COFFEE HUNTING IN COLOMBIA
In 2008, I took a life changing journey to South America. It didn't necessarily seem that profound at the time. I mean, it was an adventure for sure. I was traveling by motorcycle with a life long friend though Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. I'd never ridden a motorcycle before (except for in the parking lot to get my license) and I don't speak much Spanish, but if you know me, you know I'm always up for an adventure.
What I didn't appreciate at the time was on that trip, in the small town of Salento, Colombia, when I stumbled upon my first coffee farmer who not only showed me all the amazing things about growing coffee but how to roast it in his small outdoor kitchen, it was the beginning of the next chapter in my life.
Fast forward to today. Little Red Wagon has been in operation for 2+ years and what started as a coffee drinking obsession turned hobby roaster, is now my full time job. In October I was able to return to Colombia for the first time since my incredible encounter in 2008. You can imagine my excitement.
Little of this return resembled my first visit. I didn't have to navigate unchartered territory, figure out the local currency or fix flat tires. Instead, I felt a remarkable familiarity withColombia's coffee growing region - the expansive mountain views and twisty, turny roads, the warm hospitality of the locals and the tasty cuisine.
Another major difference from my earlier journey through Colombia is that this time I was not there as a traveler, but as a business woman. One of the small businesses I was particularly interested in visiting was Traviesa. I was graciously hosted by Mauricio and Adriana, the founders of Traviesa Coffee. In Colombia, there are two distinct coffee harvests. “Traviesa” is the word that refers to the smaller, second harvest. Mauricio and Adriana chose this name for their business because this harvest cycle is unique to Colombia’s coffee-growing climate.
Mauricio and Adriana welcomed us into their home, took us to many farms throughout the region and even facilitated a tour of Cenecafe, a world class coffee research facility where scientists search for solutions to coffee disease and help develop agricultural practices for Colombian coffee farmers. Finally, Mauricio organized a cupping where we tasted almost 50 different coffees. I know some of you think I'm a little nutty when I insist that every coffees tastes different and many of you can tell the difference between coffee from different countries, but it's pretty cool to be able to taste such distinctive differences between not only nearby farms, but varietals and plots from within a single farm.
At the end of the week in Colombia I'd settled on three distinct and special coffees to bring back to Bozeman. But stay tuned because in future seasons the Wagon will bring you additional coffees from Colombia, a region that never ceases to impress and continuously produces many excellent coffees.
Now, let me introduce you to the three new Colombian coffees Little Red Wagon is no offering:
Mauricio's family has owned and operated this farm for over 80 years. Upon arrival I was welcomed with coffee and an array of exotic fruits from the property. Then, one of the coolest things happened. I was invited to plant the Wagon’s very own Geisha tree--the acclaimedcoffee varietal that lives up to its reputation (...more on that later). Following the planting, I put on a basket and was taught how to pick ripe coffee cherries and spent some time doing so. The cherries were then placed in the tolva where the fruit was removed and I saw just how much (read: little) coffee I picked. It was a startling realization of the amount of that work goes into a cup of coffee. To put it into perspective, with a dozen pickers working for about 30 minutes, there were probably enough beans to fill one retail grocery store bag. Another way to look at it is, a coffee tree produces about a pound of roasted coffee annually. Americans consume about 400 million cups of coffee per day.
Regional Samaria’s coffee has tasting notes of red apple, orange, and wine, with a pleasant sweetness and good body.
CAFE DE MUJER FROM LA PAZ FARM
La Paz is a beautiful seven acre farm on steep hillsides in Chinchiná, Caldas region owned and operated by Angelica Escobar. Angelica is a vibrant, energetic and proud farmer who employs mostly women from her community and playfully comments, "and a few men for balance!" Picking coffee is extremely hard work and these women are meticulous and impressive and take great care to ensure that quality is preserved every step of the way. Angelica's passion, dedication and drive shined through as she showed us the farm and explained the processing methods she prefers. She has even built her own coffee roaster in order to test her product at the farm. In addition to all of this, Angelica also maintains a part time job on the side to help make ends meet and send her daughters to college. La Paz farm keeps natural forest coverage in order to protect the water sources, a key factor in the coffee quality production process. I've decided to buy this coffee not only because it's high quality and delicious, but because I believe in Cafe La Paz and feel strongly about supporting women in the coffee community.
Cafe de Mujer has notes of sweet fruits, honey, cocoa and nuts.
FINCA MANANTIALES DEL FRONTINO
Lastly, some of you may have heard, but we finally did it and bought a small quantity of Geisha coffee. Geisha (or gesha - there’s some debate) is a varietal originally from Ethiopia that made its way to Costa Rica in the 1950’s. At that time, this unique coffee was planted amongst the rest of the trees and was not treated with special care and therefore it’s special character went unnoticed.
In 2004, however, it garnered acclaim on a cupping table in Panama when it was “discovered” for its unique and incredible tasting notes after a farmer had separated out the geisha varietal, planted it at a much higher elevation and processed it with great care. Since then, this beautiful coffee has become increasingly popular amongst the specialty coffee geeks of the world and sells for pretty penny.
Finding our first Geisha offering for the Wagon was great fun. It involved a bouncy 45-minute trip in the back of a red jeep up winding dirt roads to get to Finca Manantiales Del Frontino, located in Municipality Caicedonia Valle del Cauca. Once there, an impressive team had prepared a tasting of their six distinct varietals in both brewed form and as coffee cherries right off the shrub so we could tastes their unique attributes at the plant level.
We then explored the farm’s 170 hectares of coffee shrubs, 17 ha in the highest elevation section being devoted specifically to Geisha, and learned about the extreme care and planning that goes into planting, harvesting, and processing in order to preserve the excellence of the Geisha varietal. I couldn't help but bring a little bit home just in time to offer as a special treat for the holidays.
Finca Manantiales Del Frontino is a sweet, balanced, floral and fruity coffee with a clean finish.