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The 2013 Colombia Sourcing Trip (Part 2)

by Mike Perry

Part 2

Following a great day of cupping the Best of Antioquia, I was picked up at my hotel by Juan Alvaro Arboteda of Finca Los Alpes to visit his farm in the Bolivar Municipio. With me were Chuck, Jeff and Felipe (an exporter who bought several lots and being bilingual acted as our translator). During the three-hour drive Juan talked of his passion for coffee and love of his country. He also shared of some tragedy during the period of occupation by the rebel groups and drug lords. He said during that time his family had to live in Medellin as it was not safe, and of the time his father was kidnapped trying to visit the farm and his family paid a ransom for his release. While many were killed during this time, his father and family did survive and finally in the 90’s were able to start visiting the farm again and actually moved back to Bolivar several years ago.

His farm, Los Alpes, is unlike any other farms I have visited. He actually harvests coffee year round, picking each lot every 20 days. I had to ask several times as I thought I must have misunderstood because I could not believe his trees produced cherries year round. While I knew Colombia had both a main crop and fly (or smaller) crop, I had never visited a farm that produced cherry year round. But as we arrived and walked the farm I became a believer.
Los Alpes totaled 90 hectors but most were forest where coffee was not grown. The land was on a side of a mountain where coffee grew from 1700 meters to 2000 meters with natural forest above. The trees (all Caturra) were a blend of flowers, buds, green beans and ripe cherries. The key to the year round harvest though was the terroir. You see, the other side of the mountain was the wild and rough rainforest area creating a unique microclimate where the sun rarely came out (it was overcast the entire time we were there) and it rains over 3300 mm per year and almost every afternoon. While this created the year round harvest, it also meant high labor costs as few beans were ripe for each picking.

Los Alpes also has its own wet mill on site with triple separation plus a unique drying system of warm air over several stacked drying beds. Following drying, the coffee was moved to Juan’s own dry mill in the city where the coffee was stored till hulled for shipment. On the way to the dry mill we had lunch with Juan Alvaro and his sister Olga. While there we discussed terms of a contract plus a special solo rojo (only red) picking and processing experiment similar to what we do with the Ortiz family in El Salvador. While we often agree with a simple handshake, the fact of this being a new relationship we wrote the terms on a napkin and all signed.

After a tour of the Dry Mill and visiting Juan’s father and mother, we went to the little town of Bolivar where they were starting a 4-day celebration in the square. Our hotel was right on the square and we started our own celebration with a dinner hosted by the mayor followed by horse back rides around the square and live music all night.
Early the next day we were off again to visit more farms on roads as scary as those in Bolivia (often called the worlds most dangerous road). Unfortunately many of these small farmers were growing the Robusta based Castillo variety promoted by the Federation. This change from Caturra was a result of concerns over the Roya fungus. While the farmer gets to decide what variety to grow, they cannot get crop financing if they choose a different variety than Castillo, something most farmers cannot live without. Additionally, they get a 40% incentive to grow this Castillo variety. So while the farmer gets to choose what variety to grow, he really has no choice at all. We returned to the City of Medellin around 7pm, excited to start cupping the next morning for our ‘Roasters United Micro Lot Competition’. I will share about that in Part 3.

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