Cupdate Numero 3

Esta semana hice un viaje a municipio de Jardín por 2 noches por lo que pude experimentar qué es vivir y trabajar en una finca de café en pequeña escala.

El domingo por la tarde comenzamos nuestro camino hacia Jardín, que es aproximadamente a 4 horas en coche de Manizales a Medellín. Llegamos alrededor de las 18:00 el domingo por la noche y comí la cena antes de dormir en un hotel. El lunes por la mañana me encontré con el agricultor con el que me quedaría esa noche e, y fuimos a  su finca, La Fortuna.

Era una pequeña finca con sólo dos lotes. El agricultor me mostró su registro de trabajo  y me explicó cómo sigue la pista de café que cultiva. Me dijo que la mayoría de los días, él es el único trabajador, sin embargo, durante el invierno, en temporada alta, él contrata 2 ó 3 personas adicionales.

Pasé la mañana en la finca cultivando café. Fue más difícil que cuando yo cultivé café  en La Esperanza porque la pendiente era más pronunciada y había llovido la noche anterior, por lo que el terreno era muy fangoso y resbaladizo. Aprendí o a aferrarme a las ramas de los árboles de café para que no caerme. El agricultor me dijo que trabaja incluso cuando llueve. Me sorprendió, no creía que él fuera capaz de caminar en el lodo cuando está lloviendo.

Mientras trabajabamos , me dijo que estaba triste porque muchos jóvenes ya no quieren trabajar en la industria del café, que prefieren trabajos en ciudades y pueblos.

También me mostró algunos granos infestados con Broca y me explicó que es un reto continuo en la finca. Aprendí que es un mayor problema durante el verano porque la Broca puede reproducirse antes de que el café sea recogido, por el contrario el invierno es tan frío que la Broca no alcanza a reproducirse.

Recientemente los inviernos han sido más cálidos, y él y su familia están muy preocupada porque dañaría su sustento si esta tendencia continúa. Sin embargo, me explicó que ha tomado cursos sobre Broca, agroquímicos y sobre la mecánica de las máquinas y ha lo encontrado muy provechosos para su finca.

En el almuerzo probé  Arepa de Chocolo por primera vez (como Arepa pero más dulce) y agua de panela (un té dulce hecho con caña de azúcar). Después del almuerzo observé como el productor empacaba el café seco y luego despulpó  el café que habíamos recogido en la mañana. El granjero me mostró el mecanismo de giro en la máquina, la cual empuja el café verde y extrae la pulpa en un recipiente al otro  lado para que no se mezcle con los granos de café saludables, el cual luego pasa a l un tanque de fermentación. Me dijo que la Broca dificulta el proceso de limpieza debido a que se utiliza más agua. Esto es porque no está calibrado el cilindro y el flujo de agua no separa eficazmente.

La familia me dio un recorrido por la finca en la tarde y me dieron a probar  carambola, naranja y mandarinas de los árboles. Hablamos mucho de las tradiciones y cultura colombiana. Fue interesante ver las diferencias culturales tales como la manera en que  celebramos la Navidad, o lo que es normal comer en una cena familiar.

El martes por la mañana, observé cómo el productor lava y clasifica el café fermentado y luego lo pone en las rejillas de secado. Me levanté a las 6 pero el agricultor me explicó que normalmente se levanta a recoger café a las 3:30-4 de la mañana. El va a trabajar en los lotes unas horas antes del desayuno. Me dijo que el café se seca generalmente en la rejilla durante 20-25 horas o 15 horas a 40 grados en su pequeña máquina de secado.

Aprendí que una saco de café normalmente tiene 40KG. El agricultor suele llevar sus sacos de café seco a la cooperativa el sábado. El domingo es el día más popular en la cooperativa pero se llena de muchos agricultores, y puesto que los bancos están cerrados a menudo solamente pagan en cheque en lugar de plata.

En nuestro camino de regreso a Jardín nos detuvimos en la cooperativa para que el productor  pudiera dejar sus sacos de café. Vi el cómo pesaban del café y cómo el empleado cooperativa examinaba y calificaba  los granos. Toma una pequeña muestra de café verde en una bandeja, pesa los granos malos y sanos por separado, para determinar la proporción de granos malos sobre los saludables.

Luego volvimos al Jardín y me despedí de la familia y comenzamos nuestro largo viaje de regreso. Mi estancia con la familia cafetera en Jardín ha sido uno de mis viajes más gratificantes en Cafexport, y lamentablemente es mi última. Fue fascinante comparar la gran finca en La Esperanza con la pequeña finca La Fortuna. Me encantó pasar tiempo con la familia. Ser un productor de café en pequeña escala es difícil, sin embargo, llevan a cabo todo este trabajo con tanta dedicación y actitud positiva. Fueron muy acogedoras y fue muy interesante conocer de primera mano  su cultura y la vida en una pequeña finca de caféa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cupdate Number 3

This week I took a trip to the town of Jardín for 2 nights so that I could experience what it is like to live and work on a small-scale coffee farm.

On Sunday afternoon we began our drive to Jardin, which is roughly a 4-hour drive from Manizales towards Medellin. We arrived around 6 pm Sunday evening and ate dinner before sleeping at a hotel. On Monday morning I met the farmer who I would be staying with for the night, and we drove to his farm, La Fortuna.

It was a small farm with only two lots. The farmer showed me his work register and explained how he kept track of the coffee he cultivated. He told me that most days he is the only farmer, however in the winter during the high season they might hire 2 or 3 extra people.

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I spent the morning at the farm cultivating coffee. It was more difficult than when I cultivated coffee at La Esperanza because the incline was steeper and it had rained the night before, so the ground was very muddy and slippery.  I learnt to hold onto the branches of the coffee trees so I wouldn’t fall. The farmer told me that he would work even when it was raining. I was amazed, I didn’t believe he would be able to walk in the mud when it is raining.

