2016 has been an unusually tough year for most coffee farmers in most parts of Colombia because of El Niño – a complex weather pattern resulting from variations in ocean temperatures, that can lead to extreme weather conditions. Because of drought this year harvests have either been delayed, very small, or in some cases even non-existing. A severe lack of rain in many coffee growing regions has affected the quality of the coffee in a negative way, and thus there has been an increase in the number of hollow beans, leaf rust, and broca (coffee berry borer). The premium producers we’re working with will have about 50% of their profit this year, and normal growers will be lucky if they break even. The manager of Coocentral in Huila saying it is the worst conditions he has seen in his whole career.
So, in general in Colombia this year, it has been much harder than usual to find the extra special, amazingly good lots. But we are very happy to say we managed to do so, and these rare and exquisite lots have now arrived to our UK warehouse!
We are also introducing Peaberry from Colombia for the first time this year. Our microlots and micro blends will always be separated by screen size 15 and up during milling. But because of the challenging growing conditions this year the beans are generally smaller, and keeping the screen 15 separation would make the coffee much more expensive. However, we didn’t want to compromise on quality, so instead of including the screen 14 in our screen 15+ microlots, we separated these and made regional PB blends instead. We haven’t done this before in Colombia, but have great experiences with PBs from Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya, so we thought it could work well. And luckily, by arrival, our first Colombian PBs are tasting really good!
2nd Tarqui micro lot competition
In August, we held a micro lot competition for the farmers we are working with in Tarqui in Central Huila. It was the second time we did this, repeating the success from December 2015. Basically, we announce the competition for the farmers in advance, so that they can be extra careful when picking and processing the coffee. We set certain parameters that the farmers should fulfil (moisture content, yield factor, lot size, and so on). Then, when all the entered lots have been approved, we gather a panel of professionals and cup and score the coffee blindly. This year we had 50 coffees submitted, and 36 of them approved. We cupped the 36 coffees, and selected 12 finalists. Then cupped the 12, and ended up with a top 10.
We have set fixed prizes for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd-5th, and 6th to 10th place, and commit to buying these. The standard price in Colombia was in August approx. 800.000 pesos per 125 kg of parchment coffee. For the 1st prize we paid more than three times that. And this year the high premiums were especially appreciated. Both the winner (Nemesio Ramos) and the runner up (Jaime Alzate) were planning to do soca (cutting the trees) this year, so the prizes came at a very good time for them.
A competition like this is a way of incentivising farmers and paying them great premiums for great coffees. It also gives us the opportunity to meet and get to know the farmers in that specific area, and explore the true potential there. Several of these lots was featured in the Nordic Roaster Forum competition in October, placing 1st, 3rd, 4th, 8th, and 9th in the Colombia category. We still have three of the competition lots available!
Here’s a short film with interviews with some the farmers in Tarqui that participated in the competition.
Tolima is one of the coffee growing regions that has been hit hardest by El Niño this year. It has been the toughest harvest in 10 years according to the cooperative and the growers themselves.
But thanks to the cooperative we are working with there – Cafisur – it has been possible to get some good coffee from Tolima this year as well, although in limited amounts. We have two lots from Hernando Gomez, one of the most consistent farmers we are working with, as well as a lot from Astrid Medina and from Alfredo Leyton. We also have a PB lot from Tolima.
Cafisur were celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. They have been working for 15 years during the conflict (FARC), providing sustainability for the farmers in this area. There are about 2300 farmers connected to the coop. And for the last 7 years they have been working with micro lots and securing higher quality. We initiated the quality program “Programa Café de Finca” three years ago, identifying the best regions and reaching out to the best farmers.
Buesaco in Nariño has also been extremely dry this year. Luis Fernando Benavides has installed a sprinkler system for watering his Geisha, so we have 7 boxes of that available. But apart from that there was not much coming out of Buesaco this season.
Luckily, in the northern part of Nariño, the weather was better, and we have a couple of micro lots and some of our El Desvelado and El Soñador artisan blends available. There’s also more coming in right after New Year’s. The Nariño PB is also tasting great, and we’re very happy with that and will continue offering this in the coming seasons.