast we were then taken to the FNC (Colombia Coffee Federation) building for a tour. Not many people get to tour the building and see what goes on in the various departments, so it was a privilege to be there and see the work being done. We were also taken to their sample testing area to learn about what is involved in the detailed process of exporting Colombian coffee. From there we made a quick stop at the gift shop before returning to our hotel to check out and head to the coffee Expo.

After checking out of the hotel, we took a 30 minute ride to the Colombia Coffee Expo. The Expo is similar to a local Home and Garden show, only it involves coffee. Wholesalers, retailers, and anyone else involved in coffee has a booth there trying to sell you something, as well as a barista competition.  Because I don’t speak Spanish, it’s pretty tough to sell me anything, so it’s more of an opportunity to walk around and see what’s happening in the coffee world. We spent about 3 hours there before heading to the airport to fly to Pareida for the next leg of our adventure.

After landing in Pareida, we called it an early night. We checked into the Hotel Zandu. A quaint little place in downtown Pareida. Wonderful old furniture everywhere. If you’ve seen the movie Romancing the Stone, this could be the hotel in that movie. We were all exhausted and looking forward to a good nights sleep.

Tomorrow, off to our first farm visit.