Huila

Colombia Origin Trip Update

The “best flavor profile” is, obviously, highly subjective. Mine changes by the hour. I often look for something smooth and chocolatey in the mornings. In the afternoon, give me something lively and exciting.

Whatever your profile, it’s likely you can find it in Colombia.

The CCS team has been all over Colombia in the last few months. On this trip we visited Nariño, Huila and Tolima as guests of our export partners, Fairfield Trading. I split this trip with Colleen, and met the team in Acevedo. We immediately packed ourselves into one of FFT’s safari-style off-road vehicles and set off for the first farm visit.

Finca Los Angeles

We soon arrived at Finca Los Angeles, home of the much-lauded Maria Bercelia Martinez. We spent time touring the farm and discussing the many upgrades and additions she has implemented since our last visit. Success, of course, does not come without hard work and innovation, and Maria is a leader in both. In addition to refining the infrastructure (drying beds, fermentation tanks, and her super-impressive custom patio), Maria is experimenting with new varietals and processing methods.

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San Agustin

From Finca Los Angeles, we made our way west to San Augustin. Fairfield Trading, one of our partners in Colombia, recently purchased and renovated a storefront to become a new purchasing point. This will act as a satellite location for buying coffee, sample roasting and other quality assurance measures, and general business practices. When I say recently, I mean the last coat of paint was drying the night before we arrived! To be among the first to see the beautiful new facility was a spectacular honor. You could see how proud the FFT team was of what they accomplished, and they were so very excited to share it with us. Like their coffee, their hard work on the facility was evident, and they should be proud of the result. Best of luck, Alejandro, Sascha, Ana Beatriz, Eduardo and the rest of the team!

Welcome, clients and producers! The inauguration of the Fairfield Trading purchasing point, San Agustin, Huila, Colombia. From left to right, Stephanie and Dillon from Parlor Coffee, Alejandro of Fairfield Trading, Robert William Thoresen of CCS, and producer Maria Bercelia Martinez.

Welcome, clients and producers! The inauguration of the Fairfield Trading purchasing point, San Agustin, Huila, Colombia. From left to right, Stephanie and Dillon from Parlor Coffee, Alejandro of Fairfield Trading, Robert William Thoresen of CCS, and producer Maria Bercelia Martinez.

Bring on the coffees!

With a fresh boost of inspiration from the unveiling, it was time for the guest of honor – the coffee! We spent the next three days at the old purchasing point in San Augustin, cupping just under one hundred lots. Our group was a big one, with CCS customers from all over the globe including Parlor Coffee from Brooklyn, NY, Sey Coffee from Brooklyn, NY, Behind The Cup from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Reveille Coffee from San Francisco, CA. The space was tight, but with the masterful sample roasting of Esnaider Ortega and direction of Eduardo Urquina, the operation was fantastically smooth. On the table were coffees from Huila including Acevedo (Tarqui, Baralla, and San Augustin), Valle de Cauca (Caicedonia), and Tolima (Planadas, San Antonio and Ibague). The scope of flavor profiles was impressive! The coffees ranged from soft subtle florals, to big bright citric fruits, and even super sweet chocolate/caramel.

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See you in Acevedo

My time in Colombia was short, but as always, very impactful. I came away from the trip as I normally do: feeling blessed to have the opportunity to spend time and learn from some of the best coffee minds and hardest working individuals in the industry. We are all eager for these delicious coffees to make their way to your hands, and I am already dreaming of my next trip to Colombia. Luckily, the Acevedo Cup is right around the corner! Stay tuned for details.

Violence, Loss and Coffee in Colombia: A letter from Maria Bercelia Martinez

Leer este articulo en español

Two things struck me when I met Maria Bercelia Martinez on her farm in Acevedo, Huila. Firstly, that she and her family approach coffee cultivation a little differently. Secondly, her family are especially close, even by Colombian standards. Curious to know more, I asked her to give me some background. So she wrote CCS this letter, which explains her unique perspective on coffee, and the joy her family exude just being together. It also tells a very sad story.   

