Wilfredo Ule Vargas is a young man who runs Finca Alcatraz with his family. Located in the municipality of Oparapa in Huila. This farm does not provide us with coffee beans, but with the pulped coffee cherry called “cascara”. The uniqueness of this farm lies exactly in its production of high quality, almost black coloured, cascara. An elusive product you might have heard about. If not, you may be curious about what the fuss is about.
Cascara, also known as coffee cherry tea, is a beverage somewhere between coffee and tea. This is the dried skin of coffee cherries, a by-product of coffee, which does not taste like coffee. A unique drink on its own treated to be its own specialty product. Next to tea infusions, cascara can be at the basis of products, such as fruity energizing soda (about 25% of the caffeine compared to coffee) or making coffee flour for baking bread with caffeine.
On this farm, Wilfredo shares a coffee story that has lasted more than 15 years. Here, he works and lives with his wife Yubely Trujillo and his two children Juan Camilo and Juan de Jesus. Wilfredo’s family has been producing coffee for approximately 15 years, of which the last seven years has been dedicated to the production of high-quality coffees. In the 7,5 Hectares around Finca Alcatraz, about 5 Hectares are intended only for coffee planting, where crops grow at an altitude rising towards 1850 m.a.s.l.
What is unique about the cascara from Wilfredo? The taste is stronger than any herbal tea since it is made from fruit!
Over years The Coffee Quest has been searching for and importing high-quality Cascara from other origin countries, for example from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. But this Colombia farm, in particular, has caught our attention. What makes this one so special is:
- dark coloured – Visually appealing, almost black, due to the shade drying;
- extra-care during drying – Wilfredo uses slow drying methods on raised beds;
- the quality – only high-quality coffee varieties and fully ripe cherries are chosen.
To place his coffee among the best qualities, he selects only mature cherries during the harvest. The immature, dry, and green beans are of course avoided, both during picking and the wet milling process. Once the pulping process starts, the husk is immediately transferred to the raised beds and after a couple of days, to the Marquesinas (mini-greenhouse), where the coffee is protected from the sun’s UV and finishes its drying process. Afterwards, both the coffee and the cascara undergo a manual cleaning process, using a sieve. Finally, Wilfred cups the end-results and continues to adjust his post-harvest processing where needed.
Wilfredo devoted himself to the cultivation and production of about 4 coffee varieties: Typica, Red Bourbon, Geisha, and Caturra, normally chosen to deliver the highest quality of coffee beans. Here the Bourbon and Geisha varieties grow at an altitude around 1750 m.a.s.l. The trees flourish on his loam soil, also called franco arenoso, a type of soil that has a medium texture – 45% sand, 40% mud, and 15% clay.
The product Cascara is still marked as Novel Food in the European Union. A regulation that indicates that a product has not been significantly consumed before 1997. The lack history also shows in the lack in standardization in processing methods. The average humidity in pulped cascara is often higher compared to natural cascara which is dried together with the coffee beans to 11-12% humidity.
The Coffee Quest aims for quality with purchase of pulped cascara from Finca Alcatraz. The pulped cascara is more complex in flavour due to the seperate processing method. Higher humidity also translates in a high extraction ratio. However, we are aware of possibility of fungul spores inside the Grainpro bags, an issue that only becomes apparent over time. Wilfredo has a clean working method, but this risk remains a reality that is reflected our markup.
The farm has a laboratory for cupping and a good system to transport and deliver the coffee, which is correctly packed to prevent any kind of damage. By doing this, they guarantee a hygienic process as well, in which both coffee and cascara are treated in the best way possible. Moreover, of the total hectares around the Finca Alcatraz, at least 2.5 hectares are intended for a nature reserve with forest area.
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Finca El Chaferote is located in San Agustín, Huila, Colombia, and managed by Erick Bravo, a third-generation coffee grower. The farm consists of 9 hectares of land, with 2.5 hectares considered a natural reserve, since the farm is located right on the banks of the Magdalena River. It sits at an elevation of 1,550 m.a.s.l, and boasts 22,000 coffee trees in production, with varieties ranging from Pink Bourbon, Colombia, Castillo, and Catimore.
Finca La Casita is located in Urrao, Antioquía, Colombia, and is managed by David Berrio, a second-generation coffee grower. The farm consists of 1.5 hectares of land, sitting at an elevation of 2,100 masl. With over 5,000 coffee trees, the farm is dedicated to growing the highly sought-after Chiroso variety.
Finca El Triunfo is located in Palermo, Huila, Colombia, and is managed by Audon Solano, a second-generation coffee grower. The farm consists of 26 hectares of land, with 3 hectares currently dedicated to growing coffee. It sits at an elevation of 1,800 m.a.s.l, with around 15,000 coffee trees in production, of the Caturra, Colombia and Tabi varieties.