Clients from four countries joined us on our annual Colombia residency this year. Since Mercanta set up our office in Medellin in 2012, we have sought to highlight the wonders of the marvellous Colombian Department of Antioquia to a wider audience: in a coffee sense, a city tour sense, and a social sense.
The networking opportunity for our international specialty roaster clients attending this annual trip is significant. They share experiences, stories and information between themselves, and also meet our own Coffeehunter, Juan Cano, as well as dozens of coffee producers. Ranging from the larger ‘’estate’’ business of the Echavarria Family – our partners in Antioquia – to the smaller and medium growers, many of them members of Antioquia’s four producer Coops (Andes, Occidente, Salgar, and Antioquia), the opportunities for learning are significant.
This year we were joined not only by clients but also by a coffee producer, Diego Robelo from Aquiares Estate in Costa Rica. Mercanta has engaged these ‘’producer exchanges’’ in the past to great success, and since we plan a visit to Diego’s family farm with a client group in April, this was a great chance to talk more with Diego about his family farm. It also gave Diego the opportunity to meet Mercanta clients and to exchange information on processing experiments with Pedro Echavarria, Managing Director of Pergamino Coffee Exporters/Santa Barbara Estate, and his Head of Quality, Leo Hennao.
Each year, we vary the Jantioquia programme. Often, we include an excursion to Huila and Cauca. Jantioquia III featured a particularly interesting road trip to Urrao and Caicedo, where I had not been before as they are relatively isolated parts of west-central Antioquia. We travelled by road (some of which could only very loosely be called ‘a road’) across very beautiful terrain.
I have some theories as to why some of the more isolated, off the beaten path, out of the way areas, sometimes produce the best coffees. The terrain in and around Urrao and Caicedo is high altitude, rich soil, and adequate to abundant rainfall. But more than this, the area was ‘’off limits’’ for a time, under FARC control in the not so distant past. These remote, isolated areas sometimes don’t participate in the FNC’s grand replanting plans – in which rust resistant Castillo is planted in place of Caturra, Bourbon, and other superior tasting varietals. Many efforts by coops and producer organisations focus on disease resistance, yield, and ease of husbandry, rather than taste. These isolated and remote regions may quite simply benefit from not participating in the well-intentioned producer replanting programmes.
Urrao is home to a multiple award winning small farm, Finca La Falda, accessed by crossing a river in the SUVs then – even better – by crossing a rickety Indiana Jones style wooden rope and wire ‘’bridge’’. A beautiful small farm, producing genuine 85-87 scoring coffees regularly and occasionally 88+ lots.
My seven year old Timberland boots literally fell apart at La Falda, a testament to a good life Coffee Hunting but not useful for trying to get back to the SUV from the farm. Later that afternoon in Urrao town centre, myself and a couple of others in the group meet the editor of the local newspaper. Having purchased some new boots already, our new friend and local guide insisted I seek to repair the broken apart old boots. He led us to the local shoe repair shop, where for £3 my boots would be repaired! My friend Leo, who works with Pergamino / Santa Barbara Estates (and who also has a farm in Urrao) will recover my old boots later, and I will retain them for posterity.
We also visited (again my first visit) Finca Cocondo, reputedly Antioquia’s only organic coffee farm. If it isn’t the only one, it is definitely one of the very few. I usually drive one of the SUVs with our clients around Antioquia myself: it’s challenging but manageable. At Cocondo, Pedro (Echavarria) warned me that someone else would have to take over the driving at the farm. I was slightly rebuffed, but when I saw the road on the farm, featuring z shaped switchbacks on precipitous slopes, I understood what Pedro meant – this road on the farm was insane.
Colombia, at least parts of Colombia, are suffering from the La Niña weather phenomenon, which means we encountered rather cool, wet conditions (including occasional downpours), windy gusts, some thunder and lightning – and probably hardly a single day when it did not rain. On some farm visits we could hardly see for 100m it was so foggy and misty. This is not the weather people were expecting, although I have seen this before in Colombia. The La Niña effect in Antioquia will probably impact the drying of the current main crop, although fortunately much of it is already in and dried and stored in parchment. However, even more importantly the next crop, the mitaca (fly crop) expected in June – July 2018 will most likely be very small as the cool, cold temperatures and overabundant rainfall will definitely impact flower and cherry formation.
We always do a tour of the Echavarria Family farms, which are now so familiar to us, although every season brings new developments, new plantings, areas in renovation, areas added to production, areas removed from production, new varietals planted (like the acclaimed Caturra Chiroso), and so on. La Joyeria (Loma Verde, Saman, Agua Linda), La Camelia, Veracruz and San Pascual – all regular attendees in the Mercanta specialty coffee catalogue. It is like going to see old friends, to visit these farms.
No trip to Medellin is complete without calling in to Medellin’s best café – Pergamino, owned by – you guessed it – the Echavarria Family. Often packed, the coffee, service, atmosphere and general good vibe of Pergamino make this a must call on any visit – and now Pergamino have a third site near Mercanta’s office and a brand new coffee lab in the Oviedo Shopping Centre.
Combining the best of city tours, new developments (such as the 50+ restaurant and food stall Mercado del Rio), a great bunch of eateries and bars (many also new), Medellin is what I have often described as “The City Furthest From Its Own Pre-Conceived Image”. Some cities are famed to be lovely and they are. Some cities are famed to be ugly and unpleasant, and they are. Yet Medellin is still cited as dangerous and risky, and it is not.
Jantioquia IV 2019 promises to be extra special, as Mercanta launches our 2018 Mercanta Roasting Competition with the First Prize as an all expenses paid trip toJantioquia IV! Watch this space for details.