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As we worked, he told me that he was sad that many young people don’t want to work in the coffee industry anymore, favouring work in cities and towns. He also showed me some beans infested with Broca, and explained that it is a continual challenge on the farm. I learnt that winter is the best time to harvest because it takes too long for the Broca to germinate before the coffee is picked. The farmer told me in especially warm summers they cultivate very little coffee because the Broca germinates faster and so a lot of the coffee is bad. Recently winters have been growing warmer and his family is very worried what that will mean for their coffee if the trend continues. However, he explained to me that he has taken courses about Broca, agrochemicals and the mechanics of the coffee machines and has found those very helpful for his farm.

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At lunch, I tried Arepa de Choccolo for the first time (like Arepa but sweeter), and hot agua de panela (a sweet tea made of sugarcane). After lunch, I watched as the farmer packaged dry coffee and then used the de-pulping machine to process the coffee we had picked in the morning. The farmer showed me how a spinning mechanism in the machine pushes green coffee and extra pulp into a container on the side so it doesn’t mix with the healthy coffee beans, which slip through into the fermentation tank. He told me that the Broca make the cleaning process more difficult because they use more water. This is because they aren’t sorted out by the cylinder and the flow of water doesn’t separate them effectively.

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The family gave me a tour of the farm in the afternoon and let me try starfruit, orange and mandarins from their trees. We talked a lot about Colombian culture and traditions. It was interesting to see cultural differences such as how we celebrate Christmas, or what is normal to eat at a family meal.

Tuesday morning, I watched as the farmer washed and sorted the fermented coffee and then put it on the drying racks. I got up at 6 but the farmer explained that normally he gets up to collect the beans at 3:30-4 in the morning. Then he goes to work on the lots for a few hours before breakfast. He told me that the coffee usually dries on the rack for 20-25 hours or 15 hours at 40 degrees in his small drying machine.

I learnt that one bag of coffee normally holds 40KG. The farmer usually takes his bags of coffee to the coop on Saturday. Sunday is the most popular day at the coop but it can be crowded with too many farmers, and since the banks are closed they often only pay by cheque instead of cash.

On our way back to Jardín we stopped at the coop so the farmer could drop off his bags of coffee. I watched the weighing of the coffee and how the coop employee examines and grades the beans. He receives a small sample of the green coffee in a tray. He takes out the bad beans and weighs them together, and then weighs the healthy beans separately, to determine the ratio of bad to healthy beans. We then returned to Jardín and I said goodbye to the family and we began our long journey home.

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My stay with the coffee family in Jardín has been one of my most rewarding trips at Cafexport, and sadly it is my last. It was fascinating to compare the big farm in La Esperanza to the small farm of La Fortuna. I loved spending time with the family. Being a small-scale coffee farmer is difficult yet they conduct all this hard work with such dedication and joy.  They were so welcoming and it was very interesting to learn about their culture and the life of a small-scale coffee farm first hand.

 

Cupdate 2 – Español

 

Empecé esta semana en la oficina con una sesión de catación. En ella se examina la calidad y los sabores de un lote de café, el aroma y el sabor. Normalmente se realiza una sesión de catación con varios lotes de café. Comienza moliendo el café y poniéndolo en 4 tazas (hay 4 tazas por cada lote). Entonces, el proceso es:

  1. Oler el café seco y tomar nota de las diferentes características y cualidades.
  2. Verter agua caliente en las tazas y dejar que el café molido suba.
  3. Con una cuchara revolver el café molido y olerlo. Detectar los diferentes aromas (hacer esto con cada una de las 4 tazas de cada lote).
  4. Con una cuchara quitar los restos de café de la parte superior y dejar que el café se enfríe durante unos minutos
  5. Con una cuchara, probar el café sorbiendo el líquido rápidamente (sin tragar) para poder sentir el sabor en todas las partes de la boca. Luego, escupir el café en un recipiente. Repetir el proceso con cada una de las tazas de café, lavando la cuchara entre cada muestra.
  6. Repetir el proceso de probar el café 3 o 4 veces.

Mientras se prueba el café se debe tomar nota en una hoja o una aplicación móvil, sobre los sabores y las características del café.  Las principales características  que se reconocen en una catación son: aroma, fragancia, acidez, cuerpo,  si es amargo, o vinoso. Las categorías  son evaluadas en una escala de 2.5-5 o 1-3 (más alto el número, mejor el resultado). No todas las empresas buscan las mismas características, pero un buen café tiene generalmente una alta acidez y es vinoso. También se toma nota de atributos positivos como sabores florales, cítricos y caramelos, y atributos negativos como sabores vinagre, metálicos o químicos. Al final de la catación, se clasifica el lote en una escala de 1-5. 1 es excepcional y 5 defectuoso.

Las sesiones de catación son muy importantes porque garantizan que el café colombiano sea de alta calidad y también ayuda a los agrónomos a proporcionar recomendaciones a los productores. Por ejemplo, si una sesión de catación muestra que un lote es demasiado amargo o no tiene notas  vinosas, entonces a los productores se les da recomendaciones para fermentar los granos más o recoger  los granos cuando están más maduros.

Mientras realizamos la catación, aprendí que el café de regiones diferentes puede tener sabores muy distintos, y que la altitud tiene una fuerte influencia en este. El café cultivado en una altura superior generalmente tiene más lípidos (grasa) porque es más frío, y esto se traduce en más cuerpo y acidez. Mientras que el café cultivado a menor altitud tiene menos lípidos (grasa) porque es más caliente, y esto se traduce en menos cuerpo y acidez.

Otra diferencia entre café de altitud baja y alta es la amenaza de la Broca, un insecto pone huevos en los granos y se los come. En altitudes bajas los huevos toman 40 días para incubar, mientras que en la altitud alta los huevos toman 60 días.

Viaje a ‘La Esperanza’

El miércoles hice un viaje a una finca de café llamada ‘La Esperanza’ cerca de Palestina, a una hora de Manizales. Pasé la noche en allí y pude observar cómo funciona una finca de café con más detalle.

