We arrived in Colombia on Thursday 20th November as part of our annual pre-crop visit with two main objectives: to cup the new season (2009 crop) and to catch up with our friends from Agua Azul (GAQ) in the town of Pitalito in the Departament of Huila.
From the heat and humidity of Neiva, we headed up into the mountains and the town of Pitalito – a 194 kilometre journey through cattle farms and plains to the hills and valleys of beautiful coffee plantations. The majestic Magdalena River travels close to the road, making the views spectacular.
In Pitalito, we met with the directors of the Agua Azul coffee growers’ association, our friends Julio, Reynel, Rodrigo, Jesús, Félix, José, Delimiro and Alfredo’s son Juan Pablo (who visited us in Copenhagen at the SCAE coffee exhibition back in June this year). We also met our friends James, Ricardo and Vilma, our local partners in charge of gathering, milling and preparing the shipments. We discussed the new season of Agua Azul, the identifiation of unique from certain members of the association, the continued support and sponsorship of the chiva bus that carries the local children to school and back and the development of special projects in the farms.
We had a very successful meeting and then moved on to cup the new crop sample (this will be arriving in the UK in Jan/Feb 2009). We found it had a very crisp acidity, pronounced sweetness, refined structure and notes of dark fruits and caramel – very fresh and with great potential. We are looking forward to tasting it again when the coffee lands in the UK. We also cupped some really interesting coffees from the Viota region in Cundinamarca, a region with vast potential and great farms (coffees from all of these regions will be arriving in the first quarter of 2009).
The yields at the various small producers who together make up the Agua Azul coffee are small in comparison to last year’s and the cup has improved as a result – the plants are focusing their nutrients on fewer cherries, producing outstanding fruit quality. This year we developed the profile of each of the 42 smallholdings that together make up the Agua Azul growers’ association. We gathered data on altitude, varieties, geographic location, climate conditions, natural resources, cupping notes, livestock and other crops: very valuable information that will enable us to determine and maintain the quality of the coffees.
The various small farms range in altitude from 1,500 to 1,900 metres above sea level and are located around the small town of Palestina. We had the good fortune to visit three wonderful farms, all members of the Agua Azul group. The first stop was Alfredo Urbano’s farm; a model farm that produces coffee as a main business, together with a fantastic plantation of dragon fruit (pitaya). Don Alfredo manages his farm along with his two sons: John Freddy and Juan Pablo. This new generation has brought a lot of professionalism and enthusiasm and they are starting to reap the rewards. After enjoying some delicious tamales at Don Alfredo’s farm, we drove up to Felix Samboní’s farm. In 2007, Felix joined us in London, together with Julio and Fabio, at a special ‘Meet the Grower’ event and it was now time to return the favour and see first-hand this beautiful farm. The scenery surrounding the farm is breathtaking. With Felix we discussed ways to increase the efficiency of drying the coffee parchment and control the humidity levels. This is a project that we will be organising in the coming months.
Our last farm visit was Rodrigo Sanchez Valderrama’s where we were spoiled with a fabulous banquet from his wood-fired oven. Rodrigo has a great smallholding where he raises livestock which includes pigs, chickens and turkeys. Rodrigo is in the process of building a new drying area as his coffee production has recently increased.
After three very productive days in Pitalito, we returned to Bogota for the last stage of our trip. There we finalised our meetings and cupping sessions with great success. We cupped the new season of La Ceja (a cooperative coffee from the Antioquia region – arriving in the UK Jan/Feb 2009) and found it very complex, full bodied, balanced and with marked sweetness.
We would like to express our most sincere gratitude to Ricardo Granados, James Zambrano, Vilma and all the members of the Agua Azul association for their kind hospitality and generous time.