Monday 8th of October around noon I arrived in the city Gigante in the Huila region of Colombia. I went there to visit the grower association El Desarollo. I was there together with Alejandro from Virmax who are working closely together with El Desarollo with the common goal of developing the quality of their coffee.
The president of the grower association Luis Gutierrez welcomed us in the small warehouse, where the growers deliver in their coffee.
My apologies for the poor quality photos! On top of me being a bad photografer, my lugage and therefore camera was delayed, so I had to use my worn down telephone camera
I had been looking very much forward to the visit since I havn’t been in Colombia since 2006 when I was in the Cup of Excellence jury. Columbia is one of the largest producers of coffee in the world but at the same time seems to be a very complex place.
El Desarollo is what they call “un association de cafecultores” who is gathering the coffee from the members (about 150 members). Virmax has put in a quality controlling lab at the warehouse where everything is inspected, sample roasted and cupped by Alexis Villamil.
One special thing about Colombia in general and Huila region in particular is that they harvest beans all during the year. Since they have a lot less welldefined rainy periods than most other coffee producing areas, flowering (which is induced by the rains) is happening all during the year. So at the same tree one can see all stages of the cycle . flowers, small greens, larger greens, partially ripe, fully ripe and overripes (if they have not been picked).
All stages of the cycle on one tree.
Lots of small producers in Colombia have their own wet mill and therefore produce coffee in parchment themselves eventhough they might only have a few hectares of coffee production. Since the producers are small and they harvest all during the year the lots they produce can be a few bags or even less.
So there is a lot of lots to do quality control on and cup. When Alexis does this at El Desarollo it is open for the producers. Eventhough I tried to encourage it most of the producers I met at the Warehouse din’t go for the cupping. With one exception a young enthusiatic producer named Edilfonso Yara and his wife. They both cupped for the first time but seemed to pick up quite fast.
Edilfonso had delivered in coffee a few days before and now it was time to cup it. We ofcourse blind-cupped everything. One coffee stood out as being the most complete on the table. High cleanliness, very balanced sligthly to the acidic side but still with a good body, and as it cooled it opened up for some delikate suttle floral aromas. It was fantastic to see the pride in the eyes of Edilfonso when it was revealed that this was his coffee…
Unfortunately this was only a 30 kilo lot, but we got to buy it and work on getting it in order to present it in a month or two.
We also bougth a bigger lot from El Desarollo where Edilfonso contributed together with 27 other members of El Desarollo which has the same cleanliness and high balance but with a very creamy body.
Visiting the producers from El Desarollo I was impressed to see how much they worked with trying to slow down the drying process in order to make the quality better. Even a producer that was in doubt about how much to focus on producing high quality had a three layered shade drying bed-system with the aim of drying in around 15 days. Now it will be interesting if we can perceive the effort in prolonged cup quality of the lot we get in comparison to earlier experiences with fading Top Colombian coffees.
Three layer shade drying bed system.
This seemed to be an example of the effect of Virmax double strategy of doing local quality analisis with transperant correlation to the prices paid to the producers (there by making the price-quality relation very obvoius) at the same time as working on spreading knowledge about how to produce higher quality.
“Promodores” who works on the Virmax project to spread knowledge amongst the farmers about quality producion. They continuasly visit the farmers and talk with them about their particular challenges and possibilities.
I definitely hope to get back to El Desarollo next year to get to work closer with the people here. But for this time my trip was continuing towards the north to Hacienda El Roble. From small holder production in Huila to large scale farm production in Mesa de Los Santos.
Hacienda El Robles gæstehus (Yeah – I got my lugage and camera)
El Robles is an interesting farm that seems to investing a lot in both producing organic coffee and developing their cup quality. They work very systematic investing quite a lot of ressources in pursuing these goals.
El Robles' Meteorological Station
There are these days gathering an amazing amount of information on all kinds of aspects of their production, from their meteorologic station gathering info on the microclimate,
over their Coffee Garden with 78 different varieties of coffee,
to their systematic test of drying under different conditions registering the temperatures at each drying scenario several times a day.
Shade drying – the round brass-things in each level are Thermometers.
To try to understand how all these parameters effect cup quality they have an impressing system for handling extremely small lots to keep them seperate through the production.
As a roaster who feels that we still have a lot to learn about producing high quality the systematic and analytic approach of El Roble is very intriguing…