Antes de llegar a La Esperanza visitamos otra finca de café que tenía un sistema de tratamiento de agua único. El sistema consta de una serie de 4-5 tanques que contienen bacterias digestivas que limpian el agua utilizada en el procesamiento del café y la pulpa. El residuo de pulpa de café puede ser muy perjudicial para el medio ambiente, por esto los tanques fueron diseñados  para ayudar a reducir el riesgo de contaminación. El sistema es muy delicado y singular. Fue fascinante ver las innovaciones que los productores de café están implementando para llegar  a ser más amigables con el medio ambiente.

Luego fuimos a La Esperanza, que es una de las fincas de café más bonitas que he visitado. Una terraza rodeaba la casa permitiendo una hermosa vista del valle. Me siento muy afortunada de haber podido pasar la noche allá.

En mis visitas a fincas de café en semanas anteriores vi muchos beneficiaderos diferentes, pero esta fue la primera vez pude ver los mecanismos de acción. El administrador de la finca manejaba las máquinas y pude observar cómo los granos eran despulpados y depositados en los tanques de fermentación. Allí se quedaron toda la noche fermentando.

El productor también me mostró el secador mecánico (silo) que era tan grande como una habitación, mucho más grandes de las que yo había visto anteriormente. Me dijo que cuando tienen lotes pequeños de café se seca afuera en carros (estantes), pero cuando la cosecha es muy abundante utilizan silos (secadora mecánica).

Por la tarde caminamos alrededor de la finca. Había cultivos de café tan lejos como podía ver. Dice el productor que la zona donde se ubica la finca es una de las áreas más productivas del café en toda Colombia.

El productor me mostró las diferentes variedades de café cultivadas en la finca, y me explicó cómo Cenicafé (Centro Nacional de Investigaciones del Café) está trabajando continuamente para desarrollar y mejorar híbridos de café para mejorar el sabor y la resistencia a las plagas y enfermedades. Explicó que el cambio climático es un gran problema para los productores de café, y la mejor manera de combatirlo es con prácticas ecológicas y desarrollando plantas híbridas más resistentes. También explicó las ventajas y desventajas de las diferentes variedades. Las especies más comunes de café en la finca son Castillo y Tabi.

El productor también me mostró el vivero donde crecen las plantas de café. Estas se demoran 4 meses en germinar, y luego son plantadas en los lotes. Él también explicó que un empleado puede sembrar un promedio de 1000 plantas por día.

Mientras caminábamos alrededor de la finca, el productor encontró una cereza que estaba infestada de Broca. Abrió el grano y me enseñó el minúsculo insecto que causa muchos problemas a los productores. Muchas de las variedades de café que se cultivan en la finca son resistentes a la broca, pero aun así ocasionalmente aparece. Explicó que en la finca sólo el 5,5% de su café es defectuoso, un muy buen promedio.

Al final del día, el productor me llevó a su oficina y me mostró cómo él sigue la pista de los gastos y la cantidad de café cultivado. Uno de los diagramas ayuda a tener registro de la calidad de la cosecha durante todo año. También ayuda a determinar, basado en la fecha de la florecencia cuando  hay más amenaza de Broca o Roya (un hongo). Otro diagrama muestra las fases de la luna en el año y explica la relación entre éstas y los tipos de actividades que se deben realizar en la finca. Por ejemplo, cuando la luna está menguante la savia se encuentra principalmente en las raíces, por tanto es un buen momento para la poda. Mientras que cuando la luna está llena la savia se encuentra en la parte superior de la planta, entonces es un buen momento para la cosecha.

A la mañana siguiente, los granos terminan  la fermentación. Después estos son lavados con ayuda de unos tablones de madera y una corriente de agua que los empuja a través de un sistema de canaletas que separa los granos buenos de los defectuosos. Los granos defectuosos, la pulpa y los residuos flotan y son detenidos por el tablón de madera, mientras que los granos buenos se hunden y pasan por debajo de éste continuando el proceso. Fue asombroso ver el sistema en la acción, tan simple, pero tan eficaz. Apenas todos los granos están clasificados en dos tanques son transportados a los estantes de secado.

Pude experimentar lo que es ser un recolector de café. Me dieron  balde que amarré a mi cintura y luego salí a trabajar. Era un trabajo duro; estuvimos bajo el sol, hubo un montón de errores y era difícil caminar por la pendiente, pero también me pareció muy relajante. Me sorprendió saber que los empleados en la finca trabajan un promedio de 9 horas al día, yo estaba agotado después de dos! Ahora siento mucho  respeto por su trabajo y por la cantidad de trabajo duro que va en cada grano.

Mi visita a La Esperanza fue una experiencia gratificante e instructiva. Toda la familia en la finca fue muy acogedor y son muy apasionados por su café, estoy muy agradecida por haberme invitado  a quedarme en la finca. Tengo mucha suerte de haber podido experimentar la vida en la finca y de haber ganado tanto conocimiento en el proceso de producción del café.

Si tienen alguna pregunta acerca de mi experiencia, o sobre el cultivo del café en general, deja un comentario abajo!

