Farm: Various Farmers from La Union
Varietal: Caturra, Castillo & Colombia
Processing: Fully washed and dried on patios
Altitude: 1,800 to 1,950 metres above sea level
Owner: Various small holder farmers
Town / City: La Union
Overall: Pomegranate, caramel, lemon
Narino La Union - Colombia
By building direct relationships and sourcing straight from individual farmers, our export partner in the region has created an immense network of dedicated producers throughout Nariño. With an increasingly strong focus on cup quality, as well as the increased provision of technical services aimed to help improve agricultural practices, year on year, Mercanta is able to acquire some of the tastiest coffees that the region has to offer.
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 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). These volcanoes greatly benefit the quality of soil, as volcanic compounds that have been produced over long periods offer much-needed nutrients. The mountainous region also has excellent conditions both in terms of humidity and temperature to keep coffee in parchment for ongoing export shipments, preventing early signs of ageing.
Nariño initially became famous during Colombia'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; where steep ridges come down to meet at a small river. Here, the fight took place on top of a thin bridge. 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, whose farms are often located in remote areas, 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 massive 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.
Coffee in the region is grown at altitudes as high as 2,200 metres, some of the highest elevations at which coffee is grown in the world. The high altitude of cultivation allows for the slow development of the coffee bean, which gives the cup profile of Nariño its unique characteristics. As well as coffee, producers in the region also grow other products such as plantain and 'agrumes' (citrus fruits). Not only do these provide sustenance, but also shade for optimum coffee tree development.
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 hand-picked, they are floated in cool clean water to remove any low-density beans, before being pulped. This is carried out by passing the cherry 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 fertiliser 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 a few days, which are thought to add complexity to the fermentation process and final cup profile. Due to the micro-climate and high altitude of the region, Nariño experiences lower relative humidity, more wind and more sunny days than other areas of the country. This means the region is blessed with some of the best drying conditions found in all of Colombia.
Mercanta’s export partner for this lot works to pioneer the commercialization of specialty coffee throughout the region. Their efforts result in some truly stunning coffees from this area of optimal natural conditions for coffee farming and making the most of the group’s efforts to improve quality. Feedback on the coffee is provided by an expert team of cuppers and ‘liquidation’ payments (sort of ‘top-up’ payments) are made if the producers’ coffee is sold at a higher margin. Support also is given with regards to social well-being.
Since 2019, La Union has become a new key area for the group, in their strategy to search for new exciting lots in the North of Nariño around the Volcano Doña Juana. This has meant that also since 2019, our partner has expanded its purchasing capacity and has moved to a larger warehouse with a fully equipped laboratory. Here, they are able to provide quality analysis and calibration for producers.
They have also begun hosting an annual completion of single farm micro-lots, with producers from all areas offering their coffees. This is in the hope of further promoting the areas rich variety of farms as well as to root out the top lots from the region.