Varietal: Colombia & Caturra
Processing: 48 hours fermentation & dried on raised beds
Finca El Bosque (Gabriel Quilindo) - Colombia
It was relatively recently that members of the large cooperative to which Gabriel Quilindo previously belonged – in Colombia’s remote Huila department – realized that their location and passion for coffee farming gave them a special edge when it came to producing high quality coffee. Seeing some of the quality initiatives and micro-lot separation that forward-thinking cooperatives around Colombia were exploring, a small group of about 20 producers broke off from the larger regional cooperative to establish their own organization in early 2014.
In fact, Gabriel was the main leader that encouraged these producers to create their own, new group, which they have named Aprocoagrosh (quite a mouthful). Over the last few years, he has led this group of growers who were tired of variability of coffee prices, empty promises and frustrations to achieve, finally, stability in pricing for their product and, by extension, their lives.
Together with Mercanta’s exporting partner, Pergamino Coffee, Gabriel and Aprocoagrosh are working tirelessly so that they can, together, transform the lives of coffee farmers in rural Huila. This has involved a great deal of investment in education – particularly with regards to understanding ‘quality’ as the speciality coffee market defines the word. Not only do Santa Barbara Estates – who mill and export speciality lots for the group – visit twice a month during the harvest period to help with advice on processing and quality control, they also cup all lots with the potential for quality improvement and provide feedback and advice to the growers.
For the last several months Gabriel has also been attending night school at the local technical school, SENA, in order to learn about coffee lab practices, roasting and cupping, with the dream of having an organisation that not only provides commercial avenues to its growers but also internal feedback and technical assistance. He is a moving force within the organisation, a community leader of unusual conviction and a grower committed not only to the quality of his coffee but that of his fellow growers in La Plata.
As of March 2015, the organization has grown to around 30 growers (that’s 50% growth in just over a year!) and has strengthened relationships with both Mercanta and Pergamino, who have worked with other cooperatives in Colombia who seek to harness quality coffee as a means to improving quality of life for their members.
There are all indications that Aprocoagrosh is a cooperative ‘on the way up’. Although the town of La Plata, where most of the farmer members live, lies at only1,000 metres (and is something of a ‘hot box’), most members’ farms lie at 1,900 metres or above in cooler climes. In order to reach these farms, one has to travel straight UP – driving an hour or more into the steep mountains that surround the town centre. Aprocoagrosh members knew that their previous coop wasn’t making full use of this potential for quality coffee production and, furthermore, didn’t represent the interest of all its growers equally. Once they set out on their own, the reached out immediately to the organisation ASORCAFE – located in Inzá, Cauca – knowing that the group had made great headway in the speciality market by working with Mercanta’s exporting partner in Antioquia. ASORCAFE also had a very solid reputation as being run according to very stringent democratic practices. Aprocoagrosh knew they would learn a lot about governance, management and quality production from the group.
ASORCAFE has helped Aprocoagrosh set up shop and establish governance guidelines and has also generously shared their contact with Pergamino (one of Mercanta’s exporting partners in Colombia) with the group.
Pergamino, as well, has been very impressed with the group and sees great potential for the future. They’ve recently established an agreement with Aprocoagrosh that includes not only purchasing from the group but also serving as mentors and trainers in the group’s quest for improved quality. In the near future, a cupper from Pergamino will spend 3 months in La Plata, Huila with the group, teaching cupping and helping them establish a cupping lab and protocols. In the future, Pergamino has agreed to cup all coffees scoring 80 points or above from the group and has committed to finding markets for any lots scoring 84 or above.
The benefits for members are great. Members have expressed excitement about the ensured access to speciality markets and better prices, of course; but more importantly, Aprocoagrosh has promised to ONLY reserve operating costs from received coffee prices, meaning more of these improved prices will go directly to the producers. For coffee producers in this remote area of Huila, this very well mean insuring a future in coffee their children....which is something Mercanta is proud to help support.
Gabriel hand harvests all his coffee, sorting out any underripe or damaged cherries before pulping. He then pulps each day’s picking on the same day it is picked. Coffee is fermented in tanks for 48 hours, is then washed in cool, clean water, and finally delivered to dry on raised beds under the sun.