 

 

Cupdate #2

I began this week in the office with a cupping session. Cupping is the process by which you determine the quality and the flavours of a batch of coffee through smell and flavour. Normally you do a cupping test with multiple batches of coffee. You begin by grinding the coffee and putting it into 4 cups (you have 4 cups for each batch). Then the process follows as so:

 

  1. Smell the dry coffee and make notes of different accents and qualities
  2. Pour hot water into the cups and let the coffee grounds rise to the top
  3. With a spoon stir the coffee grounds and smell the coffee. Then note the different scents (you do this with each of the 4 cups of each batch)
  4. With a spoon remove the coffee grounds from the top of the cups and leave the coffee to cool for a few minutes
  5. With a spoon, sample the coffee by sucking the liquid quickly into your mouth (without swallowing) so you can taste the flavour in all parts of the mouth. Then, spit the coffee out into a container. Repeat with each of the cups of coffee, washing the spoon between batches.
  6. Repeat the process of sampling the coffee 3 or 4 times

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As we sampled the coffee we made notes on a sheet, or in an app, about the flavours and qualities of the coffee. The main categories that you test for in a cupping are: fragrance/aroma, acidity, body, bitterness and vinoso (wine-flavouring), which you score on a scale either 2.5-5 or 1-3 (the higher the number, the better the score). Not every coffee company looks for the same qualities in coffee, but generally a good coffee has a high acidity and vinoso. You also make notes of positive attributes such a floral, citrus and caramel flavours, and negative attributes such as vinegar, metallic or chemical flavours. At the end of the cupping, you classify the batch on a scale of 1-5. 1 is exceptional and 5 is defective.

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Cupping tests are incredibly important because they ensure that Colombian coffee is high quality and also help the agronomists provide recommendations to farmers.  For example, if a cupping shows that a batch is too bitter or doesn’t have any vinoso, then farmers are recommended to ferment the beans longer or cultivate the beans when they are more mature.

While we conducted the cupping test I learned that coffee from different regions can have very different flavours, and that altitude has a strong influence on flavour. Coffee grown at a higher altitude generally has more lipids (fat) because it is colder, and in processing this results in more body and acidity. Coffee grown at lower altitude has less lipids (fat) because it is colder, so often has less body and acidity.

Another difference between low and high altitude coffee is the threat of Broca, an insect which eats and lays eggs in the coffee beans. At low altitudes the eggs take 40 days to hatch, whereas at high altitude the eggs take 60 days to hatch.

Trip to La Esperanza

On Wednesday I took a trip to a coffee farm called ‘La Esperanza’ near Palestina, about an hour outside of Manizales. I stayed the night at the farm so I could see the way a coffee farm functions in more detail. Before we arrived at La Esperanza we visited another coffee farm that had a unique water treatment system.
The system consists of a series of 4-5 tanks which contain digestive bacteria that clean the water used in the processing of the coffee and the pulp. The residue from coffee pulp can be bad for the environment, so the tanks were made to help reduce the risk of contamination. The system is very delicate, and one of a kind. It was fascinating to see the innovations that coffee farmers are coming up with to be more environmentally friendly.

We then went to La Esperanza, which is one of the nicest coffee farms I have visited.  A veranda surrounded the house with beautiful views of the valley. I felt very lucky to be able to stay the night.

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In my visits to coffee farms in previous weeks I’d seen many of the different coffee processing stations, but this was the first time I got to see the process in action. The owner of the farm operated the processor and I watched as the beans were de-pulped and deposited in the fermentation tanks. They were then left overnight for drying.

The farmer also showed me his mechanical dryer which was as big as a room, much larger than the ones I had seen previously. He told me that when they have small batches of coffee they dry it outside on the racks, but when the harvest is very busy they use the mechanical dryer.

In the afternoon we walked around the farm. There was coffee as far as the eye could see, stretching out over the hills into the distance. Apparently the valley around the farm is the most productive coffee area in all of Colombia.

The farmer showed me the different varieties of coffee they grow and explained how Cenicafe (National Research Centre for Coffee) is continually working to develop and improve coffee hybrids to improve flavour and durability to pests and disease. He explained that climate change is a big problem for coffee growers, and the best way to combat it is with environmentally friendly practices and tougher hybrid plants.  He also explained the advantages and disadvantages of the different varieties. The most common species of coffee plant on the farm were Castillo and Tabi.

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The farmer also showed me the nursery where they house the sprouting coffee plants. The coffee plants germinate for 4 months in the nursery before they are planted on the farm. The farmer explained that an employee can pot an average of 1000 plants per day.

As we walked around the farm, the farmer found a bean that was infested with Broca. He broke open the bean and showed me the tiny insect that causes so many problems for coffee growers. Many of the coffee varieties they grown on the farm are resistant to Broca, but occasionally they are still a problem. He explained that on the farm only 5.5% of their coffee is defective, a very good average.

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At the end of the day, the farmer took me to his office and showed me how he kept track of expenses and the amount of coffee cultivates. One of the diagrams in the office helps the farm keep track of the quality of the coffee bean harvests throughout the year. It also helps determine, based on the date of flowering, the date in the future when the threat of Broca or Roya (a fungus) is highest.  Another diagram displayed the phases of the moon for the year and explained the relationship between the phases and what types of activities the farm should conduct. For example, when the moon is waning the sap is located principally in the roots so it is a good time for pruning, whereas when the moon is full the sap is normally located in the top part of the plant and so is a good time to harvest.

The next morning the beans were finished fermenting. After the beans were cleaned the farmer turned on a stream of water which pushed them through a waterway system which sorted the good and the defective beans. At the end of the waterway system were two different vats. Between then a wooden plank was placed. The defective beans, pulp and extra debris would float at the top of the water, over the wooden plank into one vat. The good beans would sink and so flow into the other vat. It was amazing to watch the system in action, so simple but so effective. Once all the beans had been sorted into the two vats they were then transported to the drying racks.

I then got to experience what it is like to be a coffee picker. I was given a bucket to attach around my waist and I went to work.  It was hard work; we were in the sun, there were lots of bugs, and it was hard to walk on the steep incline, but I also found it very relaxing. I was amazed to learn that employees at the farm work an average of 9 hours a day, I was exhausted after two! It gave me so much respect for their jobs and the amount of hard work that goes into every bean.

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My visit to La Esperanza was such a rewarding and informative experience. The whole family at the farm were so welcoming and passionate about their coffee and I am very thankful that they invited me to stay. I am so lucky that I got to experience life on a coffee farm and gain so much knowledge in the process.

If you have any questions about my experiences, or about coffee cultivation in general, leave a comment below!

