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CEDRO ALTO COFFEE, A COLOMBIAN FARMER COLLECTIVE

AN INTRODUCTION TO CEDRO ALTO COFFEE

by Ben Heins

Karl Wienhold, founder of Cedro Alto Farmers Collective (left), meets with a producer from the Clavel group.

Colombia offers are on the way, more specifically, our first container from a new sourcing partner, Cedro Alto. There will be fully traceable (to the farmgate) micro and regional lots from Narino, Huila, and Tolima. Among those will be a single-farmer natural process from Eduin Hernandez with a hibiscus heavy profile with papaya, red apple, vanilla, and molasses notes – a really fun and unusual cup out of Tolima, the department at the heart of Cedro Alto’s work. There’s a lot to love about the coffees we’re seeing from Cedro Alto. And while we love all things sensory, those of you who know Crop to Cup, know that our passion and process is deeper than (but certainly celebrates) the cup. It’s a vast oversimplification of an endlessly nuanced sourcing dance that we do, but we put people first. This brings me to my introduction of Karl Wienhold, founder of Cedro Alto.

I remember chuckling in my first conversation with Karl. He said, “We are not coffee hunters.” The comment was, and is, such an unambiguous and refreshing contrast to the norm in this business. It was also ruthlessly efficient – a hallmark of what I’ve come to know about Karl (if he’ll allow me the liberty). It took him five words to capture an ethos Crop to Cup has been chasing for a decade, with our murkier if not more folksy, “good coffee comes from good people.”

Karl stands in his own place in Colombia as a fierce advocate for farmer equity in the coffee supply chain. He explained how he entered from a development background (Oxfam, working in the cilantro supply chain in Cauca) and transitioned into coffee after finding that studying agricultural supply chains led to essays instead of action. He entered coffee chasing more impact and he readily admits that a part of his current motivation is a wink and a nudge to the development community. Very real.

There’s much more to the story; so much so that Karl is publishing a book later this year via Roast Magazine. Karl has also published a good amount of content on Instagram. You’ll get a good sense of him if you watch a few of his videos. Everything he touches is transparent to the farmgate level — including all aggregated regional lots. This is impressive in many contexts, but especially in Colombia. His ethics extend past payments alone. He has structured his work as a collective. Members are required to adhere to environmental practices which include keeping native hardwoods on the property, no pesticides, and responsible water use. And oddly, his pragmatism is just as strong as his idealism.

This will remain an incomplete introduction to Karl, and the work at Cedro Alto, because it’s new to us as well. We are learning. That said, we are deeply impressed and motivated to support this work. It fits snugly with our ethics. Crop to Cup’s sourcing can be best understood within a couple parameters (1) we’re looking for suppliers that haven’t before had access to specialty coffee and (2) we want to work with people who are putting in the work, who demonstrate the willingness to chase after the specialty coffee promise – better prices for better qualities.

Similarly, in Cedro Alto, we see a genuine effort to bring new producers to the specialty coffee table – which Karl again says himself a bit more gracefully, “We are a vertically integrated organization made up of many small-scale coffee farmers that could never have direct access to roasters willing to pay fair prices for their micro-lots independently.” It all feels very harmonious.

This is a milestone for us. Partnering with Karl provides access to the farmer level and traceability that we’ve been seeking since the beginning of our work in Colombia. Now, we are able to do that through a deeply legitimate partner, Cedro Alto.

In coffee, we get to know a producer through their coffees, and certainly, the point of this introduction is to encourage that process. We’d love for you to join us and get to know Cedro Alto’s work through the cup.

Please be in touch if there are opportunities to work together to make your Colombian needs more meaningful. We’re very excited to continue and expand Karl’s work and to weave Cedro Alto deep into the fabric of Crop to Cup!

– Ben Heins