Brown sugar, dark chocolate and blackberries.
Elevation: 1,850 masl
Variety: Caturra, Castillo, Colombia
Producers: 40 Independent Farmers
Sourced Through: Melbourne Coffee Merchants
This coffee comes from around 40 smallholder farms that are situated near the villages of China Alta and San Juan de la China, which is in the municipality of Ibagué in the region of Tolima in Colombia.
The farms that contributed to this lot are small – around 3 hectares in size – and are located at 1,850m above sea level. They farm traditionally, and grow a mix of Caturra, Colombia and Castillo coffee varieties. Fertilisation occurs around three times a year, usually after manual weeding, and pesticides are rarely used. The coffee is selectively hand harvested, with most labour being provided by the farmers and their families.
Coffee from Tolima has historically been very difficult to access due to the region’s isolation and instability. For many years this part of Colombia was under the control of Colombia’s notorious rebel group, the FARC, and as a result it was unsafe and violent. Since 2012, safe access to this region has been possible as a result of peace talks between the Colombian government and the rebels. Since this time some stunning coffees from small producers have become accessible.
The word ‘Tolima’ comes from the local indigenous language and means a “river of snow or cloud”. The region sits on the Cordillera Central, in the middle of the three mountain ranges that provide a range of microclimates well-suited to high quality coffee production. Coffee is the leading agricultural activity in the region, followed by beans and cattle.
The most well known regions in Tolima for specialty coffee are Planadas and Chaparral, however this coffee comes from just outside Ibagué, the capital of Tolima. The city is also known as the “Ciudad del Abanico” or the “city of the folding fan”, because when you look at it from the sky the rivers running from the mountains split up the crops of rice and cotton, and it looks like a beautiful handmade folding fan.
Once a gold mining town, Ibagué today is a bustling metropolis with over 400,000 people. Coffee is a big part of the city – as is music – it is known as the musical capital of Colombia, and is home to of the most respected conservatories in the country.
The coffee is sourced by MCM's export partners, Pergamino, who work with small producers who have farms near the villages of China Alta and San Juan de la China. These villages are located on steep mountains to the north-east of Ibagué, which creep up fast, going from 1,300 meters above sea level to 2,000 meters in a matter of 30 or 40 kms. Due to the steep terrain and bumpy back road that is required to get there, they take around 3 hours to access via car. Pergamino has done a lot to help promote commercialisation of specialty coffee throughout Tolima, and have actively been working to source and support coffee producers in regions where there is a high potential for quality, but historically have not had access to specialty buyers.
Pergamino purchase the from around 40 growers in the Ibagué area, who deliver around 100 – 150kg per week of coffee in parchment each week to their quality control lab in town. Each lot is carefully assessed by Pergamino’s expert team of cuppers and, based on the cup score, the coffee is then combined into exportable sized lots. Feedback on each lot is provided back to each of the producers they work with, and top up payments are made if the producers’ coffee is sold at a higher margin.
This coffee was processed using the washed method at each farm’s ‘micro-beneficio’ (mill). The coffee was pulped using a small manual or electric pulper, and then placed into a fermentation tank, where it was fermented anywhere from 12 to 48 hours (depending on the weather and the farms location) and then washed using cold, clean water.
It was then carefully dried (over 10–18 days) on parabolic beds, which are constructed a bit like a ‘hoop house’ greenhouse, that act to protect the coffee from the rain and prevent condensation dripping back onto the drying beans. These beds have adjustable walls to help with air flow, and temperature control to ensure the coffee can dry slowly and evenly.
Once dry, the coffee was delivered to Pergamino’s warehouse, where it was cupped and graded, and then rested in parchment until it was ready for export.