Trip Report: La Palma Y El Tucan • Colombia

December 26, 2014

Farm Report- La Palma Y El Tucan/ La Mision

Flying into Bogota, I was expecting to find wonderful coffee in a storied growing region undergoing a renaissance. What I discovered was more of a story about the diligence of the human spirit. 

I was going to Bogota after meeting Elisa and Felipe Mandrinan in Seattle at a cupping. I had been talking with Christian Ott, the head buyer for Stone Creek Coffee Co and he mentioned he was heading to a cupping with some Colombian growers who were doing some interesting work in Cundinamarca. I tagged along and was really blown away by the presentation and engagement these folks had around their coffees. Not only are Felipe and Elisa coffee farmers, but they own the mill which produces coffees for a growing number of their neighbors. Their dedication to these neighbors was evident throughout the cupping. The passion in their voices and intensity in their promotion of these coffees spoke to me.

Several conversations, and a few months later I was headed down to Colombia to visit their mill and cup some coffees. Throughout the trip Elisa described in great detail their desire to revive Cundinamarca. She talked about how this region, which lies in the mountains just to the north of Bogota, had once been one of the best growing regions in Colombia. Due in part to the conditions created through a quantity based purchasing program offered by the Colombian Coffee Federation, the region had gone into a steady downward spiral. 

I saw this first hand visiting some of the farms they work with through their “Neighbors & Crops” program. Despite owning some of the best farm land in the world for growing coffee, these farms had fallen into disrepair and the coffee was barely being processed to a commercial quality. Not only did the farmers lack an incentive for producing specialty grade coffee, they had no outlet which would offer them additional compensation if they wanted to produce quality coffees. This meant farmers were trapped in a constant state of struggle. Children were leaving for better opportunities in the city, patios were falling into disrepair, pulping equipment and fermentation tanks were disintegrating into the ground. 

Enter the “Neighbors & Crops” program by the La Palma Y El Tucan family mill. Felipe and Elisa have built a state of the art wet mill and series of raised drying beds to process coffee to the highest possible standards. Their farm manager Carlos manages agronomists which are available as resources to all their neighbors, and he trains picking crews to travel to their farms and employ quality picking techniques. These are resources which are luxuries to the farmers in the region, but because of La Palma’s willingness to share resources, these farmers are able to produce extremely high quality cherries. The La Palma team purchases the freshly harvested cherries and grades them upon arrival, offering incentives for quality and consistency. The coffee produced here is among the best in the world in my opinion, and the story behind its production is wonderful.

Sometimes you have an experience which changes a paradigm for you. This was one such experience. The La Palma project is not only important because of the quality of the coffee, but because the mindset curated through this project is the mindset essential the future of specialty coffee. Helping farmers create real livelihoods through the production of coffee, sharing resources to create a synergetic growing model, and communicating these things through engagement with roasters and consumers is where the future of the industry lies. On the retail and consumer side of the supply chain we need to place a high value on projects which are creating real sustainability for growers while producing excellent coffee. This coffee, from the La Mision farm, produced by La Palma Y El Tucan, is one such coffee. I hope you have the chance to try it, and I look forward to bringing more coffees with this sort of story to Denver in the future.

• Phil