The Bean Hunter’s Travels: Colombia & Ecuador 2014 – Part 2 of 3

Bean Hunter Jon Ferguson’s coffee adventures in South America continue through the country of Colombia. After spending some time at the Cup of Excellence competition, Jon went on to visit a few farmers that The Roasterie has working relationships with. Read on!

September 6, 2014 – San Augustin, Huila, Colombia

After our visit to the farm in Pitalito, we drove back to San Augustin and met with Mr. Gallardo, the sole roaster in San Augustin. The coffee roasting concept is slightly different here, since most people here have their own coffee production. Coffee producers bring their coffee to him to prepare and roast. Mr. Gallardo charges a roasting service fee, with additional services such as providing a cupping score, grinding, and packaging. The producer takes the freshly packaged coffee to their businesses for sale. It’s quite a neat roasting concept for coffee producers at origin. In addition to this, he uses an air roaster with a digital interface that allows him to collect roast log data for each profile. Using this, he is able to replicate the profiles the farmers want for their coffees! His shop is nicely set up with the necessary quality control equipment, and even has a Le Nez du Cafe smelling kit in his lab, which is a tool to help cuppers learn and identify aromas often found in coffee.

Jon Ferguson with roaster Mr. Gallardo in San Augustin. Mr. Gallardo even has a Le Nez du Cafe smelling kit.September 7, 2014 – Palestina, Huila, Colombia

Sunday morning James, Sebastian, and I left San Augustin to visit Alirio Aguilera Ospina´s farm, San Isidro, located in Palestina, just outside of Pitalito, Huila. Last month, Condor coffee in Colombia sent us a few micro-lot samples of his coffee. After cupping the coffee, we decided to add his coffee offering to our reserve program. With a planned trip to the Cup of Excellence already in the works, I asked Condor if Mr. Ospina and Condor would be willing to arrange a visit to his farm, which was quickly agreed upon.

Jon Ferguson with Alirio Aguilera Ospina at San Isidro in Palestina.We were greeted with a friendly smile and plenty of conversation. We learned Mr. Ospina had been dealing with a severe illness from which he is now almost fully recovered, but his condition had made last harvests work exceptionally difficult. Luckily, he is back on his feet and continuing to produce his award winning coffees.

Mr. Ospina knows his coffee. He took 1st place in the Cup of Excellence in 2013 with an outstanding lot, mainly comprised of 80% Caturra and 20% Castillo coffee varieties. Since the competition, he has produced an exceptionally delicious fly crop and will be harvesting his main crop next month in October. We will continue to keep in touch for sampling the new lots while they come available, and suggest everyone try our newest reserve offering, the Colombia San Isidro Micro-lot from Mr. Ospina, now available online and at all café locations in Kansas City starting next week.

As our conversation progressed into the details of his quality management on the farm, I quickly came to realize why he does so well. He went into detail about a microorganism known as “EM” which helps quickly break down the pulp’s organic matter, significantly reducing the amount of time to create usable compostable matter. When I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras, as an Agricultural Extensionist, we used to promote this method as “Bokashi”, so it was a fun surprise to see Mr. Ospina using such an organic and progressive composting system.

He further explained a method used in plant management that splits the top of the tree into two parts which increases production and cherry yield.

His drying patios were immaculately designed, mostly rooftops, yet the floor was lined with a mesh that had a grass-straw padding underneath, with the entire patio covered with plastic to keep the rain out, and the sunlight in. His coffee farm showed plenty of diversification with corn, fruit, tilapia, several dogs, a few chickens, and countless other proper farming items.

Jon Ferguson joins Mr. Ospina and his family for lunch at San Isidro.After our detailed tour, he invited us to sit with him for a delicious and generously sized lunch in his home. These are the moments that make trips like this worth every minute. True farmer hospitality seems to be universal, whether you’re in Iowa or Pitalito, Colombia, farmers share these beautiful traits of humbleness and hospitality.

On Sunday afternoon we paid a visit to Mr. Ospina’s neighbor and friend, Izardo Alba, who owns a farm on the other side of the hill from San Isidro. Izardo and Alirio have many things in common. Izardo has diversified his production with dragon fruit, corn, and small garden vegetables along with raising rabbits and chickens. Dragon Fruit is a tropical fruit that often is overlooked in the United States. Prior to this trip I have eaten some dragon fruit, but it was nothing like eating it fresh off the farm.

Izardo Alba brushing off a dragon fruit.Izardo is in a unique position as he has about a thousand Bourbon variety coffee plants. Most coffee producers in Huila have main crops of the caturra coffee variety, which is also what Izardo has in addition to his Bourbon. I asked if he had ever separated the Bourbon from the Caturra to see if the cup profile would change, but he has yet to do so. He quickly came to mention that he would be willing to do this per request, so there is a chance Condor coffee will be able to work with Izardo to have a sample of the bourbon sent to The Roasterie for tasting. If it passes our quality control standards, we will have a very unique micro-lot possibility to offer from a relationship that was developed from this trip!

After our farm visits, we went to the only cafe in Pitalito known to have an espresso machine and grinder. I had made the comment earlier in the weekend that I was able to do latte art, so they quickly asked if I would be willing to give a demonstration at a coffee shop named Valenzuela Cafe, owned by Fabio Valenzuela. Being able to pull off latte art on a machine you’ve never seen, used, or know of its condition, along with the type and roast of coffee used for the espresso, and how the machine is dialed in were all concerns before even stepping behind the bar. I gave a disclaimer announcing my concerns relating to the conditions in which the espresso and milk preparation would need to be achieved prior to being able to demonstrate. Luckily there was very little for me to adjust. The Epoca Rancillio espresso machine and grinder were practically new, and the coffee was fresh enough to produce crema. With a little luck, I was able to give a few hints and witnessed a few successes.

This is a short video of a barista successfully pouring a rosetta for the first time!
(Double-click to play).

The crowd of customers gathered to watch our pouring. Overall, the spirits in the room were very high, and I could tell they really appreciated the time spent and I felt the same way in return. Pouring latte art with the farmers that grew the very coffee we were using was a special, rare treat for me.

September 8, 2014 – Condor Coffee Warehouse, Pitalito, Huila, Colombia

We spent Monday morning at the Condor cupping lab in Pitalito. We cupped 10 micro lots and toured the warehouse. I noticed several Roasterie posters and spoons in the room, which was a refreshing feeling to see The Roasterie maintaining a strong presence and relationship with farmers in the region over the years, and it is truly appreciated by everyone within the coffee chain.

Roasterie cupping spoon at the Condor cupping lab.Roasterie poster at the Condor cupping lab.

Next, Jon is headed to Ecuador – stay tuned for more coffee adventures!