Farm: El Naranjal
Varietal: Castillo & Caturra
Processing: 24 hours fermentation & dried on patios
Altitude: 1,950 metres above sea level
Owner: Maria Nelly Chavez
Town / City: Naranjal Alto, Buesaco
Finca El Naranjal – Maria Nelly Chávez (Nariño) - Colombia
The Department of Nariño is located in the southwest of Colombia, just above the equator and on the border with Ecuador. The region is strikingly mountainous and boasts no fewer than five volcanoes: Chiles (4,718 metres), Cumbal (4,764 metres), Azufral (4,070 metres), Doña Juana (4,250 metres) and Galeras (4,276 metres). Nariño has excellent conditions both in terms of humidity and temperature to keep coffee in parchment for ongoing export shipments, and its location on the equatorial line provides a great angle of sun exposure for the extremely steep hills around the volcano.
Coffee is grown at altitudes that reach 2,200 metres, some of the highest elevations at which coffee is grown in the world. The high altitude of cultivation allows for a slow, development of the coffee bean, which gives the cup profile of Nariño its unique characteristics.
Producers in this region are overwhelmingly small-holders, who manage their own self-sufficient wet-mills and patios (open or covered) for drying. Every family does their own harvesting - usually with the help of neighbours. After the red and ripe cherries are picked, they are 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. Depending on the conditions, fermentation can range between 12 up to 48 hours. Some producers will add several layers of wet parchment over the course of a few days, which is thought to add complexity to the fermentation process and final cup profile. Luckily, Nariño is blessed with some of the best drying conditions in the country due to the micro-climate and high altitude of the region, providing lower relative humidity, more wind and more sunny days than other areas of the country.
Maria Nelly Chavez, owner of the 4 hectares that compose Finca El Naranjal, is in many ways a very typical coffee producer for the region; however, as a single mother of three children she must work twice as hard to support her family making her move into specialty coffee production all the more impressive. She is a native of the municipality of Buesaco, located at the eastern edge of Nariño, where she spent most of her adult life as a seasonal coffee picker, moving from farm to farm during the harvest and then finding other jobs during the rest of the year in order to provide for her family.
Tired of living hand to mouth, Nelly knew she had to plan for her and her children’s future by owning her own farm. She began putting away a little money from each job, and by 2010, she had saved up enough to purchase and plant her own piece of land. As of 2016, she is finally seeing a return on her investment. With 1.5 hectares currently under full production as of the 2016 harvest and another1.5 scheduled to be fully harvested by 2017, Maria Nelly is transforming herself into a medium size farmer of note for Buesaco. Over all she will have 4 hectares of prime coffee land when her farm achieves full production.
Hard work is her secret, of course, and keeping faith in the potential of coffee has helped her carry through during the rough years. She is also a loyal member of the association Buesaco con Altura (Buesaco with Altitude), a producer organization that Mercanta’s exporting partners for this coffee, Pergamino, has been working with to establish programs to improve coffee quality. The group is composed of coffee farmers from the municipality who seek to improve their quality of life by producing and selling coffee of the highest, specialty quality. Producer members have placed highly in Colombian Cup of Excellence competition and continue to strive towards producing ever better coffee. You can learn more here.