This letter is not easy to read, certainly not for anyone who knows this woman’s generosity, warmth and determination. Unfortunately, it is a common story in Colombia and you will hear versions of it from almost everyone who lives in the countryside. That doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking, or any less important to read. 

I have translated this letter from Spanish, edited for brevity, and I have added some notes in brackets to give context where needed, but as much as possible, I have tried to keep Maria’s story in her own words. We are so honored she agreed to let us share it with you. 


Maria Bercelia on her farm, Finca Los Angeles, in Acevedo, Huila, Colombia. 

Maria Bercelia on her farm, Finca Los Angeles, in Acevedo, Huila, Colombia. 

Dear CCS, 

Thank you for this opportunity to tell you a little of my life and my beginnings with coffee.

In 1982 my parents separated, and I had to take care of my mother and my two younger siblings. In 1984 I married Jose Vianey Erazo, and together we brought into the world our three children, Andrea, Diego and Daniel. 

My husband and I began our own business with the few resources we had at the time. We began with a small hardware business in the town of El Tigre, in the department of Putomayo, and, thanks to God, we were able to buy a piece of land and build a house. With that home, our business and our children, we were so happy. We had realized our dreams, and we thought we would live there forever. 

Sadly, it was not to be. Suddenly, there was a great rush to grow illicit crops in our region (such as coca, the raw material for cocaine), those that have done such damage to my country. With those crops came the guerrillas and they took control of our area with the help of “milicianos” (guerrilla collaborators). It was a terrible time, people were killed daily, and for unjust reasons. There was no help from the government or military. They viewed anyone who lived in a guerrilla controlled area as guerrillas, even though most of us were merely hard working people living our lives, running businesses, raising families.

We lived as peacefully as we could, we didn’t put ourselves in trouble’s way and we dedicated ourselves to caring for our children and running our business. That was, until 1999. That was the year the paramilitaries arrived. These are mercenary armies created to combat the guerrillas, sometimes financed by narco-traffickers, sometimes financed by the government. One night they arrived in the early hours of the morning and took control of the town. That night they murdered 32 people in cold blood and without discrimination. In the following months many more people disappeared, families were left destroyed, mothers became widows, children were orphaned. 

We thank God nothing happened to us, or that at least we suffered no physical loss. But our hearts were broken and our sense of security was destroyed. We lost so many friends. It was a an era of such great sadness, one that marked our lives. 

We didn’t know what to do or where to go. We didn’t want to abandon everything we had achieved, our hard work, our life, but the paramilitaries threatened to return to kill all those who remained in the village, so we left. We stayed with my brother in the nieghboring village called La Hormiga, but it was not a safe place for our children. So, we gathered all our resources and bought a small plot of land in Pitalito, Huila and built a house. There was no mention of violence in that region. Our children could study in good schools. We we were happy to be safe.

However my husband and I couldn’t find jobs. We never received a good education which made it difficult, and the cost of living in that city was so high. We had an opportunity to open another hardware store in a town called Llorente, in the department of Nariño. It was a town caught between guerrillas, paramilitaries and narco-traffickers. We did not want to return to that violence, but running a hardware store was all we knew how to do. We made the difficult decision to leave our children alone in Pitalito, where they would be safe and could finish high school, and Jose and I moved to Llorente. 

Our business was successful. We had been very responsible towards our suppliers in the hardware business in Putomayo, and all of them opened their doors when we decided to start again. In a short period of time we were making a profit and our economic situation was once again stable.  

We were unhappy that our children lived alone. We only saw them once every six months when they could take a vacation. However it was worth the sacrifice. With the help of God, Andrea and Daniel finished high school. Andrea began studying a degree in accounting at the local university, and Daniel soon followed to study dentistry. 

