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Colombia Mid-Harvest Update 2021

view of Colombia landscape

Coffee moves fast in Colombia.

If you want the best, you must be there to cup and commit. In this fast-paced environment, timing, access, and calibration are what is needed to buy with confidence.

However, in parts of the country the springtime harvest moves slightly slower. While most producers work straight through one harvest into another, some take the brief breather to get a bit more experimental. With the Covid this year, the pace slowed slightly more still, and like baking bread became popular in the US, anaerobic fermentation was the craze in Colombia.

Join us as we review this past harvest in Colombia and see what happens when a mad rush for quality is forced to learn patience. Moreover, let’s get excited about what to expect in August when this coffee arrives!

Let’s Talk About Timing

Mid Harvest: Main Harvest:

Coffee exported in May-June; Scheduled to arrive in August

Coffee exports Dec-Feb; Typically arrives Feb-March

Colombia is a place where the ‘fly’ crop can be 40-60% of the annual harvest, making it–on occasion–bigger than the main crop. Many use the term ‘mid-harvest’ over fly crop these days. This is a place where an elevation rise of 300m can cause a farm to fruit 4-6 weeks later than their neighbor below. This is also a place where coffee is grown across 14 regions and 590 municipalities. So, if you are under the impression that Colombian coffee is harvested year-round, you wouldn’t be wrong.

But without a more granular, localized plan you wouldn’t be in a good position to purchase from the peak of every harvest or have the patience needed to hold lots in a warehouse until they get to export volumes. This type of plan only comes through an excess of communication and an annoying amount of preparation with the right partners.

Let’s Talk About Access

Coffee is a team sport. The most effective teams build from the ground up and eventually hire coaches, managers, agents to represent them at the export (or import) level.

Viewed through this lens, our most mature partnerships in Colombia are with CENCOIC, followed by CEDRO ALTO, and ABADES. All three have different models for separating qualities.

CENCOIC identifies community groups of interest (for their practices and/or for the profile of their coffee). These community bodegas are instructed to separate out lots which appear to be of better quality (based on visual inception, green grading, moisture analysis, and knowledge of the farm). These ‘microlots’ are sent to the cooperative cupping lab for analysis.

CEDRO ALTO, a Colombia Coffee Farmer Collective is a different bird; headed by Karl Wienhold (author of Cheap Coffee). Cedro Alto forms super groups of specialty farmers within existing cooperatives. The Collective provides cupping, community development, and export services. They identify individuals and cup coffees stored in a partner cooperative’s bodega.

ABADES is a smaller cooperative that cups every individual farmer delivery. Each farmer may deliver 1-10 bags at a time (typically less than 5 bags), 1-3 times a year. This is how they separate microlots and build regional profiles.

These are three examples of how we find quality within a specific region. We are also scratching the surface on sourcing from a ‘new’ coffee-growing region – the large department of Meta, located in the geographic center of Colombia and east of the Andes. Coffee from this region comes to market through Huila, and is rarely if ever sold separately as being from Meta.

Here there is little infrastructure, and no access to markets, making the FNC the buyer of both first and last resort. Until recently. The USAID-funded Coffee for Peace program combined training with outreach and auctions to encourage participation in Specialty.

This year Coffee for Peace collaborated with the FNC around the Land of Diversity Auction which narrowed lots from 1,100 farmers spread across 15 regions down to the top 26 offers for auction.

Coffee for Peace is managed in part by our friends at Boot Coffee

While the lot we got did not make it to auction, it stands out as an incredible example of what is possible from this emerging region for specialty. Hats off to Snr. Bustos from Bella Vista Farm.

Luís Humberto Bustos, Meta Microlot | 8 bags (35KG) | 87.5 pts Big sticky body. Peach, panela, honey and butterscotch sweetness. Cherry and guava from aroma to finish.

Let’s Talk About Calibration

Preferences are subjective; quality is objective. The difference between the two is a matter of calibration. Am I cupping this coffee based on what I think, or based on what I think others I trust will think of this coffee. The latter is the cornerstone of calibration and perhaps the most difficult part of sourcing in Colombia.

This is a country where farmers talk about their crop in terms of cup scores. It’s also a country where you can find the entire quality spectrum on one farm. It’s a place where commodity coffees are intended to cover costs, while microlots make the money. And it’s in this context that we find farmers who cup their coffees, but who oftentimes need more context to calibrate with their customers.

A top-down approach looks to calibrate with cuppers at the export level (like Cedro Alto) or Cooperative level (like CENCOIC and ABADES). Through programs like CENCOIC’s Micro-processors Certification Course, which connects farm practices to cup quality, these programs can reach further still to individual cooperative members.

However, there are also bottom-up initiatives already in play. It’s rare to find a cooperative in Colombia that does not have a youth program, a women’s group, and/or a community of interest around post-harvest processing. In many other parts of the world farmers neglected their experimental nanolots during covid – why bother with the risk and expense when they don’t know the market will be there. But not here in Colombia, where many partners got even more involved roasting, tasting, and experimenting with their coffees.

For example, take anaerobic fermentation. This is an intentional delay between picking and pulping. Sometimes this happens in a cool, shady spot. Sometimes it is in cool water. Sometimes it is in a sealed drum with a one-way gas valve, making it more of a low oxygen environment. From there the pulp is fermented, and the coffee can be processed as a natural or washed.

Results are mixed: Some farmers are getting dead embryos. Others discover malic, tropical notes. In all cases, experiments represent engagement in one’s coffee and an opportunity to learn.

In addition to delayed fermentation (call it anaerobic or otherwise), last year’s craze was around naturals. When the price of washed Arabica is on the rise, like right now, fewer farmers produce naturals. Those who do, produce less. When prices are down, more farmers are willing to take on the extra labor and risk to try for an extra premium.

It is extra encouraging to hear that farmers in the Cedro Alto network in Tolima are producing naturals like crazy. Two familiar names–Andrés Trujillo and Eduin Hernández–have been treated right by naturals. So much so, they recently vowed to switch 100% of their production away from washed. Several other producers in Andrés local association have gotten onboard. We are expecting quite a bit of naturals in the next harvest!

In Conclusion…

Check out our advance offers HERE. You can reserve lots pending approval of the arrival sample or sign-up to get samples once they arrive.

Remember that our markup moves from 10c for pre-shipment offers, to 25c for coffees on the water and 40c when bought off of our spot menu. So if you are comfortable contracting based on cupping notes (again, pending sample approval once landed), you can reserve your favorite lot at 15c lower price than waiting for arrival.

PRE SHIPMENT OFFERS

Or, wait. You can count on Colombian imports twice a year from us from now on. We will continue to bring back the coffees we care about while looking for new partners, profiles, and possibilities.

– The Crop to Cup Sourcing Team

PS -We are actively booking Colombian lots. Now is the time to connect with your trader regarding inventory needs. We plan to have two Colombian imports a year. So plan for what you need in 6 month spans to ensure you always have the freshest Colombian offers.