Cupdate: the first few weeks

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My first few weeks at Cafexport have been a rewarding and exhilarating experience as I have been immersed in the lifespan of coffee, from the branches of coffee trees at the farms all the way to the bags ready for export at the mills.

My introduction began on Tuesday at the office as I learned all about Cafexport’s farms. There are roughly 4200 farms in total, spread across multiple regions. I learnt that the coffee’s journey begins as it travels from the farms to the cooperatives, where it is organised and cup tested for quality and flavour. It then is transported to the dry mills where it is cleaned, organised and packaged for export. Another organisation then test the coffee for quality again and arranges the logistics for export. Cafexport then takes over, arranging the logistics of export and selling of the coffee to clients. This is a very brief summary, but you get the general idea. I was amazed to find out that they cup test the coffee for quality upwards of 7 times throughout this whole process to ensure it is truly the best.

The integral component that ties all these farms (or fincas) together is a set of guidelines for sustainable practices. With these guidelines, Cafexport provides a network of agronomists the tools to train and assist farmers in coffee quality, farm productivity and sustainable agriculture.   This is one of the two main stages where Cafexport comes into the coffee’s journey. Cafexport works with farmers and agronomists to help ensure they improve the sustainability of their farms, by helping with projects, training, and monitoring of farms’ progress. The second stage is, as I mentioned, helping organize the logistics of export and delivery of coffee around the world.

It was incredible to learn how such a complicated network, comprising of the cooperatives, exporters, the dry mills, non-profit coffee organisations, and Cafexport all work together effectively to ensure that Colombian coffee is great quality, sustainable, and gives back to the farmers who work so hard to grow it.

However, the real adventure began on Tuesday with my first visit to a coffee farm. We left early in the morning to drive from Manizales to visit 3 farms near the town of Riosucio. The roads were constantly winding, but with stunning views looking out over towering mountain ranges and lush green valleys. Our route to the first farm took us from a paved road, to a rocky dirt road, and finally on foot hiking 20 minutes up the mountain.

At this farm I got to see for the first time how a coffee farm operates, from the vats where the coffee beans are cleaned and fermented, to the big racks where they dry the beans in the sun. We had to take soil samples from 3 different plots of the farm, which took us further up the mountain through the groves of coffee plants. I found out the soil would be taken to a lab to be tested for quality, to determine if any fertilisation or soil treatments were necessary. We needed multiple soil samples from different sections of the farm to provide an accurate overall picture of soil quality. The climb to reach the spots for the soil samples was steep, but the view from the top was incredible. You could see for miles, Manizales a glittering white blot in the distance.

After lunch, we visited two more farms to conduct a sustainability and quality inspections. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in the layout of the first farm and the second two. For example, one of the farms had an organic water treatment system which is more environmentally friendly and cost effective. Once we had looked around the farms, we talked to the farmers about any thoughts or concerns they had and provided recommendations on areas they could improve.

On Thursday we drove to visit two farms in Salamina that have Ecomills. The Ecomill is a new coffee washing technology that automates the de-pulping, washing and fermenting of the coffee, all in one mechanism. Ecomills are incredibly beneficial to coffee farmers because they eliminate wastewater contamination during the de-pulping and processing stages and need one tenth of the amount of water used in the traditional manual process. Currently, only 4 farms in the whole group have Ecomills, because they are quite expensive, but over time the goal is for many coffee farmers to have access to the machines.

A mechanic came with us to Salamina, whose job was to examine and fix the two Ecomills, as the farmers were having problems with them.

The farm’s Ecomill was about as tall as me and took up a room in one of the outbuildings. They had both traditional drying racks and an electric drying machine for the beans. As the mechanic fixed the Ecomill we talked to the farmer, and I learnt how the machine worked and its various advantages. The second farm we visited had the biggest of the 4 Ecomills, situated inside a tall two storey building. Originally we had brought the mechanic to replace the grinder that de-pulps the coffee, but it turned out that it only needed a few adjustments. The mechanic added a new belt to one part of the mechanism and examined the functionality of the Ecomill as a whole. While the mechanic tended to the Ecomill we took a closer look at the machine and conducted an evaluation on the farm as a whole. There was another section connected to the mill which I hadn’t seen before, a series of tanks and waterways that I learnt are part of a sophisticated hydraulic system connected to the Ecomill. In this system, the coffee is poured into a big tank outside of the building which feeds through a tube into a water stream. The stream carries the beans through a channel and into a tube that pulls them up to the top of the Ecomill, feeding them into the de-pulping mechanism. It was fascinating to see the efficiency of the machine on such a big scale.

On Thursday, we travelled to Supia to evaluate two farms. At both farms we looked over their paperwork for the year to make sure their expenses were accurate and up to date, and that they were paying their workers sufficiently. We then discussed what they had done to improve since the last check in, before examining the farms.

The cleaning and processing areas of the farms were in good condition, but both had a problem with the drying racks because the pets had access to the racks could potentially walk on the beans. We also looked at the storage of agrochemicals. Both farms stored the chemicals in the correct metal containment box, however, some of the chemicals were in old plastic bottles and not all of the protective gear and clothing was stored correctly. We ended our visits by discussing with them the improvements they needed to make and the importance of these improvements in order to succeed.

At the end of the day, we went to Anserma to visit a dry mill. The dry mill is where the coffee from multiple coops is brought to be cleaned, sorted, and organised for exports. There is a total of 2 mills in the group. The dry mill is a huge connected series of machines that take up 3 big warehouses. The machines first remove any dirt and foreign objects from the beans. The outer shell on the beans is then removed and they are cleaned thoroughly. Afterwards, the beans travel through a series of vats which sort the beans by size and remove the malformed beans. All of this is done through air and vibrations. The most sophisticated machine in the whole process scans the beans as they are carried down a chute. With precision accuracy, it selects specific beans that are off-colour or in some way deficient and with a directed jet of air expels the bean from the stream. Finally, the beans are sorted by size and quality and put into bags for export. At each stage, a certain percentage of beans are expelled, refining and organising the quality further. The biggest and highest-quality beans go to companies, the smaller beans stay in Colombia. It was fascinating to see the machine in action and the intuitive intelligence and accuracy of the mechanics, working so precisely at such a large scale to organise beans that will be shipped all over the world.