Sadly the security situation in Llorente deteriorated. Armed groups imposed a nighttime curfew, and to ignore the curfew was to be killed. We lived like hostages in our own home. We opened the hardware store at 6am, and closed at 6pm, then we locked ourselves inside. Violence took over the town and the war for power between different armed groups gave no respite. We had no option but to stay, it was the only way we could afford to keep our children at university. That was, until the day the paramilitaries killed my cousin. 

We never learned why he was killed, because our family never got involved in the war or violence, but we were not surprised. The paramilitary contacted my husband and told him to come and pick up the truck my cousin had been driving, which belonged to us. When my husband arrived, a paramilitary soldier told him not to inform anyone of the place where they murdered and dismembered my cousin, because they did not plan to deliver the body to the family. But my cousin’s wife, and children did their own investigation and found the place where he was buried. They exhumed him, and gave him a burial according to his beliefs. 

Unfortunately this created problems for us. The paramilitaries thought we had told my cousin’s family about his murder, and they threatened to kill us. We had to leave Llorente immediately, so we walked away from our business. 

The only thing we wanted was to be close to our children and to live a peaceful life. This was how we came to be coffee producers. We liked the idea of working in the fields, cultivating the signature product of our country. So we bought the farm, Los Angeles and began cultivating coffee. 

Maria and her family hired a neighbor to teach them how to cultivate coffee. 

Maria and her family hired a neighbor to teach them how to cultivate coffee. 

In the beginning we didn’t know anything about coffee farming, we didn’t know how to grow coffee, how to pick it, ferment or wash it, we didn’t even know how to sell it. We didn’t understand Yield Factors and how they affect the price of coffee. We didn’t understand why sometimes we were paid less. Fortunately we are business people and hard workers. We hired a local coffee grower to teach us, and we learned about cup quality and how it affects the price we are paid. That’s when we decided to try and grow high quality coffee. We were able to support our family, and thanks to God and coffee, my daughter finished her degree, fulfilling my dreams for her to become an educated professional. 

However my heart still aches for Daniel. When he was in the fourth year of his degree (of five years), there was a crisis in coffee prices in Colombia. We had to borrow money to cover the wages of our pickers, or face letting the coffee cherries rot on the trees. We managed to hold on to our farm, but we couldn’t afford the university fees, and Daniel had to quit his studies. I dreamed he would become an educated professional, and I did everything I could to make this a reality, but I failed. To this day we are still paying off the loans we took to keep the farm running.  

This is the frustration of producing coffee. Prices for specialty coffee are linked to unstable commodities price, even though the product is different. Producing specialty coffee requires more money, more time, more attention and more determination. These days everything we earn goes to paying off our debts, and we don’t have the money to invest in the farm itself. We are seeing how detrimental this is, production is dropping and our beans have poorer density than they used to. 

I wish Jose and I could have continued our lives in Putomayo, raising our children and running our hardware business. We were doing well financially, and we had the means to educate our children, but we were surrounded by violence and I could not keep my family safe.

But, as the Colombian saying goes “there is no bad that doesn’t produce some good.”  Despite our difficulties we learned the value of life and of family. And, we discovered the world of coffee. It was so frustrating to see our children abandon their university studies, and change their books for scythes and collection buckets, but I feel lucky because we live far from violence.

I have fallen in love with coffee, and I am so happy to be with my children. It brings me such joy to work together with them to build a better life for ourselves. 

We have decided to sell half of our farm so we can pay our debts and begin reinvesting. We are looking for a partner who knows the world of coffee and who shares our dream to produce the best quality. I know my farm has great potential and without the pressure to meet our repayments, we could live a more relaxed life. 

But there are other things that motivate me, like working with you. With your support and experience and the way you value my work, I feel I can achieve my dreams. The experience of having you here in my house was one of the nicest moments of my life, and I eagerly await your return, so I can host you with happiness, love, a good piece of smoked steak and a beer. We can have a chat between friends, and I can show you all the effort we’ve invested in improving and producing great coffee.

