Hernando Chantre has been a coffee farmer his entire life. However, it is only recently that he has been able to maximise his farm’s potential for high-quality production. At 1,950 meters, it is no surprise that, by nature, his coffee is exceptional. But with only 3 hectares under production and limited access to specialty coffee markets, Hernando previously saw little profit from farming coffee and used to sell his coffee as wet parchment for whatever the going rate was to his local cooperative. He was dissatisfied (as were many of his neighbours) but didn’t know how to make the most of his farm’s potential for excellence.
It was only about a year ago that members of the large cooperative to which Hernando belonged – in Colombia’s remote Huila department – realized that their location and passion for coffee farming gave them a special edge when it came to producing high quality coffee. Seeing some of the quality initiatives and micro-lot separation that forward-thinking cooperatives around Colombia were exploring, a small group of about 20 producers broke off from the larger regional cooperative to establish their own organization – named Aprocoagrosh (quite a mouthful) – in early 2014.
There are all indications that Aprocoagrosh is a cooperative ‘on the way up’. Although the town of La Plata, where most of the farmer members live, lies at only 1,000 metres (and is something of a ‘hot box’), most members’ farms lie at 1,900 metres or above in cooler climes. In order to reach these farms, one has to travel straight UP – driving an hour or more into the steep mountains that surround the town centre. Aprocoagrosh members knew that their previous coop wasn’t making full use of this potential for quality coffee production and, furthermore, didn’t represent the interest of all its growers equally. Once they set out on their own, the reached out immediately to the organisation ASORCAFE – located in Inzá, Cauca – knowing that the group had made great headway in the speciality market by working with Mercanta’s exporting partner in Antioquia. ASORCAFE also had a very solid reputation as being run according to very stringent democratic practices. Aprocoagrosh knew they would learn a lot about governance, management and quality production from the group.
ASORCAFE has helped Aprocoagrosh set up shop and establish governance guidelines and has also generously shared their contact with Pergamino (one of Mercanta’s exporting partners in Colombia) with the group.
Pergamino, as well, has been very impressed with the group and sees great potential for the future. They’ve recently established an agreement with Aprocoagrosh that includes not only purchasing from the group but also serving as mentors and trainers in the group’s quest for improved quality. In the coming year, a cupper from Pergamino will spend 3 months in La Plata, Huila with the group, teaching cupping and helping them establish a cupping lab and protocols. In the future, Pergamino has agreed to cup all coffees scoring 80 points or above from the group and has committed to finding markets for any lots scoring 84 or above.
The benefits for members are great. Members have expressed excitement about the ensured access to specialty markets and better prices, of course; but more importantly, Aprocoagrosh has promised to ONLY reserve operating costs from received coffee prices, meaning more of these improved prices will go directly to the producers. For coffee producers in this remote area of Huila, this very well mean insuring a future in coffee their children….which is something Mercanta is proud to help support.
Hernando no longer sells his coffee as wet parchment but has begun drying his own coffee and taking even greater care with processing, as he knows that Aprocoagrosh and Pergamino will ensure that he receives a higher price for his coffee. This will ensure a future for his four young children, whom he hopes will carry on the baton.
Hernando’s farm is so small that two days worth of picking are often ‘married’ into a single lot. Each day’s picking is pulped separately, of course; however, the coffee picked on the second day is added to the first after 24 hours fermentation and then left to ferment in the tanks for a further 24 hours. In this method of fermentation, the second batch raises the ph level of the fermentation tank, permitting longer fermentation times without the acetic acid produced by bacteria at a lower ph level. This process is common among small farmers throughout Antioquia and Huila, whos farms are so small that one day’s picking is often not sufficient to make up an entire lot. While a consequence of circumstances, when done properly and with attention to detail, the process results in a distinctive, even and controlled fruit-forward cup.*
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the Colombia La Fortuna, from Street Bean Coffee Roasters in Seattle, Washington. Feel free to pull up a chair.