Farm: Various smallholder members of ASOBOMBO
Varietal: Caturra & Colombia
Processing: 24 hours fermentation & dried on parabolic beds under plastic
Altitude: 1,500 to 1,850 metres above sea level
Owner: 60 small holder members of ASOBOMBO
Town / City: Arrayanes
Region: Pitalito, Huila
Overall: soft, tropical, honey, white peach-cherry, savory, black tea
La Gaitana Organic - Colombia
This special lot of Organic coffee takes its name from La Gaitana, a female indigenous leader who ruled the land north of the municipality of Pitalito, Huila before the Spanish conquest. She is a character who is attributed almost mythical powers in local lore. One of her most famous stories has her burying hundreds of tons of gold artifacts in order to hide them from the Spaniards. Thousands of eager fortune hunters have spent their lives looking for this treasure around a lake in Arrayanes, only to come out empty-handed at the end.
We know that the REAL gold lies in the marriage between the prime coffee growing conditions of the region and the hard work of local producers. 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, led by the founding Diaz family, 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. Even more, they have managed to gain Organic certification. The arduous process took two years, but they have now adapted agricultural practices across their membership to fulfill all the organic certification requirements. They have also been certified Rainforest Alliance (now Utz) and Fair Trade.
Beginning in 2015, Mercanta’s exporting partner, Pergamino, began working with the group in order to help them to access specialty markets for their coffee. 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 their quality improvement program, Pergamino works 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 was one of the first (if not the first) to engage with Pergamino on the ASOBOMBO project, and we regularly feature conventional group lots and microlots from individual farmers in our coffee line-ups. 2018 marks the first year we’ve been able to offer their certified organic coffee, and we couldn’t be more pleased to be involved.
The group is already investing a portion of the premiums they have received in establishing a warehouse and cupping lab in order to improve traceability and perform the first ‘filter’ for quality control. They are incredibly organized and cooper At every meeting, all the members arrive proudly wearing their Association-issue bright green shirt. They are always working together, learning from one another and helping fellow members that are going through hard times. Specially during the organic certification the association came together to learn new practices and surmount new challenges.
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.
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 (mitaca) in April-June, although these dates are highly dependent on weather.
Most farms in this area are relatively large compared to other regions of Colombia, with an average plot of the members around 3-5 hectares. Most of the families here come originally from Nariño, which used be a much densely populated area in the 19th century than Huila. Looking for fertile and cheap land, many emigrated from Nariño and settled this region of Huila,
Another common agricultural activity in this region is sugar cane, which is commonly processed into ‘panela’ (brown sugar) using one of the association-owned “trapiches”.