Farm: Various smallholder farms
Varietal: Mainly Caturra, Colombia & Castillo
Processing: 24 hours fermentation & dried on parabolic bed or on patios
Altitude: 1,700 metres above sea level
Owner: Various smallholder members of Asobombo
Town / City: Pitalito
Asobombo Smallholders (Huila) - Colombia
Whilst Huila is naturally blessed with optimal coffee growing geography, the key to great quality coffees from the region (such as this lot) are the growers themselves. Coffee farming within the region is overwhelmingly small-scale. Indeed, approximately 80% of producers from Huila 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.
Asobombo is a young association founded by experienced producers in the municipality of Pitalito, located in Huila’s southwest. The organization was formed by 50 coffee producers who banded together in order to attain - as a group - what most of them had tried but failed to accomplish independently for a very long time: economic sustainability through long term specialty programs.
This is not to say that the potential for high quality coffee wasn’t there! Many producer members of Asobombo had participated and finished as finalists in local and national competitions. Many had sold one or two lots at higher prices, demonstrating that they had the quality and that the market existed. However, none of them had been able to set up long term projects that really worked to transform their lives and livelihoods. Beginning in 2015, Mercanta’s exporting partner, Pergamino, has begun to work with the group in order to help them achieve this goal.
Pergamino has previously established similar projects with other small producer organizations in Antioquia, Huila and Cauca, all of which have been hugely successful in identifying high quality lots from small producers and helping producers place these coffees at market for a higher price. In this essential first stage of the quality improvement program, Pergamino is working with Asobombo in order to understand better the profiles and quality range that the members produce. This involves cupping with the group frequently during the harvest season and also accepting samples into Pergamino’s lab in Antioquia and providing lots of feedback.
Mercanta has been one of the first (if not the first) to engage with Pergamino on this new project, and the group is already investing a portion of the initial premiums they have received in establishing a warehouse and cupping lab in order to improve traceability and perform the first ‘filter’ for quality control. According to Pergamino representatives, out of all the organizations that they are currently working with, Asobombo is one of the most organized, focused and motivated groups they have had the pleasure to work with.
Indeed, Asobombo seems to be a cooperative ‘on the way up’, and the natural surroundings certainly provide massive opportunities for quality coffee production. The region where most of the members live is located at 1,700 meters, around two hours away from the urban area of Pitalito. Its land is high but not as steep as other areas of Huila: most of the farms are located in a plateau above the main Valley of Laboyos, so the geography mostly gentle rolling hills that are much easier to farm than the steep cliffs common in most Colombian coffee regions.
Asobombo producers are also located near the Salto de Bordones, a beautiful 400 meter water fall that is the origin of many local myths and stories. The growers here plant mostly Caturra, Colombia and Castillo, and usually ferment coffee for 24 hours before moving the coffee to dry in parabolic beds or patios. They have balked at the now-common practice in Huila of selling their coffee “green” - which means washed but not dried. In doing so they can guarantee full traceability and can make sure the delicate drying process is completed to a high standard, which further preserves the quality already inherent to their beans. With the initial surveys Pergamino has conducted and from the coffees that they have already sampled and received, they estimate that Asobombo can produce around 1,000-1,500 bags of above 84 point coffees, with 20-30% of these being 86 and above. Their main harvest is between October and December, with a flycrop in April-June, although these dates are highly dependent on weather.