This is a brief description of my family’s story, where I come from, the situations I’ve endured with my husband, that have shaped my character and my will to go forwards. I shed some tears writing this letter, but I did it with a lot of love for the team at Collaborative Coffee Source.

I want to thank you for your interest in my origins and my dreams. I hope you can visit us again soon.

With love
Maria

Maria with her husband Jose Erazo, and sons Diego and Daniel. 

Maria with her husband Jose Erazo, and sons Diego and Daniel. 

 

 

 

 

CCS Acevedo Cup 2018 Recap

Acevedo Cup winners and other stellar coffees of the region will be arriving soon! Order your samples by contacting Sal in the US and Nico in Europe.

Jair Caicedo was this year’s winner, a surprise to many at the awards ceremony on Jan 21, as the young farmer is only 26 years old.

The full list of winners

1. Jair Caicedo, Finca Buena Vista

2. Alberto Calderon, Finca La Esmeralda

3. Carlos Calderon, Finca El Porvenir

4. Carmelo Carmelo Blend:
Oscar Ferney Cruz, Finca Jerico
William Arley Cruz, Finca Jerico

Jaimr Useche Gonzalez, Finca La Luna
Dionar Aleis Useche Gonzalez, Finca Los Alpes

5. Blend:
Otoniel Cordoba, Finca El Jardin
Edilson Calderon, Finca El Tesoro

Manuel Calderon, Finca Mira Flores

6. Jhon Wilson Poveda, Finca Danny

7. Jhon Wilson Poveda, Finca Danny

8. Maria Bercelia, Finca Los Angeles

9. Guillermo Rojas, Finca La Falda

10. Blend:
Miller Norberto Bustos, Finca El Mirador
Jamir Usache, Finca La Luna
Diego Bernal, Finca Primavera
Alexander Granada, Finca El Rinconcito
Jose Ignacio Morales, Finca El Guadual

11. Jhon Wilson Poveda, Finca Danny

12. Maria Bercelia, Finca Los Angeles

13. Wilmer Cuellar, Finca Las Brisas

14. Maria Bercelia, Finca Los Angeles

15. Wilmer Cuellar, Finca Las Brisas

16. Mariano Leal, Finca Las Acacias

17. Luis Vargas, Finca Llanitos

18. Maria Bercelia, Finca Los Angeles

19. Carlos Calderon, Finca El Porvenir

20. Jair Caicedo, Finca Buena Vista

Good years and bad years

The overriding theme of this year’s trip to Acevedo is that producing quality is really hard. Sometimes a farmer does everything right and still their coffee doesn’t make it to 86, the benchmark both CCS and Fairfield have set. Why? This season it was the weather. Heavy rains damaged the flowers resulting in lower yields. And those rains, combined with unusually cold weather, caused problems when drying the coffee, resulting in poorer quality.

This is the heartbreaking part of our job. We have a quality benchmark, and there are many good reasons for setting it at 86, but some years that means rejecting coffee from producers we love and dearly want to support. We wish we could buy all their coffee. This year, the best we could do to support them was show up.


The impact of being there

Being present should not to be underestimated, especially in Colombia. Accepting an invitation into a Colombian’s home, allowing them to nourish you, even with just a snack, shows enormous respect for them, and their respect for you. Maribel Claros Castro, wife of Alexander Ordóñez, prepared us a traditional feast called Asado Huilense, meat marinated in bitter orange and cooked on a wood-fired stove. Alexander has had a bad year, thousands of kilos of his coffee were damaged when unusually cold temperatures hit his region while his coffee was drying. But rather than complain about his financial loss, he thanked us profusely for accepting their invitation for lunch. “My wife is an excellent cook,” he explained.

For the producers, the roasters are the real celebrities. Dillon Edwards of Parlor Coffee joined us on this trip to Acevedo and it was his fourth time in the region in two years. He brought gifts for his treasured producers, including roasted coffee in packages bearing the names of their fincas. For many years Colombia offered just one coffee, “Café de Colombia,” so it is a a genuine surprise and delight for these farmers to know their work as a family is presented directly to coffee consumers. 