Since it was a 4-day week, I’m including my trip on the following Monday

Once again I was on the road on Monday as I went to Quinchia to help out with and observe a training course on the safe handling of agrochemicals. We began with team building exercises, followed by a variety of activities to explain and educate the coffee growers on the negative effects of agrochemicals on the body and environment. We then ran a number of demonstrations to show them the risks of unsafe handling, how to wear the protective gear correctly, and how to safely clean up afterwards.

It was an incredibly informative experience for me as I not only learned a lot about the training courses but about agrochemicals as well. Some of the information was intuitive and obvious, but other details, such as which parts of your body are most susceptible to contamination, I wouldn’t have known unless someone told me. It really impressed upon me how valuable these training sessions are and how much it helps the coffee growing communities. This rang even truer as, on our drive back to Manizales, we passed a number of men with agrochemical dispersers wearing tank tops with no protective gear or masks).

My first weeks at Cafexport have been incredibly rewarding, I learnt so much and have an even more profound appreciation for coffee growers and everyone who dedicates their work to the processing and export of Colombian coffee. I am already excited to see what new knowledge and adventures the following weeks will hold!

 

Colombian Coffee: A History & Introduction

When you ask someone to describe Colombia, one of the first words that always comes to mind is ‘coffee’. Colombia is renowned for having some of the best coffee in the world but, for Colombians, coffee is more than just a crop, it is part of the nation’s identity.

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Colombia’s coffee region is made up of more than 300,000 hectares of beautiful mountains and countryside, which were listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2011 (Sarepa). The region covers large sections of the Andes Mountain Range, which Conservation International has called the, “richest and most diverse region on earth” (Equalexchange). The mountain range contains one sixth of the world’s plant species in one percent of its land area.

The coffee-growing region of Colombia can be split into two sections: Medellín, Armenia and Manizales (MAM),  and Bogota and Bucaramanga (Coffeeresearch). In these regions roughly 500,000 farmers produce an average of 11.5 million bags of coffee, the third total highest in the world after Brazil and Vietnam, and the highest average of the world’s Arabica coffee at 12%.

However, Colombia has not always been the ‘coffee empire’ that it is today. Here is a short history of coffee in Colombia and how it came to be a cornerstone of the nation’s heritage and economy:

The beginning of coffee in Colombia

It is most widely accepted that coffee came from Colombia with Jesuit priests arriving from Europe around the 17th century. However, the person who is best known for having popularised the growth of coffee in Colombia is a Jesuit priest named Francisco Romero. Leaders and priests such as Romero encouraged farmers to plant coffee, but when the farmers discovered that the first crop of coffee wouldn’t be ready to harvest for five years, they dismissed the suggestion. To sway the farmers, Romero had a unique idea. At his church he told the locals that instead of giving penance at confession, their penance would be to plant 3 or 4 coffee trees (Sarepa). The Archbishop of Colombia heard of Romero’s new form of penance and liked the idea. He encouraged everyone to plant coffee trees as penance and soon it became common practice. Thus, Colombia’s future as the 3rd largest coffee producer in the world began (CoffeeChemistry).

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The first coffee crops were planted predominately in the eastern region of Colombia. However, the export of coffee from Colombia didn’t begin until 1835, when a shipment of 2,500 pounds of beans left for the USA. Consolidation of coffee as Colombian export didn’t occur until the second half of 19th century when the expansion of world economy allowed Colombians greater access to international trade. By 1960 coffee was the country’s dominant export crop, and soon tariffs on coffee export were the main source of government revenue (Equalexchange). By 1875 Colombia was exporting an average of 170,000 bags to U.S. and Europe (CoffeeChemistry).

Until the end of the 19th century, most exported agriculture came from large scale estates controlled by the wealthy elite (Equalexchange). This changed around the turn of the century when a fall of international prices which affected the large estates badly. The Thousand Days War, which occurred during the first few years of the 20th century, furthered the decline of the plantations (Wikipedia). Many estates, such as Santander, North Santander and Cindinamarca descended into crisis. The fall of the large estates marked one of the most important changes in the Colombian coffee industry, as it encouraged the development of small-scale coffee production.

From 1875 onward the number of small coffee farms grew, predominately in the western regions of Colombia, such as Antioquia and Caldas. This internal migration was expedited by the peace following the Thousand Days War, which inspired many in the early 1900s to settle and found small coffee farms in the western mountainous areas (DonQuijote). As a result, in the first few decades of the 20th century, the western regions of Colombia became leaders in the development of the national coffee industry. Consequently, a new model of coffee export was generated around the rural coffee economy that had arisen.

Despite this growth, Colombia did not have a lot of prominence in the global market until the creation of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia) in 1927.

The National Federation of Coffee Growers

From its humble beginnings in 1927 the FNC has grown to be one of the largest rural non-profit organisations in the world. The purpose of the NFC is to represent and defend coffee growers’ interests. The organisation believes that by improving the quality of Colombian coffee, farmers can improve their quality of life (knowledge@wharton). As a result, for decades NFC have funded a variety of programs designed to do just that.

Most famously, the FNC began a very successful international marketing campaign in 1959 to put Colombian coffee on the map. In this campaign they creating the charismatic, fictional spokesman of Juan Valdez, who became an icon for Colombian coffee (knowledge@wharton). The FNC also introduced the familiar triangular logo in 1982, to represent coffee of 100% Colombian origin. Because of these campaigns, consumers began to buy coffee based on its national origin in Colombia, rather than by brand.  As a result, Colombian coffee to this day is among the most well-known in the whole world. For example, 85% of Americans associate Juan Valdez with Colombian Coffee (CoffeeChemistry).

