Colombia Trip Recap

Colombia Trip Recap

There is a lot of Colombian coffee in the UK market. A lot. Big name producers that occupy much of the bandwidth online. It can be hard to find the why in an offering, over and above a cup score or a well known name. That, added to the sheer availability of Colombian coffee, can also make buying in Colombia feel an opaque exercise. 

Our business in the UK was kickstarted by our relationship with the small holders of the Cedro Alto collective, and Karl Wienhold (author of “Cheap Coffee”). Coffees with an unparalleled level of transparency and genuine supply chain co-operation really cut through, and allowed us to consistently buy from genuine farmers, again and again.

After the market moved post Brazil frost, premium Colombian coffees became harder to move and the market looked elsewhere. Whilst we continued to buy from these producers, we felt a significant strain, and it's for this reason we were prompted to make the trip to Colombia in April, to visit a small number of producers we have been buying our microlots and 85+ coffees from.
Refining, and giving a why to the process of buying interests us, rather than simply hunting for the next fashionable coffee. Making the most of the possible impact starts with understanding capacity, so we identified some of the smallholders (producers less than 5 hectares) we wanted to visit, to understand their capacity and how the supply chain realistically works, and how it affects them. 

We started our journey by heading to La Argentina, Huila, to visit Rodrigo Perafan. Rodrigo was the first coffee producer we bought from for the UK market, and we have bought from Rodrigo ever since, consistently loving the balance and sherbet fruit sweetness his coffees embody. 

The steepness of the land is the first thing that confronts you when visiting Rodrigo's farm. Caturra, Bourbon, Colombia and Geisha trees tower over the small washing station located in the middle of the farm. Rodrigo asked if we’d like to go to the top and being the intrepid travellers we are, we excitedly agreed. Lacking the nimble agility of Rodrigo, we regretted our decision immediately, but the view from the top was worth it. Absolutely magical. 

Rodrigo produces roughly 100 bags per year on his 4.5 acre farm, with the biggest difficulty (aside from volatile markets and unequal supply chains) being the topography of his farm. With no ‘easy’ path down during harvest, he employs mules to navigate the steep terrain down to the road. His dream is to build a cable car from the top of the farm to the bottom. A spare $10k anyone? 

Next, we visited another producer who we’ve worked with since 2019, Dora Mendez. The similarities were stark. A smallholding producer working incredibly hard to produce speciality coffee, under increasingly difficult circumstances. 

Dora manages her farm, as well as her father’s and brother’s. She lead us on a 30-minute walk from the car, through dense forest and up to her farm, where she lives with her husband and sister. Whilst we find the walk a little on the hard side, Dora presses on ahead, putting us all to shame with her strength and stamina. If Rodrigo’s farm was steep, then this is something else. 

It is a monumental task to pick and process her Castillo trees, so Dora has decided only to produce speciality upon request, pre-harvest. The risk of producing and not being able to sell the finished product is simply too much.

Dora has recently bought and built her own wet mill, which will be operational this harvest. Failing to contain our excitement, we immediately committed to 20 bags, whilst tucking into our lunch that Dora had kindly prepared for us. The difficulty of producing these coffees belies the cup. Complex, clean washed lots that reflect terroir and variety. It’s what we love to taste at LCM. 

Our final stop was with the Pecupaque family. They had come from Tolima to see us before our flight later in the day. Another long-standing relationship we wanted to solidify. The Pecupaque’s are an indigenous family, producing (possibly) my favourite coffee we buy. I met Alda (matriarch) and Yised (entrepreneurial daughter) to taste the first of this year’s coffee. With a candy floss body, notes of pink grapefruit, soft buttercream and tropical kiwi are forwardly present. Again, we were delighted with the offering and agreed on the spot. 

There isn’t enough time in this recap to explain everything we learnt and processed in our heads on this trip (so please do reach out). Suffice to say however, that our drive to buy our Colombian mico-lots from sustenance smallholders, including the small number we have met on this trip and began to truly understand, is further aflame. It is now the why.