The Coffee Quest’s local presence in Colombia is expanding, as we opened up two new stations in Buesaco and Tablón de Gomez in the hart of Nariño. This southwestern coffee region shares a border with Ecuador. In Nariño you find many smallholder families that grow high altitude coffee and profit from the micro climates in the Andes Mountain Range running through the department.
The Coffee Quest Colombia has been working hard to change the traditional standard for coffee buying to match our company values. Our local mission is to take taking transparency in pricing, traceability, valuation based on quality and good collaboration into account.
In short: The Coffee Quest Colombia took the traditional buying station model, adding the element of education using a small laboratory space. The idea is to provide transparent feedback and access to the specialty market to smallholder farmers.
Hence, we aim to achieve that by incorporating sensorial characteristics into the buying decision, next to looking at the physical aspects of the coffee beans. Objective: Paying for quality using well-communicated and transparent pricing.
The buying stations in Nariño also give The Coffee Quest Colombia the opportunity to increase our trade relationships directly with coffee farmers. We regularly visit farmers, give training or organize group workshops in our cupping lab to introduce new processing methods or cupping techniques. By doing this, farmers have the opportunity to taste their own coffees or teach about roasting and cupping.
This is an excellent step towards better living income for producers who work hard on improving bean quality. Our experience shows that the station is a popular meeting place as farmer hang around to receive cupping results.
The Nariño Station creates group lots from different qualities, putting the coffee with similar point scores together. This allows producers from the surrounding area to receiving a better price for their best quality batches. Each micro lot and group lot is carefully constructed. Every small lot is individually cupped various times before being included within the main lot. In addition to cup quality, each coffee must meet strict physical requirements, including our guidelines for moisture content and water activity.
The first time a lot is cupped is when the producer brings a sample to our buying station. After approval the producer will then bring the lot down to the warehouse where it will be cupped again, taking a sample from each sack to ensure consistency. After final approval, the parchment coffee is packed in Grainpro bags and remains untouched until the entire lot is milled in the facilities in Medellín.
Las Perlitas: Throughout the harvest, it’s quite common that small-holders produce lots that aren’t large enough to be exported on their own. However, the quality is often just as good (or better) than samples received from larger lots. As such, we decided to buy all coffees, regardless of size and create a specialty blend based on cup profile, with a quality that would compare to a Micro lot. The result is Las Perlitas or “The Little Pearls”, various small lots from producers around the Nariño region, whose farms range in elevation from 1,700 to 2.150 m.a.s.l. and grow quality varieties.
Micro lot: To select the best Micro lots we focus on 86+ lots that have a special characteristic in the cup profile. In some cases, we combine the volume from 2 or 3 farmers together to reach a minimum of 10x 35kg bags of exportable green coffee. The combinations are made by taking the cup profile into account, and will carry the name of the largest contributor. This method allows us to provide a steady volume for our Seasonal segment, with interesting cup profiles that variate in between each harvest.
Type 1 – Juanambu (scoring 85): This group lot lot is named after the Juanambu River in the region of Nariño, South-West Colombia. It is a river that sits deep inside the Andes Mountain Range, with some of the most incredible landscapes in the entire country.
Juanambu lots represent the hard work of dedicated producers who work with us because they believe in our model of transparency and appreciate the fact that we buy across all ranges of qualities within a harvest. In addition to simply paying fair prices, we offer feedback on every-single-lot cupped (whether purchased or not) and as we are able to purchase across all quality ranges, we can confidently ask producers to make adjustments in their processing, while reducing their concern over price volatility. This coffee contributes to an important part of the supply because these are very well processed coffees that might not hit “single-farm micro-lot” quality, but nonetheless are beautiful coffees that deserve fair payments. The producers who contributed to this lot grow Caturra, Colombia, and Castillo with farms sitting at a range of elevations between 1,750 and 2,100 meters.
Type 2 – Buesaco (scoring 84): Cafe Buesaco is an example of the hard work of producers whose lots have not achieved micro-lot quality nor that of Juanambú, but still represent a clean, approachable cup. The producers who contributed to this lot grow Caturra, Colombia, and Castillo, with farms sitting at a range of elevations between 1,650 and 2,000 meters.
The last two decades of growing coffee have not been profitable for the smallholder farmers (average 1-2 Hectares). However, in The Coffee Quest Colombia’s stations, we always pay above local market prices if the lot scores at least 83 ponts..
All prices at which we buy the coffee at our stations are transparent and are communicated in advance before farmers hand in the coffee. Once a farmer brings their coffee to our station, quality will be assessed. The higher the quality, the higher the price. There is no set-in-stone minimum quantity for the lots we buy.
By offering good prices, on top of our feedback provided on each sample cupped, we can confidently ask producers to make adjustments in their processing methods, while reducing their concern over price volatility. Fixed minimum prices are used as incentives for hard-working farmers. We want to encourage small farmers to experiment more with farming techniques and produce coffee of a higher quality.
Our stations are strategically located in the beautiful area of Buesaco and Tablón de Gómez within the Nariño region. These access points are essential both for us to build a large network of smallholder farmers and for them to get feedback on their coffee and learn about new practices.
The Coffee Quest Colombia provides tailored advice not only on cup quality improvements but also on environmental issues, such as turning coffee pulp into compost or disposing of polluting wastewaters.
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