Let’s Talk Coffee 2008 Colombia/La Rochela Farm Visit


Ripening cherries at La Rochela

Darrin Daniel, Allegro Green Coffee BuyerArmenia, Colombia October 2nd thru 6th

From the Balcony overlooking the coffee farm at La Rochela

The 6th Annual Let’s Talk Coffee has just ended in the beautiful southern coffee region of Armenia, Colombia. One of our most unique coffee supply partners, Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers, organizes this event in different coffee producing countries in Latin America in order to bring together coffee farmers, exporters, importers and roasters from all over the world. The goal is to find a common language to help support the entire specialty coffee supply chain. This year nearly three hundred attended from twenty countries; the theme was “Certified Quality” and people from as far away as Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, Ecuador, Mexico and Brazil represented their coffee producing nations.  For Allegro, this represents a golden opportunity to meet one-on-one with our supply partners, hear their concerns, share our accomplishments and further understand what the relationship between farmer and roaster means. Each year the event has grown and thanks to the hard work of Sustainable Harvests staff, this year was extraordinarily successful.

organic compost made into a tea application

Highlights included a presentation by author and academic Michael Conroy on the future of coffee certifications, a barista latte art competition, a presentation by the Colombian Coffee Federation on the future of coffee traceability with their new high-tech Beantrack program, former Starbucks African coffee buyer, Mark Schonland on the successes and challenges for African specialty coffee, and a guest appearance by 2008 world barista champion, Stephen Morrissey. Other noteworthy events included a day trip to a farm near the event: Finca La Placer, which is a large producer of conventional coffee that incorporates many environmentally sustainable practices. To top it all off we visited a coffee theme park in Armenia with a museum, rides for the kids and a varietal coffee lab with many different cultivars of coffee.

worker housing

For Allegro, the most important aspect of the weekend conference was our meetings with 8 different groups with whom we purchase coffee from. One of the most interesting meetings was with our Tanzanian supplier, Kanyovu, in Kigoma. We have been purchasing coffee from the cooperative for two years. Chris Thorns, Director of Green Coffee for Allegro, was just in Tanzania a little over a month ago and this recent meeting in Colombia was a chance to re-cap her trip, give them input about the coffee for this year’s harvest and to look to the future of the project. Our 3rd quarter Special Reserve was a huge hit as we partnered with the Goddall Foundation on this wonderful coffee from the western region of this east African country and we look forward to buying more in the coming years. We were able to meet with the chairman from the cooperative and discuss how things were going in his community and to build a plan towards future growth together. Click here opens in a new tab to learn more about the event.Finca La Rochela, Valle del Cauca, Colombia October 7th and 8th

Luis, Julian (the son of Luis) and Carlos Duque owners of the farm

Julian Duque the son of Luis Arturo Duque speaks to me about his father’s farm, “…our goal is to get our coffee to score a 90 and quality is the most important thing that we can hope to achieve.” Julian and his father and uncle are driven and have been organically producing coffee for 9 years and the farm has been producing coffee since 1990. But I am getting a head of myself here: at the close of Let’s Talk Coffee, there were optional field trips to visit various coffee related organizations in Colombia. The choice was easy since we already source from La Rochela. 17 folks from the U.S., Ethiopia, Mexico (members of our own Organic Mexican Zaragoza cooperative coffee), Brazil and Peru travelled from Armenia three hours by bus to the southern region of Valle del Cauca to see this organic coffee producer. La Rochela, just outside the quaint town of Trujillo has a population of 9,000 people and is known for coffee.

Trujillo off in the distance

La Rochela’s coffee is uniquely processed and currently is used as a blend component in our popular Whole Trade Organic Espresso Sierra. Many coffees throughout Colombia do not fully ferment their coffees in tanks once they remove the cherry in order to break down the sticky substance known as mucilage so that the coffee does not pick up off flavors or mold. We tend to favor these fully washed coffees as they help to impart a brighter more sparkling cup profile. La Rochela uses a water conservation method which minimizes its naturally occurring spring water that runs throughout the farm and filters its waste water with rocks to absorb any bacterial matter which would affect nearby rivers and streams. In the future they are planning to purchase what is known as an aqua-pulper that will save even more water in the future.

Coffee Theme Park in Armenia

The farm is not only organic certified, but also has Rainforest Alliance certification, which provides even more guarantee of social and environmental initiatives. They have five sub-divisions which each have on-site housing facilities that I found to be quite impressive in that they were clean, well built and provided all the necessities for excellent living quarters. In addition to coffee, they also raise their own cattle, plantain (which is inter-planted along with the coffee and an extensive compost program). The compost is re-applied to the coffee plants throughout the year to provide organic fertilizer through vermin-culture methods incorporating all waste from the farm, manure and the pulp from the wet mill. Those worms really are a miracle to the industry and now you see this practice has almost become commonplace on organic and conventional farms alike.

coffee mixed in with plantain blue bags protecting the plantain from infestation

We had a full afternoon and it was starting to get dark as we finished our tour of the farm and made our way back to see the wet mill begin processing the day’s harvest. During the height of the harvest the mills will work throughout the night so that the coffees can ferment over night before the next step of drying the parchment. La Rochela is not only producing excellent quality coffee but it is also experimenting with new varietals, such as the famed geisha from Ethiopia, and tracking each of their plots by coffee varietal like an appellation system that is used in vineyard grape production throughout the wine world. The combined effect of good altitudes (over 1500 meters), excellent soil types, fertilization, La Rochela is redefining what organic coffee can be in Colombia. The Duque family has a beautiful farm and we at Allegro are proud to work with farmers who are committed to sustainable land use and quality in the cup.

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