Bringing producers together

Events like the CCS Acevedo Cup also present a rare opportunity to collaborate. Seldom are so many producers of specialty coffee in one room together, as they were for the CCS Acevedo Cup awards ceremony. The after-party is as important as the awards presentation itself, the farmers use it to discuss, share and advise. 

Special guests at the event this year were Team Tolima! Alejandro Renjifo of Fairfield Trading is a big advocate of regional collaboration, and this year he invited several producers from Planadas to join us on our farm visits and attend the awards ceremony, including Hernando Gomez, Ivan and Jhon Molano, and Astrid Medina. One of the greatest highlights of this trip was seeing Astrid Medina’s reaction to Maria Bercelia’s unique drying facility on her farm, Finca Los Angeles. What a treat it was to listen as these two rock stars of Colombian coffee discussed the finer points of fermentation and drying.

 


What it means to win

Despite the adverse weather, there was great coffee to cup. While this year's event wasn't the marathon of 2016, we still had 37 lots to taste and overall the cupping scores were higher than last year.

What does it mean to place in the Acevedo Cup? In addition to being recognised in the community, winning a place in the top 20 means a significant financial gain. Jair Caicedo will earn 2,200,000 Colombian pesos per carga (125kg of parchment coffee) for his winning lot. To put that price in perspective, the FNC are currently offering around 800,000 pesos per carga. Once yield rates are taken into account, Jair will earn about three times the current purchase price.

We are so grateful to all the farmers who invited us into their homes, offered us meals and refreshments, listened, shared, and gave us their precious time: Javier Pulgarín and Patricia Rodriguez, Luis Vargas and his family, Alexander Ordoñez and Maribel Claros Castro, and Maria Bercelia and Jose Erazo. We are so humbled by your generous hospitality. See you next year.

Acevedo Cup winners and other stellar coffees of the region will be arriving soon! Order your samples by contacting Sal in the US and Nico in Europe.

Why farmers love meeting roasters at the CCS Acevedo Cup

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You’re invited: The second annual CCS Acevedo Cup 2018 with Fairfield Trading will be held next month in Huila Colombia, from the 17th to the 21st of January.
 

Come and explore the beauty of Acevedo, discover the exceptional coffees of this region of Huila, and spend time with these dedicated Colombian farmers. Email info@collaborativecoffeesource.com to reserve your place. 

The core of our business at CCS is connecting roasters to producers and forging long term relationships. The CCS Acevedo Cup is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying ways we achieve this.

It is hard to overstate the importance of having roasters attend this event. Their presence as judges and observers makes the farmers feel connected to the markets, and valued for their hard work and investment.

The cupping team, CCS Acevedo Cup 2016. Clockwise from top: Ria - Four Letter Word, Dillon - Parlor Coffee, Eduardo - Fairfield Trading, Melanie - CCS, Tali - Barismo.

The cupping team, CCS Acevedo Cup 2016. Clockwise from top: Ria - Four Letter Word, Dillon - Parlor Coffee, Eduardo - Fairfield Trading, Melanie - CCS, Tali - Barismo.

In 2016, twenty coffees were selected as finalists for the CCS Acevedo Cup. When interviewed by Eduardo Urquina of Fairfield Trading after the event, all twenty expressed their gratitude to the roasters who attended, and described their pride at reaching the top twenty.

Ciro Lugo of Finca San Pedro in La Marimba, who won fourth and sixth place, said being a finalist filled him with emotion “For the first time I received recognition for the work that, together with my family, we do [on our farm]. The CCS Acevedo Cup is a great achievement for coffee growers in Acevedo.”

Albeiro Lugo (left) and his father Ciro Lugo won 4th and 6th place in the CCS Acevedo Cup 2016

Albeiro Lugo (left) and his father Ciro Lugo won 4th and 6th place in the CCS Acevedo Cup 2016

Discovering quality

Very often, farmers are unaware of the quality of the coffee they produce. By entering the CCS Acevedo Cup they receive useful information in the form of  cupping scores and tasting notes. This data serves as both recognition of their labors, and incentive to continue investing and improving their coffee.

