Farm: Various Farmers from Huila Dept.
Varietal: Caturra 33%, Colombia 33% and Castillo 33%
Processing: Fully washed & sun dried on patios or elbas
Altitude: 1,300 to 1,950 metres above sea level
Owner: Multiple owners
Town / City: Alto del Obispo
Overall: Caramel, blood orange, grapefruit
Alto del Obispo, Huila - Colombia
Whilst Huila is naturally blessed with optimal coffee growing geography, the key to great quality coffees from the areas around San Agustin (such as this lot) are the growers themselves. Coffee farming within the region is overwhelmingly small-scale. Indeed, approximately 80% of producers from the region farm coffee on less than 3 hectares of land. These small farms are tended by individual families with labour only very rarely being contracted out, which leads to more thorough and intensive management practices and great pride in the final product – which is, itself, an extension of the family.
Alto del Obispo lies just to the south of San Agustin, possessing stunning views across the valley to the hillslopes across. Mercanta’s exporting partner for this Huila lot has partnered with local farmers in the green hills surrounding San Agustin and the nearby town of Pitalito for over 25 years. Together they have pioneered the commercialization of specialty coffee throughout the region, resulting in some stunning coffees from this area of optimal natural conditions for coffee farming. This has included the establishment of the ‘Club San Agustin’, which identifies the 50 top quality producers via an annual cupping competition. This competition, over the years, has resulted in strong direct relationships and sourcing from individual farmers, including the provision of technical services for improved agricultural practices with a strong focus on cup quality. In support of their efforts, ‘Club Agustin’ producers receive year-round technical assistance, including soil analysis, and receive help in processing recommendations, including guidance on drying processes and wet mill maintenance.
These producers are a carefully-selected group of small producers who understand strict quality standards and are fully committed to producing and delivering their best coffees. Among these producers, we can find several participants in and some winners of COE competitions. A most recent example of one is a long-term ‘Club’ participant, Alirio Aguilera who’s Finca San Isidro won 1st place in 2013’s Cup of Excellence competition.
Support also is given with regards to social well-being. In 2004, a community centre was built in the nearby town of Alto del Obispo which offers childcare and infant nutrition programs for up to 80 children daily (with all operating costs covered by our exporting partner). Improvements in the community centre are also being planned, particularly the construction of a football pitch/sports field for the children.
Coffee farming in the remote region of South of Huila is different from some other regions of Colombia. More than farming, it is an art which has been passed on through generations. Every family manages their own cultivation, usually farming with very minimal chemical inputs. They also do their own harvesting - usually with the help of neighbours and extended family. After the red and ripe cherries are picked, they are usually floated in plastic tanks to remove any underweight cherries. They are then pulped by passing them through a manual pulper at the family farm (usually located close to the main house). The waste from this process will be used later as a natural fertilizer for the coffee trees. Coffee is then fermented anywhere from 12 to 18 hours, depending on the weather, and then washed using cold, clean water.
Once this process is complete, many of the farmers sun dry their parchment on patios or on the roofs of their houses (elbas). Farmers in this part of Huila have designed a mechanism by which they can slide the roof with pulleys to cover the coffee in case of rain. Some farmers dry their coffee on parabolic beds under the sun. These parabolic beds, known locally as marquesinas – which are constructed a bit like ‘hoop house’ greenhouses, with airflow ensured through openings in both ends – both protect the parchment from rain and mist as it is dried and prevent condensation from dripping back on the drying beans.
The parchment is delivered directly by the producer our exporting partner’s warehouse in Pitalito, where it will eventually be dry milled. At this stage, a premium over prevailing market prices has already been agreed with these exceptional producers. Once the coffee is received, it is carefully graded and cupped. Additional premiums are paid based on the cup score, evaluated by Q Graders.
The beans have been carefully selected to meet the San Agustin quality standards. Only those who meet the cup profile standards are then milled, sorted and classified for export under the strict supervision of quality control professionals. This unique coffee is carefully selected by electronic sorters to produce a zero-defect coffee.
About Huila department:
Huila is located in south Colombia and bordered by the mighty Andean sub ranges of “Cordillera Oriental” and “Cordillera Central”. The famous Huila coffee is grown on the slopes of the cordilleras, split by the Magdalena River which is the principal river of Colombia.
The year-round distribution of rainfall and ambient temperatures allow Huila ‘cafeteros’ to cultivate coffee up to 1,900 meters above sea level. The high altitude creates the trademark Huila acidity; while the greenhouse-like conditions provide for frequent flowering periods throughout the year, explaining the distinct floral aromas of the cup.
San Agustin is a municipality/town about a 45-minute drive from Pitalito in the south of Huila. The area is known for the ‘Colombian Massif’, which refers to a group of Andean mountains in Southern Colombia. It is home to the largest group of religious monuments and megalith sculptures in South America, constituting gods and mythical animals from Andean culture dating from the 1st century. The monuments comprise a UNESCO world heritage site.