With 16 coffee-producing regions along three mountain ranges and two harvests each year, Colombia always has fresh coffee. The South American origin also has access to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which is a unique blessing for shipping logistics. The country’s geographic location, just on the edge of the intercontinental wind, is also a huge advantage for coffee farming. Beneficial rain patterns form a variety of micro-climates that nurture Colombia’s coffee year-round.
However, the country’s year-round production is facing a pile-up of problems brought on by both climate change and the pandemic. Rain patterns are changing, and the recent, uncharacteristically heavy rains have already begun to impact the coffee’s speed to market due to delays in processing. How the rainfall will affect future crops remains to be seen, but producers have noted an impact to flowering that can potentially influence coffee volume down the line.
Carcafe Ltda, Genuine Origin’s sister company and sourcing partner in Colombia, is nonetheless optimistic about what’s to come from this land of diversity. With headquarters in Bogotá, five dry mills and 14 buying stations spread out along Colombia’s coffee axis and beyond, Carcafe has built relationships with over 24,000 producers since the 1980s.
Since its inception Carcafe has worked to solidify its relationships with farming communities and producers. They have supply chains in every single region in which they operate. This has enabled the company to stay as close to the farms — and the coffee — as possible.
Growing More Specialty
Carcafe is built on three main pillars: physical infrastructure in the form of mills and buying stations; quality control with 23 cuppers and 14 Q-graders who can translate market demand to the producers; and the field team with over 70 technical assistants who work hand-in-hand with Colombia’s producers. Every single bag is cupped, whether it’s at a buying station, mill, or at the head office in Bogotá. Carcafe’s ultimate goal is to help farms achieve sustainable business models in the long run by implementing the Volcafe Way with regional local teams that include engineers, cuppers, buyers, and administrative personnel. For Carcafe, it’s not just about buying green coffee beans; it’s also about an exchange with the producers and taking part of the responsibility for the development of quality coffee in Colombia.
Biodiversity in Colombia is mind-blowing; in fact, it’s the second most diverse country in the world. Colombia’s biological richness in each region lends itself to the wide variety of coffee being produced and the result blooms in the complexity found in each cup. A notable volume of the world’s Arabica coffee is harvested and exported every month, and while Colombia is known for some of the finest washed coffees on Earth, new processing methods are being explored as producers develop their understanding of biochemistry in the beans.
A lot of the wet milling in Colombia is done at the farm level and procurement is mostly done in dry parchment. This means that traceability can be narrowed down to the specific producing farm, instead of in community lots, which helps Carcafe identify distinct cup profiles. This in turn impacts quality at the farm level because Carcafe can assist and co-administrate with the field team to help everyone achieve a clean cup.
Country-Wide Production of Sustainable Coffee
It’s impossible to generalize Colombian coffee as a whole because there’s just so much variety coming out of the different regions. Higher temperatures and lower altitudes toward the north produce fuller bodied coffees with less acidity; the central region, where the bulk of the coffee is grown, is softer and sweeter and more often used to balance out blends; meanwhile in the south, high altitude farms bring out the complexity of Colombian coffees.
The rise of Colombia’s coffee industry was boosted by the National Federation of Coffee Growers in Colombia (FNC), which began in 1927 as an export institution that helped raise the image of Colombian coffee beans around the world. The 1958 “Juan Valdez” marketing campaign distinguished 100% Colombian coffee from the traditional South American coffee blends (…before single origin coffee was cool). Now, the FNC also manages the national coffee fund bankrolled by a tax paid by every producer, which goes towards technical assistance and research at the renowned Cenicafé Center. Some notable achievements have been developing varietals with rust resistance and improvements in picking practices. With the FNC’s role as both a coffee institute and an exporter, producers and companies like Carcafe alike work closely with the FNC on their exports.
Carcafe is present throughout Colombia’s entire coffee landscape but in addition to some processing delays brought on by heavy rain, pandemic travel limitations have also affected producers’ ability to transport their green coffee beans to buying stations. A majority of farmers are elderly and, to ensure their safety, Carcafe took on the additional challenge of going to the fields to purchase coffee in situ. It’s particularly important to Carcafe to keep their team and their allies healthy, but also to keep the coffee supply chain robust as well, which led to the company working closely with banks to implement more digital tools for payment processing in a traditionally cash-dominant society. In this way, producers get paid more quickly and spend less time queuing at banks — ideal in the pandemic.
The producers that Carcafe sources from are held responsible for following environmental regulations that protect Colombia’s extraordinary diversity. Sustainability practices are the only non-negotiable factor in the equation when it comes to determining a farm’s productivity. In Colombia the environment comes first, and the field team is trained to analyze each situation individually to understand how size, sunlight, climate, and shade come into play when determining the annual output for a sustainable coffee business.
Coffee Farming in Nariño and Manizales
The majority of coffee sourced by Carcafe comes directly from smallholder farms, but Carcafe also owns and operates its own farms. Nariño is a key strategic region for Carcafe, so it comes as no surprise that one of Carcafe’s farms is in La Unión de Nariño. At over 2000 masl it’s an extreme area for coffee farming but the unique terroir at Finca Buenos Aires produces highly complex and distinctive coffees. The farm is a lab of sorts, growing traditional arabica varietals, and more exotic varietals like gesha. Additionally, they experiment with natural fermentation processing protocols to see how the coffee behaves…and tastes!
In Manizales, Carcafe’s medium-sized farm (14 hectares) Finca Capri provides an excellent opportunity to observe how different varieties and altitudes correlate with the cup. Carcafe has big plans for Finca Capri; the hope is to be in constant collaboration with Genuine Origin and the roasting community. Here, the possibility is looking very real for tailor-made coffee for specific clients and as the crop sizes continue to grow, Finca Capri will edge towards becoming an outdoor experimentation lab for coffee buyers.
Both of Carcafe’s farms are strongly focused on sustainable profitability. The model farms produce coffee, but also serve the dual purpose of showcasing best practices for producers, baristas, roasters, and importers.
Genuine Origin & 2020 Coffee Quality
In a study by Square and the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), the demand for specialty coffee is seeing a pivot despite the pandemic as coffee shops evolve their services for the new normal. With a 109% increase in subscription coffee sales and a 25% increase in the number of sellers offering coffee subscriptions, the market for at-home coffee consumption and brewing continues to rise and Genuine Origin is more than ready to meet the demand.
Carcafe is excited to see some expansion in variety from Colombia with more natural coffee from producers like Juan Felipe Aristizábal whose community wet mill guarantees a fixed price for cherries — a unique model in the region that brings true sustainability to coffee farmers. A recent addition to Genuine Origin’s Colombia offering came from Villa Lara in Cundinamarca by Jonathan Lara Parke and Beatriz Gomez Cala. The socially conscious and eco-friendly farm grow the Tabi and Castillo varieties with a strong emphasis on going above and beyond to be socially and environmentally responsible in everything that they do. Carcafe intends to continue to source as much traceable coffee as possible for Genuine Origin.
The theme for Colombia is diversity and as Carcafe continues to work with producers to improve the quality, sustainability, and traceability, they are also sourcing coffee for all palates. Coffee roasters can expect more variety and high quality micro-lots in Genuine Origin’s Colombia portfolio.
To learn more, watch Genuine Origin’s Colombia Origin Report Webinar on YouTube.
Written by Tigger Chaturabul, copywriter for Curious Typhoon about all things coffee and beyond. Copyright Genuine Origin — Find out more about our Colombian coffee collection on our website — https://www.genuineorigin.com/colombia