Varietal: Caturra, Borbon and Colombia
Processing: Washed and dried on raised parabolic beds
Altitude: 2090 meters above sea level
Owner: Miguel Dominguez
Town / City: Buenos Aires Municipality of San Pedro de Cartago
Overall: Banana, complex, raspberry
Miguel Dominguez Narino - Colombia
Don Miguel Angel is 58 years old and has worked with coffee for most of his life; beginning his trade in 1975. With the help of his sons and daughters, Miguel is now leading the way in organic fertilisation in the region, hoping soon to become a fully organic producer; helping keep his farm’s soil healthy for future generations.
Miguel and his family live in the Municipality of San Pedro de Cartago, part of the state of Nariño. Known for its rich history, stunning landscapes and exceptional national park, Nariño is located in the southwest of Colombia, just above the equator and on the border with Ecuador. The mountainous region has excellent conditions both in terms of humidity and temperature to keep coffee in parchment for ongoing export shipments, preventing early signs of ageing. Coffee in the region 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 slow development of the coffee bean, which gives the cup profile of Nariño its unique characteristics.
Nariño initially became famous during Colmbia’s independence in the early 1800s, as one of the few states in Colombia that sided heavily with the crown instead of the independence armies. Nearby Pasto was an important colonial town and was at the centre of commerce between Bogotá and Quito. Residents had every reason to side with peace and stability, not the change of the status quo that Simon Bolivar promoted.
After heavy fighting in different parts of Ecuador and Colombia, the Spaniards and revolutionaries eventually met in the Juanambú Canyon, a beautiful part of Buesaco, close to San Pedro de Cartago; where steep ridges come down to meet at a small river. The fight took place on top of a thin bridge and after heavy losses the revolutionaries were able to drive back the Spaniards and continue their way south to complete the battle for independence.
Producers in this region are overwhelmingly small-holders, whose farms are often located in remote areas and who have traditionally found it difficult to break into markets for higher quality coffee. The game changer came in 2010 and 2012, when two growers from the region of Buesaco (also in northern Nariño) won the Colombian Cup of Excellence. This huge win made it apparent to many growers from the region that their coffee had the potential to be sold and commercialised as true specialty coffee. This marked the end of meagre premiums they were receiving for certification schemes.
Crucial to sustaining the speciality efforts in this isolated region, is Mercanta’s Colombian partner, Pergamino Exporters. Pergamino has set up a structure whereby associated farm lots that score above an 84 on the SCA scale, are purchased at a premium in line with the quality of the lot; such as in the example of Miguel Dominguez. Pergamino has previously established similar projects with other small producer organisations in Antioquia, Huila and Cauca, all of which have been successful in identifying high-quality lots from small producers and helping place these coffees at market for a higher price.
Miguel has produced this lot using the washed method. After the red and ripe cherries are picked, they are pulped by passing them through Miguel’s pulper located on the family farm (seen with Miguel in his picture), before being fermented for 24 hours. Some producers in the region 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. Finally, once fermented, the coffee is removed and placed on raised parabolic beds to dry, until moisture reaches below 12%. 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.
Although Don Miguel’s success as a coffee farmer can be partly attributed to the superb growing region of Nariño, the primary driver of quality comes is the care and attention he gives to his crop. His commitment to organic farming has meant that his use of agrochemicals for pest control and chemical fertilizer has diminished to next to nothing. Miguel and his family also have a full worm-based compost system for his pulp and other organic residues. Miguel plans to continue experimenting and learning, in the hope to become a fully organic producer in a few years time.
As well as coffee, Miguel and his family keep a fully stocked orchard, growing a variety of fruits and vegetables (including a couple of marijuana plants which he says helps him with his knee pain – we won’t judge). This means the family rarely have to buy anything from the nearby town to complement their daily consumption; something Miguel is very proud of. As well as growing fruit and vegetables, Miguel also fishes for trout, which he admits to using to make a mean sancocho!
It is worth noting that the violence that plagued the early independence of Colombia in Nariño continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. Conflict and war returned in the 1990´s and early 2000´s as FARC guerrillas took over northern Nariño. This region was ripe to serve as a centre of operations for illegal groups. The government did not have a heavy presence in the region and the altitude in much of the municipality was ideal for growing opium poppy plants and coca (and thus of great interest to the rebels).
Lucky for Pergamino and for Mercanta, the guerrillas were forced out of the region almost 10 years ago, and the region is now completely safe to conduct normal economic activities such as growing and buying coffee. Both Mercanta and Pergamino deeply believe however that specialty coffee serves a special propose in making sure this region is prosperous and its future is one of peace and not of recurrent conflict.