This coffee is from a farm and producer that is a member of Coocentral (a Cooperative in Central Huila). Coocentral is doing a smallholder project in cooperation with our importers Nordic Approach to improve the quality of the coffee and livelihoods of the producers. They are investing in technical assistance, follow up and training with the growers. There are about 60 farmers currently part of the project, and this can be increased
Fernando Ardila is quite a remarkable producer, his story is not unlike many other small producers in Colombia except for how quickly Fernando managed to go from working as a picker to being a producer himself. He started working as a picker in 2012, and not long after that he started managing the farm and just a year later he bought the farm and made it his own.
Fernando’s farm, La Estrella, is between 1750 1800 masl and is in the village (Vereda) of La Esperanza in Guadalupe. He has four hectares of 8 year old Caturra and Colombia trees. The slopes that the farm is situated on has very strong winds, this has meant Fernando has had to build a very secure parabolic dryer to protect the parchment from the effects of such strong winds. His biggest challenge has been finding pickers and full time workers on the farm, and attacks of leaf rust both of which are adding to the rising costs of production.
Coocentral is the main Cooperative in Central Huila. The members of the cooperative normally have 2-3 hectare farms in altitudes from 1400 up to 2000 masl. Main varietals are Caturra, Castillo and Variedad Colombia. They currently have 3747 Members, where of 2098 are active members delivering their parchment to the Cooperative reception points (Bodega) in the respective local villages (Veredas). They have purchasing points in Gigante, Garzon, Guadalupe, Suaza Tarqui, Pital, Agrado. The harvest in Central Huila is very spread out -- some have the main harvest in May - July, and others from October - December.
Through Coocentral 2,8 million USD has been spent on social programs since 2005 for: Homes, university education, health care (e.g. - Coocentral pays 50% of hospital bills) Funerals, support in building infrastructure on farms, bonus back from fertilizer purchase to the growers that are delivering all their parchment and buy fertilizer through the coop, life insurance, natural disaster insurance, in-house education system for young growers and kids of growers and pension funds etc. The growers get 100% of the premium we pay above the currant and daily purchasing prices.
Coffees are picked in 3-4 passes. Ananias carefully hand pick the ripe cherries in one block. Then they might wait a few weeks until it’s again a decent amount of ripe cherries to pick in that same place. They only use outside workers for picking at the peak of the harvest. Generally, the first and last pass is of lower quality, and the second and third will be considered as the best, with more ripe cherries and uniform quality. When we can, we try to buy parchment harvested in these two passes.
The coffee from Huila is generally fully washed, meaning pulped and fermented the traditional way. Fernadno first floats the cherries to remove those that float and then pulps.
This is the most common and widely used method. The farmer will have a small beneficio, a small manual or electric pulper and a fermentation tank. They pulp the cherries in the afternoon. The coffees are going straight from the pulper in to the fermentation tank. The parchment at La Estrella is fermented for 18 hours, depending on the temperature. Higher temperature will speed up the fermentation process, and lower temperature will slow it down. Some producers do intermediate rinsing with water, that can also help them control the process.
Washing and grading
They normally stir the coffees in tanks or small channels before they remove the floaters. For the ones without channels it’s common to wash the coffees in the fermentation tank and skim off the floaters before it goes to the drying.
For the smallholders in regions like Huila the coffees are commonly sun dried in parabolic dryers that almost works as green houses. The better producers have well ventilated facilities. There are many different variations and constructions, but generally they are all systems that can protect the coffee from rain. We have generally seen that the producers that have constructions with good ventilation and manage to dry the coffee down to below 11%, Fernando does so in 15 days.
Drying in Huila is a big challenge due to rain and high humidity. During drying the producers hand sort the parchment coffee for impurities and defects. By receiving premium payments, the producers can improve their facilities, by building new or reconstruct the dryers to increase ventilation and potentially add shade nets to slower drying, and hence improve the quality and longevity of the coffee.