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Another transformative program is National Coffee Fund started by the FNC in the early 1940s. The distribution of profits among farmers to ensure that they have a minimum standard of living has continually been a challenge because the added value to Colombian coffee is only achieved at retail (knowledge@wharton). The fund offers farmers a minimum price for their crop based on a formula that takes into consideration current international market price and exchange rate, ensuring they get a fair minimum price for their coffee.  A small portion of money from every pound of exported coffee goes to the National Coffee Fund. With this fund and others, the FNC also provides “technical assistance to coffee producers, scientific research, quality-control programs, living condition improvements and international advertising for Colombian coffee” (knowledge@wharton). The FNC invests hundreds of millions into these initiatives.

Today, FNC exports roughly 30% of Colombian coffee, making it the largest exporter of coffee in the nation. The FNC guarantees the purchase of coffee beans, so the farmers have the option (but no obligation) to sell as much of their produce as they want, at any of the 500+ locations around the country (knowledge@wharton). 38 cooperatives in Colombia are not represented by the FNC, including nineteen companies that are certified fair trade (Equalexchange).

Key facts

Here are a few key facts about coffee production in Colombia, which reflect why Colombian beans are so renowned for their superior quality and flavour (courtesy of knowledge@wharton):

  • Coffee growing is the biggest source of rural employment in the country
  • Coffee production consists of 16% of the national agricultural GDP
  • According to the FNC, in the past five years, roughly 37% of Colombian coffee exports were shipped to the US, closely followed by 10% to Germany
  • Colombian coffee is known for its exceptional quality. Its full-bodied flavor and delicate acidity results from the rich volcanic soil and predominantly shade-grown cultivation
  • The alternating wet and dry seasons produce two harvests, one from September to December and the other from April to June
  • Colombian coffee can be planted at altitudes of up to 1951 metres, where the climate creates superior beans, in part due to increased acidity
  • Because of the mountainous terrain of Colombia’s coffee growing regions, the coffee is harvested by hand when it is ripe (this process differs from other major coffee-growing nations where coffee is grown at a lower altitude and harvested mechanically)
  • About 95% of coffee-growing families operate on small plots of land, averaging 2.5 hectares. Thus, Colombian coffee production is predominately a family run operation, where the harvesting and processing is carried out by the growers

 

Sources

Duncan, Sarah. “The Colombian Coffee Triangle and the History of Coffee in the Country.”Sarepa.com. N.p., 07 May 2017. Web. 05 July 2017.

“History of Coffee in Colombia.” Equal Exchange. Equal Exchange Coop, 2016. Web. 05 July 2017.

Flores, Gerard. “Colombian Coffee Beans.” Coffee Research. Coffee Research Institute, 2006. Web. 05 July 2017.

“History of Colombian Coffee.” Coffee Chemistry. Coffee Intelligence LLC, 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 05 July 2017.

“Coffee in Colombia.” DonQuijote. DonQuijote, 2016. Web. 05 July 2017.

Andrade, Rafaela Latin, Dawn Overby, Jessica Rice, and Samantha Weisz. “Coffee in Colombia: Waking Up to an Opportunity.” Knowledge@Wharton. Wharton School University of Pennsylvania, 2 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 July 2017.

Café Colombiano: Una introducción e historia

 

El “Café” es una de las primeras palabras que viene a la mente cuando piensas en Colombia. Colombia es conocida por producir algunos de los mejores café del mundo, pero, el café es más que un cultivo, es parte de la identidad nacional.

La región cafetera de Colombia se compone de más de 300.000 hectáreas de montañas y campo, y fue declarada Patrimonio de la humanidad por la UNESCO en 2011 (Sarepa). La región cubre partes grandes de la Cordillera de los Andes, que Conservation International ha llamado “la región más rica y más diversa en el mundo” (Equalexchange). La Cordillera contiene una sexta parte de las especies de plantas del mundo.

La región cafetera de Colombia se compone de dos secciones: Medellín, Armenia y Manizales (MAM),  y Bogotá y Bucaramanga (Coffeeresearch). En estas regiones aproximadamente 500.000 agricultores producen un promedio de 11,5 millones de sacos de café (el tercer total más alto del mundo después de Brasil y Vietnam) y producen el más alto promedio de café Arabica del mundo en 12%.

Sin embargo, Colombia no siempre fue un imperio de café, como lo es hoy. Presento a usted una breve historia del café en Colombia el cual se ha desarrollado para ser una piedra angular de la economía y el patrimonio de la nación:

 

El comienzo del café en Colombia

Se cree que el café entró en Colombia con los sacerdotes jesuitas que llegaron desde Europa en el siglo XVII. Un sacerdote jesuita llamado Francisco Romero es famosa por popularizar el cultivo del café en Colombia.

Muchos líderes y sacerdotes animaron a los agricultores a cultivar café, pero los agricultores se desalentaron cuando descubrieron que las plantas de café no estarían listas para cosechar pasados cinco años. Para alentar a los agricultores, Romero les dijo que en lugar de dar la penitencia en la Iglesia, podrían dar la penitencia por la plantación de árboles de café (Sarepa). Al arzobispo de Colombia le gustó la idea de Romero y animó a todos a hacer lo mismo. La Plantación de árboles de café como penitencia se convirtió en una práctica común (CoffeeChemistry). Los primeros cultivos de café se sembraron predominantemente en la región occidental de Colombia. La exportación de café de Colombia se inició en 1835, con un cargamento de 2.500 kilos de granos a Estados Unidos.

En la segunda mitad del siglo XIX, la expansión de la economía mundial dio a los colombianos más acceso al comercio internacional. Por 1960 el café fue el cultivo de exportación dominante de Colombia, y las tarifas en el café eran la fuente principal de ingresos del gobierno (Equalexchange). En 1875 Colombia exportaba un promedio de 170.000 sacos a Estados Unidos y Europa (CoffeeChemistry).