Jon Wilson Poveda almost didn’t enter the competition. “I knew of the CCS Acevedo Cup,” he said, “but I hesitated to enter and I didn’t imagine I could win, because I knew that my fermentation and drying facilities were not helping to process the coffee well.”  Jon inherited part of his farm, called “Danny” in La Marimba, and decided to buy another lot of land to increase production. Unfortunately that meant he didn’t have the funds to expand his fermentation facilities or improve his drying beds. In 2016 he also couldn’t find enough labour to pick his cherries fast enough, a common problem in the region.

However Eduardo Urquina of Fairfield Trading convinced Jon that several lots of his coffee were worth entering, and Jon won tenth place. Jon credits the forest reserve that borders his property for the quality of his coffee. The farm, which sits 1829 masl, draws water from the mountains to irrigate the coffee trees.

Leonte Polania of Finca El Ocazo in La Estrella was also surprised to place in the finals of the CCS Acevedo Cup. “I thought other producers had better varieties of coffee,” said the farmer who won 13th and 16th places. “We never rest during the harvest, it is arduous and constant,” Leonte explained. “Reaching the finals is the best compensation for that hard work.”

Sunset at Finca Bella Vista, living up to its name.

Sunset at Finca Bella Vista, living up to its name.

Specialty coffee as a sustainable model

The CCS Acevedo Cup is financial proof that specialty coffee can be sustainable for coffee farmers.

Elizabeth Abaunza of Finca La Esperanza in La Barniza described the validation of winning after much financial investment in their farm. “We received the news that we won 5th place with such joy. It wasn’t easy to improve the farm, we incurred debts and what we had, we earned with our own sweat. To receive this award is a relief and motivation to continue pursuing quality.”

“Selling traditional coffee isn’t profitable,” said Maria Bercerlia Martinez of Finca Los Angeles in La Marimba. With help from Fairfield Trading, Maria and her family have invested in improving quality in order to enter the specialty market, and their work was recognized when two lots of their coffee placed 9th and 20th.

“It was so gratifying to win two places in the final of the CCS Acevedo Cup 2016, thanks to the work of my husband and my son Daniel, who are so passionate about growing specialty coffee.”

Wilmer Cuellar of Finca Las Brisas in La Estrella was so proud to win 11th place, as it proved that producing high quality was financially viable. “I felt so happy to be representative of the group showing that quality coffee is the solution,” he said.

Wilmer was traveling at the time of the awards ceremony, but his wife and daughter attended, and proudly posted photos of the event on Facebook. “The other coffee growers congratulated us and we stood out in the coffee growing community.”


Meeting roasters

One of the best outcomes of the CCS Acevedo Cup are the relationships that are forged between roasters and producers.

Eighth place winner Otoniel Morales of Finca Las Delicias was very disappointed he couldn’t attend the awards ceremony of the CCS Acevedo Cup 2016, because he really wants to meet the people who buy his coffee. “It would have been fabulous to be present and to be recognized as a good coffee producer,” said the coffee grower from Marticas. “To know that what I produce is appreciated by coffee buyers, that is what motivates me to achieve the best quality.”

Julian Castro of the farm Villa Juliana was proud to receive 15th place. “Our coffee wasn’t the first, but it was among the best of many coffees entered!”

“The competition was well organized,” he said. “For my part, I want to thank the roasters who came. Thanks to them I got to show my coffee, and I hope they repeat the event in the future.”

Join us for the CCS Acevedo Cup 2018, Jan 17 to 21st and be part of this special event, recognizing the great work of farmers in the Acevedo region, and the exceptional coffees they are producing. Email info@collaborativecoffeesource.com for more information. 

The top ten coffee producers, CCS Acevedo Cup, 2016

The top ten coffee producers, CCS Acevedo Cup, 2016