Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting

 

Colombia Huila - Cauca - Narino

I took a nice, "travelogue-worthy" trip to Colombia in late May, a real action-packed runaround. We dropped in at the 3 main growing regions to the south of Bogota in just one week: Huila, Cauca and Narino departments (states). It's part of the new way we are working in Colombia with 4 levels of coffee quality. We're designating them 1-Star, 2-Star, 3-Star and 4-Star. 1-Star is blended by an exporter from small farms, and ends up as a good arrival. It's solid Specialty coffee that you might find at a good local roastery. 2-Star is blended from lots scoring above 84 on a subregional level within one of the growing regions, such as Huila Timana or Huila Pitalito. 3-Star are distinct small farmer lots scoring above 86, so small that I can't offer them alone but have selected them to be part of our own micro-regional blend. And 4-Star is the highest level, a distinct small family farm that has scored above 88, entering the realm of truly exemplary coffees. The top 2 levels are vacuum-packed in Bogota to preserve every detail of their cup quality upon arrival at Sweet Maria's. Our top 2 levels qualify for our Farm Gate pricing program, although the 2-Star is also part of our transparent price system, and well above Fair Trade payment levels to cooperatives. So that's the gist of it, here are some pictures ... some not at all related to coffee. i hope you understand...

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Colombia; the only risk is wanting to stay
Colombia; the only risk is wanting to stay
Unusual tact to take on this billboard at the local airport in bogota, el puente. they might as well have a sign "colombia, not so many kidnappings of foreigners as you might think..." this was on our outbound flight early the next morning, headed to Neiva in Huila department (state) of Colombia.
Cupping in Bogota, Colombia
Cupping in Bogota, Colombia
The first stop was 2 rounds of cupping at the exporters office in Bogota. The first round was very fresh, new crop Narino from the La Union area, and the second round was very fresh new crop Tolima. By fresh, we mean that they weren't properly rested yet, but offer a good indication of where the crop is headed.
Fernando
Fernando
Fernando is the cupper for the exporter, but he was getting over a cold so recused himself from talking about the coffees too much.
Aleco Chigounis
Aleco Chigounis
Aleco is the cupper and green coffee guy for Stumptown, a micro-roaster from Portland Oregon.
Tim Castle
Tim Castle
I was traveling with a few people on this cupping trip. Tim Castle is an LA-based importer.
George Howell
George Howell
George Howell is the man behind George Howell's Terroir coffee and George Howell Select wholesale roasting.
Little sample huller
Little sample huller
All labs receive parchment samples (called pergamino in latin countries), so they need a sample huller to peel the coffee out of the parchment shell.
Tiny Oliver Table
Tiny Oliver Table
In the office, an amazing little density sorter, i.e. oliver table. I had never seen a tiny oliver and it's a great idea, since samples never truly match the large, fully-milled lots until they are density-sorted.
Prepping samples for cupping
Prepping samples for cupping
Prepping samples for cupping in the trusty Ditting - same one I use. These folks have a 2 barrel electric Probat, and a real massive moisture content reader in the foreground. The shocking thing to me was that the lab was carpeted, even under the cupping table. wow.
aleco, cupping through it.
aleco, cupping through it.
i din't get pictures of George Howell's daughter Jennifer, who is the new person in charge of QC, and our hosts Alejandro and Giancarlo, the exporters.
Sweet ride from Neive to La Plata
Sweet ride from Neive to La Plata
The van from Neiva to La Plata Huila bragged that it was aircooled, had TV, (it didn't), comfort ride, and MP3. The later was not such a pleasure. every car we took (a lot of them) blasted music, occasionally some nice Salsa, Cumbia etc, other times, not so nice. Thank god for ear plugs.
roadside scenes - the giant boot
roadside scenes - the giant boot
what can i say - the bigger the better. we arrived late in Neiva, due to low fog. Internal flights in Colombia are often delayed by rain and fog. we flew on the classy Fokker 50.
A man and his can
A man and his can
You see a lot of horse-powered transport in Colombia, even in Bogota which is an very very modern city. This is in Neiva at 8:30 AM, a lower altitude and somewhat sweaty place. I wouldn't stay in Neiva by choice.
We'll finish it later
We'll finish it later