Hasta el final del siglo XIX, lo más exportado de la agricultura proviene de fincas de gran escala controlados por la élite (Equalexchange). Sin embargo, a principios de siglo hubo una caída en los precios internacionales, que afectó a los latifundios. Las plantaciones sufrieron aún más durante ‘La guerra de los mil días’, que se produjo en los primeros años del siglo XX (Wikipedia). Muchos latifundios, en Santander, Norte de Santander y Cundinamarca se perdieron a causa de la crisis. El declive de los latifundios marcó un importante cambio en el sector cafetero de Colombia. El cambio animó el desarrollo de la fincas de café en pequeña escala.

Desde 1875, el número de pequeñas fincas de café creció, predominantemente en las regiones occidentales de Colombia, como Antioquia y Caldas. ‘La guerra de los mil días’ también alentó a muchas personas a migrar y encontraron pequeñas fincas cafeteras en las zonas montañosas occidentales a principios de 1900 (DonQuijote). Las regiones occidentales de Colombia se convirtieron en líderes en el desarrollo del sector cafetero de Colombia. Como resultado, se dio un nuevo modelo de exportación de café diseñado para la economía rural.

Sin embargo, Colombia no fue poderoso en el mercado mundial hasta la creación de la Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia en 1927.

 

La Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia

Desde su fundación en 1927, la FNC ha crecido para ser una de las organizaciones rurales, sin fines de lucro, más grande del mundo. El propósito de la FNC es representar y defender los intereses de los productores de café. La organización cree que al mejorar la calidad del café colombiano, es posible mejorar la calidad de vida de los agricultores (knowledge@wharton). Durante muchas décadas la FNC ha financiado una variedad de programas para lograr este objetivo.

El proyecto más famoso de la FNC fue su campaña de marketing exitosa en 1959. La campaña contó con el portavoz ficticio “Juan Valdez”, que se convirtió en un icono para el café colombiano (knowledge@wharton). Además, la FNC creó el famoso logotipo triangular en 1982, para identificar el café de origen colombiano. Como resultado, los consumidores comenzaron a comprar café porque fue cultivada en Colombia, en vez de una marca específica. A causa de estas campañas, el café colombiano está hoy entre los más famoso en el mundo. Por ejemplo, 85% de los estadounidenses asocian a Juan Valdez con el  café de Colombia (CoffeeChemistry).

Otro aspecto importante del programa es el Fondo Nacional del Café, que la FNC comenzó a principios de 1940. Siempre ha sido un desafío asegurar que la distribución de ganancia entre agricultores sea justa (knowledge@wharton). El fondo garantiza a los agricultores un precio mínimo justo para su café con una fórmula que  tiene en cuenta el mercado internacional de precios y tipos de cambio. Una parte del dinero de cada libra de café exportada va al Fondo Nacional de café. Gracias a este fondo, y otros, la FNC también ofrece:

  • asistencia técnica a productores de café,
  • investigación científica,
  • programas de control de calidad,
  • mejoras de las condiciones de vida y
  • publicidad internacional para el café colombiano.

La FNC invierte cientos de millones de dólares en estas iniciativas (knowledge@wharton).

Actualmente, la FNC exporta aproximadamente el 30% del café colombiano. Es el mayor exportador de café en la nación. La FNC garantiza la compra de granos de café. Los agricultores tienen la opción (sino no obligación) de vender su cultivo como quieran (knowledge@wharton). Cada agricultor recibe un promedio de 95% del valor del café que producen. 38 cooperativas en Colombia no están representadas por la FNC, incluyendo diecinueve empresas certificadas comercio justo (Equalexchange).

 

Hechos importantes

Aquí hay algunos datos más sobre la producción de café en Colombia, las almendras colombianas son conocidas por su calidad y sabor (knowledge@wharton):

  • El cultivo del café es la mayor fuente de empleo rural en el país.
  • El Cultivo de café se compone de 16% del GDP agrícola nacional.
  • Según la FNC, en los últimos cinco años, aproximadamente el 37% de las exportaciones de café colombiano fueron enviado a los Estados Unidos, seguido de cerca por el 10% para Alemania.
  • El Café colombiano es conocido por su calidad excepcional. Su cuerpo, sabor y delicada acidez son el resultado de suelos volcánicos y predominantemente de cultivos bajo la sombra.
  • En las regiones de café colombiano con alternancia de estaciones húmedas y secas, se producen dos cosechas. Septiembre a diciembre y Abril a Junio.
  • El Café colombiano puede ser plantado a una altura de hasta 1951 metros, donde el clima crea granos superiores, parcialmente debido al aumento de la acidez.
  • Debido a la orografía montañosa de las regiones donde se cultiva café en Colombia, el café es cosechado a mano cuando está maduro (este proceso es muy diferente de otras importantes naciones productoras de café donde el café crece a una altura menor y se cultiva mecánicamente).
  • El 95% de las familias productores de café familias tienen pequeñas parcelas de tierra, con un promedio de 2.5 hectares. Como resultado, la producción de café en Colombia es predominantemente una operación familiar.

 

Bibliografía

Duncan, Sarah. “The Colombian Coffee Triangle and the History of Coffee in the Country.”Sarepa.com. N.p., 07 May 2017. Web. 05 July 2017.

“History of Coffee in Colombia.” Equal Exchange. Equal Exchange Coop, 2016. Web. 05 July 2017.

Flores, Gerard. “Colombian Coffee Beans.” Coffee Research. Coffee Research Institute, 2006. Web. 05 July 2017.

“History of Colombian Coffee.” Coffee Chemistry. Coffee Intelligence LLC, 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 05 July 2017.

“Coffee in Colombia.” DonQuijote. DonQuijote, 2016. Web. 05 July 2017.

Andrade, Rafaela Latin, Dawn Overby, Jessica Rice, and Samantha Weisz. “Coffee in Colombia: Waking Up to an Opportunity.” Knowledge@Wharton. Wharton School University of Pennsylvania, 2 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 July 2017.