After a full day of traveling from Portland I arrived in Bogota with Darrin, our head green coffee buyer. We had a week to meet a number of coffee producers and see their farms.
From my perspective as a trainer and educator at Stumptown, Colombia is an amazing place to visit. Unlike many coffee producing areas, you see evidence of the entire nine month production on one tree; you can find flowering alongside unripe and ripe coffee cherry. Colombia’s coffee production is primarily made up of small coffee farms that do their own small scale processing. Hand crank depulpers remove the cherry’s skin before the coffee is fermented for about 18 hours, washed, and then laid to dry in raised parabolic drying beds that protect the coffee from sporadic rainfall. Each farmer is individually responsible for quality in each of these steps and it shows as each lot is tasted and scored.
While at the farms that compromise El Jordan and La Piramide, I came to understand how Roya, or coffee leaf rust, dramatically decreases yields. The methods for preventing Roya are much easier and more effective than treating the infected plant. This problem is a major cause of decreasing yields throughout Colombia and influences farmers to plant rust resistant varieties that yield lower quality in the cup profile.
Producing high quality coffee doesn’t always mean raising the cost of production for famers. Achieving great coffee requires attention to detail year round on the farm. This can actually make a producer more efficient than they were before since it results in higher yields and less defective coffee to be sorted out.
One of the biggest focuses for Virmax’s technical assistance program is helping farmers increase productivity through soil analysis, sustainable pruning, planting, and coffee leaf rust prevention. Ultimately, this is necessary to increase farmer profits even if they secure a great price for high scoring coffee.
After a week full of flights, 6-8 hour drives up into the Cordilleras, talking with coffee farmers and touring farms, I left Colombia with a deepened respect for the work that makes great coffee possible and the ongoing work that we all participate in to develop and sustain this level of quality.
Portland Trainer and Educator