One of my favorite things in latin america is the "maybe we'll keep building" upper story. Maybe there's some law that if you have it started, you can keep going, but I like the rebar and columns that keep future possibilities open. Of course, they make buildings look like crap.
Occicafe main office, La Plata.
Occicafe main office, La Plata.
Vigilant guard dog at the Occicafe coffee cooperative in La Plata, Huila Colombia.
Typical agriculture town, La Plata
Typical agriculture town, La Plata
Main drag of La Plata. Nice altitude, not such a super fun place. The hotel here was bare bones, but clean and totally acceptable.
More 1 Horsepower Transport.
More 1 Horsepower Transport.
The ever popular 1 Horsepower Go-Cart. Lotsa bikes and scooters in Colombia too.
Hot Diggety Dog
Hot Diggety Dog
Teen dance academy in La Plata. Yahoo!
Bamboo contruction
Bamboo contruction
Behind our hotel, bamboo, plentiful in Colombia, is used as temporary support in contruction. The timber bamboo here is good quality, renewable, strong, used all over. It's especially good for building parabolic dryers for coffee. We'll see that later.
Tin roofs of La Plata
Tin roofs of La Plata
a nice image at lobg focal length of the steel roofing.
Catedral of La Plata, Huila, Colombia
Catedral of La Plata, Huila, Colombia
great motorcycles of la plata colombia
great motorcycles of la plata colombia
Is it a chopper, a mini-bike, a motorless wonder. who considers this a worthwhile project?
hoochie mama, la plata, colombia
hoochie mama, la plata, colombia
great motorcycles of la plata colombia. there's some sorta "thing" in colombia with putting hott lady photos on motorcycle tanks. seems like compensation for the fact that all the engines are like 98cc or so.
Local Hospital, La Plata
Local Hospital, La Plata
Outside the local hospital, a saint with a fish and, formerly, i believe, a sword. storm clouds in the background should have clued me in to the fact I shoulda brought a rain jacket...
Gimme Bread ...
Gimme Bread ...
On the other side of the hospital, it appears someone thought the bread the baby was holding might be real, and they didn't mind that it came with the hand attached.
Ride 'em George
Ride 'em George
It was time to mount up and ride to our first farm, El Descanso. It's not accessible by car, but the main reason for horses was that the trail was rugged rock and thick mud. It started dumping rain half way up the trail. George Howell get's re-situated.
Aleco, Horse-Whisperer
Aleco, Horse-Whisperer
Aleco on one of the easier parts of the trail up to El Descansoe farm, a rise of about 400 meters.
Map of El Descanso
Map of El Descanso
A neat map created by the farm owner, showing each plot of coffee and what types are planted there. Unfortunately, he has been using Castillo cultivar for some of his new plantings, which is a new hybrid based on the Variedad Colombia (which has catimor inputs).
Cloud Forest
Cloud Forest
The farm house is on a steep hillside, looking across the valley at the opposing steep hillside; quite a dramatic landscape. With the rain passing through can thick clouds, which cleared later to reveal our surroundings.
Views from the farm house
Views from the farm house
Amazing views from this coffee farm house
Steep Huila coffee terrain
Steep Huila coffee terrain
The house at Finca El Descanso has amazing views from all sides.
View down below.
View down below.
Looking down from the farm you can see another house 500 meters below.
Across the way, Coffee and Banana
Across the way, Coffee and Banana
Taken with telephoto, across the valley we can see coffee interplanted with banana (not always a recommended intercropping).
Shade-free coffee
Shade-free coffee
New plantings of coffee across the valley from El Descanso ... not ideal, lacking shade and prone to erosion. boo!
Orlando Lopez, Owner
Orlando Lopez, Owner
El Descanso was a tiny farm by all standards, but compared to other farms we are buying coffee from in Colombia, it's actually big. Why? Because Orlando as a farm manager (who really runs the show) and hires locals to help pick. Many farms in Colombia use only family labor for everything.
Hijo de manajero
Hijo de manajero
The son of the farm manager, Mario. He was everywhere, and once he got used to Aleco, had a fun game of "coffee cherry toss" with him.
Obligatory Dog Photos
Obligatory Dog Photos
Obligatory Dog Photos, of course, since sweet maria's is a dog-friendly kinda place.
cell phone placement
cell phone placement
I was wondering why the cell phones were hung from the eaves on the upper porch. It turns out that it is the only spot with reception!
Fantastic Sopa
Fantastic Sopa
We were sered a great farm-fresh meal that started with a delicious soup, featuring potato island.
Celantro salsa
Celantro salsa
tasty fresh salsa from celantro, vivid green
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