Tolima

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.

Maria and her beds.jpg

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.

Cupping lab.jpg

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.

Astrid Medina, in her own words

From left: Eduardo Urquina and Alejandro Renjifo from Fairfield Trading, Astrid Medina, and Robert from CCS. Astrid was visiting Acevedo during the CCS Acevedo Cup 2018 to support and learn from her coffee producing peers in Huila. 

From left: Eduardo Urquina and Alejandro Renjifo from Fairfield Trading, Astrid Medina, and Robert from CCS. Astrid was visiting Acevedo during the CCS Acevedo Cup 2018 to support and learn from her coffee producing peers in Huila. 

Within 30 seconds of meeting Astrid Medina, she invited me to her finca. She invites everyone, and her invitation is genuine, she would really love to show you her home and her coffee. She is a rockstar of specialty coffee with fans across the globe, but Astrid is a caring and humble person, grateful to coffee for what it has given to her family. 

Astrid is from Planadas, Tolima, an area of Colombia that suffered the some of the worst of the Colombian internal conflict, caught between the FARC guerrillas, the government, the narco-traffickers and the paramilitary groups. People of this region tend not to talk of this violence. Everyone has a story. Everyone suffered. As Colombia begins its journey to peace, these people are looking forward, not backwards. 

I asked Astrid to answer a few questions for me, and what she provided was this heartfelt essay. Rather than edit it into our usual style of blog post, I decided to post it as is. It has been translated from Spanish, and modified slightly for flow, but it remains Astrid's story, in her own words. 


By Astrid Medina

My farm, Buena Vista, is located in the municipality of Planadas in Gaitania, Tolima at an altitude of 1780 to 2000 metres above sea level. The varieties I grow are Caturra, Colombia and Castillo. The total area of my farm is 15 hectares of which 13.5 a dedicated to coffee production.

My coffee is cultivated, picked, processed and dried with upmost care to maintain the quality. Quality is our primary objective when working with coffee.


Coffee has always been part of my life

My paternal grandfather was a coffee producer, my father was a coffee producer, and the family of my husband were all coffee producers.

When I was 29 years old my father, Aureliano Medina, was killed. My three younger siblings and I inherited the farm. Two of my siblings sold their share, so now Buena Vista is owned by my husband, my younger sister and me.

It hasn’t been easy, it is a constant struggle to be a coffee producer, the price, the climate, the varieties, the work that must be done by hand. But it is a passion and an art, and we never stop learning.


Entering the specialty market

I began producing specialty coffee in 2014 when the National Federation of Coffee Growers and Nespresso launched a program called LH TIME, or Late Harvest, which was just for the Castillo variety and consisted of collecting the mature cherries. In our case we picked the cherries over four weeks to obtain the best state of ripeness of this variety. We managed to sell 5000 kg of coffee in parchment at a premium of 300,000 pesos (approximately an additional $100 USD per 125kg). This additional money really helped us to make investments in our farm to implement more processes to achieve better quality and improve salaries of our workers.

In 2015 they held the Cup of Excellence in Colombia and we decided to enter, it was held on the 13th of March, and our coffee won first place! This competition changed our lives. It not only proved that quality coffee is worth the effort, it also proved that hard work and dedication bring good things.

This competition lifted us from anonymity and introduced us to the world of specialty coffee. Many people were suddenly interested in visiting our region, tasting and buying coffee from Planadas. This really helped our region which was hit hard by the internal conflict in Colombia. The coffee producers improved their conditions, could invest in their farms and improve salaries for their workers.

Specialty coffee changed my life and that of my family for the better. It allowed us to improve infrastructure, improve the salaries of our workers, and gave us the opportunity to travel abroad, encounter new cultures, to meet with the people who had come to visit us on our farm. Coffee really unites people.

Specialty coffee allows us to educate our children and support my daughter who is studying at a university in Bogota. It has returned my sense of security, my will to work, to listen, to travel, to learn, to dream.
 

Family and the role of women in coffee

My husband is Raúl Antonio Duran, my daughter is Dayhana Alejandra Duran, she is 19 and is in the sixth semester of an environmental science degree at Universidad El Bosque, and my son Raúl Alejandro is 9 and finishing 4th grade.

My husband is a medical veterinarian, and I am an agricultural production technician. We have always worked in coffee. Before we inherited the farm, we worked for a coffee cooperative, and my husband continues to work as a buyer. In my free time I help with physical analysis, and this has really helped us to learn more about coffee.

My husband has a good head for finances and is an excellent administrator. This has given me the opportunity to participate, to learn, to contribute, and it has really helped us to grow and work towards the same goal. We work as a team.

To be a woman in the Colombian coffee sector is a crucial role that requires great commitment, work, dedication and above all, great passion for what we do. Gender equality is so important. In coffee there is always work for every member of the family, and it is very important to empower those who want to work. Men and women always complement each other and both are important. Both are in charge of what they do, both develop a role very important in their family.


Plans for the future

My plans for the future are very ambitious. I want my farm to be a place that does not harm the environment, where many varieties of coffee exist, where there are many ornamental and fruit trees, where we never want for vegetables. I want to have the highest standard of water treatment, to offer my workers training, and above all we want to learn more ourselves. We want to have some means of air transport to bring the picked coffee from the highest lots to the washing station.

I dream that my children will speak English, finish their university studies, and be in love with coffee.

I am very proud of my farm, it is the legacy of my father, but I am prouder of the coffee that we produce. It is wonderful and privileged position to offer specialty coffee, it gives me great satisfaction and fills me with gratitude. I am proud to know that we have placed one grain of sand in building the country of our dreams.

Special regards
Astrid Medina Pereira

The December 2017 harvest, Finca Buena Vista, Planadas, Tolima, Colombia. All photos courtesy of Raúl Durán. Astrid's award winning coffee is available in the US. See our North America Offers to order a sample. 

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.