Colombia is an excellent country to visit, and Huila is one of the most beautiful coffee growing regions I have traveled to so far.
These are some the farmers I met with:
Finca Tablón- Owned by Luis Correa, this farm produced a 89 point lot of coffee I purchased totaling about 8 bags. Luis and his godfather, pictured here, are in a valley of coffee which has some of the steepest slopes I've ever seen for coffee growing. The steepness of the land is offset by the rain they receive nearly every other day, and the town of Tarqui has a very good system of rotating pickers through the seasons of harvesting fruit, cocoa, and coffee to minimize shortages of harvesters (a common problem throughout Colombia).
Finca Porvenir - Owned and run by Sandra Milena Mora and her husband in Palestina, this farm is going to be well known someday. In this picture, Sandra is standing with one of three rust resistant Caturra trees. Without any treatment, these trees are completely free of rust, and she is hoping to get about 1,000 trees from each to plant throughout their farm. Finca Porvenir is managed in a very sustainable manner, using organic fertilizer, fungicides, and blends of minerals which can combat rust on the majority of the farm without negatively impacting the soil. I picked up a 88 point lot of about 14 bags of Caturra coffee from Sandra.
Finca Buenas Aires - Owned by Gustavo Ibanez and run by him and his family. This farm is in a little known area of Acevedo which has produced a solid string of Cup of Excellence coffees over the last 5-10 years because of the unique microclimate and dedication of the farmers who live here. It sits just to the North of the Andes which border the Amazon rainforest. In this small mountainous area, the climate is cooler than the rest of Colombia, and even with climate change having huge impacts on growers throughout Colombia (and the world), it has longer maturation and fermentation times, which lead to a great balance of acidity and sweetness. I wasn't able to cup any of Gustavo's coffee until near the end of my trip and I already had everything we needed, but you could put it up against a table of Ethiopian coffees for the vibrance, citric, and floral notes present in the cup. In case you're curious, Nordic Approach importers bought that particular lot.
Finca Los Angeles - Owned by Maria Bercella Martines. This farm sits just down the hill from Finca Buenos Aires. The food we were served here at finca Los Angeles rivaled the coffee and included some of the best smoked beef anywhere. We found an 89 point lot of coffee totaling about 10 bags from Maria which I think you'll enjoy as much as I enjoyed her smoked beef.
At Finca Los Angeles I also met Cirro Lugo. Cirro is a leader in the community here, and it was great to talk with him about how he views some of the problems facing the Colombian coffee market. Due to the rise in "Specialty Coffee" the demand for coffee from all areas of Colombia has soared, and especially in Huila. The result has not been an increase in the quality of coffee produced, and a lot of times it's been the opposite. Desperate for the Huila brand, coffee importers throughout the "specialty coffee" market have demanded an increase in volume without an increase on standards. Hundreds of people are drinking coffee which was dried in sacks, blended into lots barely scoring in the mid-80's, which is labelled as specialty "Huila" coffee from one sub-region or another.
This demand on quantity without a similar demand for an increase in quality is confusing for the best farmers, who have always worked hard to produce small lots of amazing coffees. They've heard the term "specialty" thrown around and have expected their coffees to receive more appreciation as a result of this wave. Instead, they've seen little other than their coffee being blended into coffee of worse quality than has been produced in the last 10 years. Cirro is one of those people who remains a standard bearer in his producer community. Despite the potential to become jaded from this vaguely explained "specialty movement" he is continually preaching the message of quality from the standpoint of pride in one's work. We're proud to work with an exporter like Alejandro Renjifo who have come into communities like this and has implemented a strict quality standard of purchasing with much higher prices.
The importance of sourcing coffee from growers who have their own code of quality was impressed on me more than ever this trip. Producing coffee is a hard and wonderful life, and the best producers aren't the ones trying to make as much money as possible to escape coffee. They are people who have a deep connection to their communities, families, and their craft. What these people have told me over and over is that they want people to appreciate the work they do, help them improve, and share their coffees with consumers who enjoy it at a similar level to the effort they put into it.
The importance of drinking excellent coffee is immense. Every cup of quality coffee is supporting a person who supports their community standards, family, and their craft through their commitment to excellence. And while none of us can single-handedly fix all the problems in the "specialty" coffee industry, we can help fix them for a few people, and for these people it makes all the difference in the world.