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This month we’re excited to present two coffees from South America, grown in very different production systems.
In Colombia, coffee mainly grows on small family owned farms, where the sale of each year’s crop makes up the main income for the family, who often also live on the farm.
Brazil is the world’s largest producer of Arabica coffee, so production here happens on an almost industrial scale, with larger farms and often a degree of mechanisation.
The first coffee is from a small 10 hectare farm in the Tolima region of Colombia, a crisp and clean washed Tabi with floral notes of chamomile backed up by soft nectarine and a deep caramel sweetness.
The second coffee is from a much larger 240 hectare estate in the Cerrado Mineiro region of Brazil, a round and sweet natural Red Catuai with creamy chocolate and toffee notes punctuated by a note of red cherry.
Here, we’re excited to be able to showcase two coffees, both from South America, but grown in rather different systems. Being able to find delicious coffees under such different conditions is part of what makes our job as coffee buyers so exciting.
In Colombia, coffee mainly grows on small family-owned farms, where the sale of the main income to the family, who often also live on the farm. Here on remote mountainsides at high altitude, most of the farm work must be done by hand, by the farmers themselves and a small team of dedicated workers. The cool temperatures at high altitude lead to a lengthy cherry maturation phase, leading to a much higher acidity than in lower-grown coffees. In terms of supply chain, this remoteness can also lead to some differences in trading. Producers have more difficulty procuring knowledge on farming and fermentation techniques, and have less access to markets who are willing to pay a fair price for their crop. This requires the intervention of projects such as the InCoNexus scheme that we worked with to secure this lot from Alto Bonito. They run training classes, and connect producers to buyers like us who pay premium prices for quality lots.
In Brazil, the dry plains of the Cerrado Mineiro region provide a positive, but rather different climate for the production of high quality coffees. The lower altitude means faster growing and higher yielding plants, but often a lower acidity and flavour intensity in the cup. However, this climate leads to ideal conditions for processing very clean and elegant natural coffees, without the taints often seen due to slow drying in cooler and more humid conditions. The flatness of the land here also leads to larger farms, often with a degree of mechanisation seen, especially in harvesting. Producers here are also more involved in their own supply chain and marketing, having a clear idea of the value of their own crop and who they would like to sell it to. In Brazil we work mainly with Ally Coffee, together with whom we have bought from the same group of large scale producers in Brazil for some time.
This month, each coffee is rather typical of their own region, with a fresh and crisp lot from a small farm in Colombia, contrasted with something rounder and sweeter from a larger estate in Brazil. Read more about each below.
First coffee - Colombia
Alto Bonito Washed Tabi
Chamomile, Nectarine and Caramel (250g / 8.8oz)
Arnulfo Quintero has owned Alto Bonito for 13 years now, and has a rich personal history in coffee growing. He grew up on his family’s farm in Quindio, helping his father with everyday tasks, being exposed to the knowledge he would eventually use at Alto Bonito.
When Arnulfo and his family purchased the farm, they kept its original name, which was given due to the high altitude and beautiful scenery, overlooking the valley down into the town of Planadas. The farm is only a short drive north of the town, a crucial centre for local coffee producers, home to many cooperatives and coffee buyers.
Like many in Tolima, Arnulfo is rather new to speciality coffee production, so grows mainly Caturra and the more modern Castillo, introduced to the region in the 2000s after a particularly hard-hitting leaf rust outbreak. After attending training and cupping sessions with InCoNexus, our export partner in the region, Arnulfo felt encouraged to plant a plot of the Tabi varietal, a hybrid with the rust resistance of Castillo, but which is able to maintain more of the cup quality of traditional varietals like Caturra. Many farmers in Tolima have a diversified income, to deal with the region’s unstable past. This was an area of great activity for the FARC guerilla, and many who now grow coffee here were previously coca growers controlled by the FARC. For this reason, Arnulfo also grows bananas and oranges for the local market, but coffee is the family’s main source of income.
Partly due to schemes like those from InCoNexus, we are seeing a renaissance in growing coffee in Tolima, especially in the south around Planadas, not far from the border with Huila. Farmers are planting new varietals such as Pink Bourbon, Geisha and Tabi, and paying more attention to careful and often experimental fermentation. Arnulfo is a great example of this, and we’re excited to share his coffee with you, a crisp and clean washed Tabi with floral aromas of chamomile followed by a soft and balanced cup, with round nectarine and rich caramel.
Second coffee - Brazil
Olhos D’Agua Natural Red Catuai
Chocolate, Cherry and Toffee (250g / 8.8oz)
Marcelo Assis Nogueira’s passion for coffee was instilled by his father, who worked on coffee farms all his life to support his family. From here, Marcelo went on to study Agriculture, graduating in 2001 and immediately being hired by the Ferreira family as a technical manager. As an experienced group of rural producers from Minas Gerais, the Ferreiras saw great potential in Marcelo, and eventually decided to go into business together. They found the ideal terroir for their shared farm just outside the town of Olhos D’Agua, in the Cerrado Mineiro region.
Today, the farm is mainly run by Marcelo and his family. They have begun to focus on sustainability, and Marcelo and Flávio Márcio Ferreira recently founded Bioma Cafe together, a company focussing on the sustainable production of specialty coffee. They keep biodiverse landscapes at their farms, and avoid monoculture by growing species such as avocado, helping to create healthy soils and biodiverse animal populations. Marcelo and Flavio have worked with Ally coffee to sell their crop for some years now, and this is the first time we’ve been able to secure a lot from Olhos D’Agua through our friends at Ally.
This lot of natural Red Catuai from Fazenda Olhos D’Agua is a very classic and clean example of a Cerrado Mineiro coffee. Waves of heavy sweetness and a light pleasant dryness are reminiscent of chocolate and toffee, while a crisp acidity punctuates the cup with a note of fresh black cherry.
Being able to find delicious coffees like these in such different systems in different countries is part of what is so rewarding about working in our industry. Working as a buyer in each country is a different challenge, both in terms of the taste profile expected, but also in terms of the systems under which coffee is produced and traded.
Here each coffee is rather typical of their own region, with a fresh and crisp lot from Colombia, contrasted with something rounder and sweeter from Brazil. We hope you enjoy each over the next month.
Stay bright and curious - John Gibson
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