Day 5 in Colombia - our last day! We spent it entirely at La Bohemia, learning more about the women producers of FUDAM, touring the farm, and enjoying two cuppings. When we arrived, some women producers who sell their coffee to FUDAM were waiting. We sat down across from them and had the opportunity to learn about FUDAM, ask questions, and answer questions that the producers had for us.
First of all, some context. Life as a coffee producer here is challenging. There are many large barriers one must overcome when growing specialty coffee: financial, logistical, and systemic barriers. One of the financial barriers is that at the end of the harvest season, many producers need money immediately, making it so that they can’t sell their coffee to Banexport or FUDAM because they can’t wait a few days for the grading process to be completed and to get paid. For them, the immediate payoff from an exporter who is not focused on quality is of greater value than the potentially higher payoff that they’d have to wait for from a quality-focused importer.
Another barrier is the issue of the next generation of coffee farmers. These women said they love coffee - they grew up around it, it’s their life, and they won’t stop producing it, but the next generation is not taking it on. Growing coffee means only making enough money to get by, and their children have a better future working in the cities. They also brought up a systemic struggle. They said that the government here is hurting them with corruption and taxes - they don’t support or subsidize agriculture like governments do in other countries, like the US.
To make matters even more difficult, there is only a very little amount of specialty coffee consumption within Colombia, meaning many producers are not actually tasting their own coffee. It’s not because they don’t want to though; it’s a business decision. In Colombia, they often purchase coffee from Brazil to drink locally because it’s more affordable than roasting and brewing their own!
Raquel said that one of the ways FUDAM wants to help is by opening a school where producers can learn about grading, roasting, brewing, and tasting, and learn firsthand what makes high quality coffee. She thinks this would also attract the next generation to coffee growing because they would be able to get better prices for it. She encouraged the women producers, saying that they don’t have to live just surviving all the time. She said they can evolve and move forward together, and that improving their coffee is the way to success. It was clear to me that part of our purpose here was to show them that there are people who will buy high quality coffee, and they need to continue to improve their crops and final products. Although growing specialty coffee may be challenging, there are people on the other end of the supply chain who are excited about specialty coffee, and the work that producers put in would pay off in the end.
They also had some great questions for us - one of them being if there would be an interest in buying their coffees as micolots. My answer to this was yes - we would be interested in microlots, but we also appreciate their blend, for its qualities and price point. It’s a good fit for our organic blend, August, so we would like to see it continue. Another roaster added that in order for their coffees to be sold as microlots, they would need to be of a high enough quality. This was a good point! I hope that in the future, these producers are able to produce coffee that is good enough to be sold as microlots. I think with the help of FUDAM, this will be possible!
After our group conversation, it was time for the cuppings. In the first round, I discovered that my top pick was a lot from Raquel! While there were only five available bags, I still requested that a sample be shipped to us back home at Ruby Headquarters.
In between our cuppings, we toured the farm. Raquel and her brother took us up across the road to the higher part of the farm where they have pink bourbon planted. In my photos, you can see corn planted in between the coffee plants. They use the corn itself for food, and the stalk for ground cover around the plants. Raquel's brother explained to us that it has many purposes, including that when it decomposes it is benefiting the soil, and another is that it's a good companion plant (think beneficial root systems/nutrient-fixing). The banana trees around also make good companion plants. In addition, there was some ground cover left intentionally because the beetles and other pests will choose to eat these plants over the coffee. It is clear that they believe in regenerative agriculture and sustainability here at La Bohemia, as Raquel’s brother reiterated the importance of using farming practices that are good for the land and local rivers.
The lower part, below the house, is where their Geisha variety is planted. They were flowering and smelled amazing - a little like jasmine, and tasted good, too! I also had the privilege of tasting the coffee cherry itself - the pink bourbon is sweet and delicious, while the Geisha is very different - possibly herbaceous.
Raquel's brother showed Nikole, Charity and I around a little bit - we somehow fell behind the group. He didn’t speak much English, but between the Spanish we knew and his enthusiasm, we got the jist of his tour. We started off in their nursery. There were just a few small seedlings at the moment. After a couple months, they are big enough to move to the plastic containers. Then, 3 months after that, they move them out of the nursery and down the hill a little ways, into the open to harden them off. Then they get planted. He also showed us where they make their soil amendments. They are very precise and clean with their amendments. He showed us the spreadsheet of components in the amendment mixtures and what each one does (Potassium fixing, Nitrogen fixing, discourages pests, and more).
(This is me and Emilio, Banexport’s communication and traceability expert)
Then it was time for the second cupping. As usual, each sample had a number assigned so that we were cupping blind. After cupping, when we all sat down to go over our notes, we were all particularly excited about sample number nine, which wasn't actually for sale - it was Raquel's coffee- the Cup of Excellence winner, and everyone loved it of course! Charity and Chris had already bought the last bag of the roasted beans that they had! I’m sure they will treasure this coffee as they drink it at home.
They had a nice party planned for the evening. Apparently they named the farm La Bohemia because they like to have lots of parties there! First, there was a local Colombian dance group made up of girls and boys, around 15-years-old. They have been learning traditional dances in order to keep the culture alive. They did two or three dances for us and then had us join in. Each one grabbed a foreigner and showed us some steps. We all sat down after every dance, but they'd put on more music, and another one of them would come grab you to dance with them! It was very cute, and all the adults were very tired. After they left, there was a band that played some more music while dinner was being made. It was a nice send-off on our last real day on our coffee trip.
I feel so lucky to have been able to go on this trip and get a glimpse into what it actually looks like to be a woman coffee producer in Colombia. Colombia is a beautiful country, full of kind and hardworking people, and I can’t wait to return some day. In the meantime, you’ll find me drinking lots of Colombian coffee, and anxiously awaiting samples so we can add more of this delicious coffee to our menu.
Thank you for following along,