The town Pitalito is central to coffee trade in Southern Huila. A small town that is strategically situated on the southern end of the Magdalena river valley, seperating Colombia’s Eastern and Central mountain ranges. The area is known as the cradle of specialty coffee of Colombia, as many small farmers started focusing on quality and good processes almost 20 years ago. The Coffee Quest Colombia has setup shop to access more producers from the local community. The Station structure is used to pay higher prices for quality coffee.
‘During the T.C.Q. Microbiology course we taught him how to standardize fermentation processes in coffee. This gives me more confidence when having a fermentation conversation with the producers. The workshop on customer service helps me to have a better attention towards the coffee growers.’ – Luis Carlos Gutierrez
In short: The Coffee Quest Colombia took the traditional buying station model, but added a Quality Lab. The idea is provide access to the specialty market to smallholder farmers. 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,
Pitalito as a municipality produces a lot of coffee, but it is the perfect location for access to many surrounding towns like, Acevedo, Bruselas, Palestina, San Agustin, Oporapa, Timaná and Suaza all well-known names in the specialty coffee industry and towns where we have already been buying coffees for years.
Having a buying station in Pitalito also gives us the opportunity to increase our direct trade relationships with coffee farmers. Regularly visiting farms to give trainings and by organizing group workshops in our cupping lab to introduce producers to new processing methods and give them the opportunity to taste their own coffees or even learn about roasting and cupping.
In the Pitalito Station we manage coffee lots from many different farms. To improve consistency we group the farmers that deliver 83 to 85 scoring lots, while we seperate all 86+ lots and highlight the farmers story. This is the reason why you find many lots coming from Pitalito Station. Read more below about the different lots!
Each micro lot and communal lot is carefully constructed. Every small lot 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 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 Huila region, whose farms range in elevation from 1,600 to 2.100 m.a.s.l. and grow quality varieties.
You might already know that Colombia has a high humid climate which will make it very difficult to produce Naturals or Honey Coffee. The only way to get the same fruity flavours and resemblance of Naturals is to play with fermentation before washing. So, the variation in fruity flavours across the lots will depend on the different attributes that contribute to the fermentation process: such as the environment temperature, capacity of the farm, and farmer’s techniques. This is why there is no single answer to drying and fermentation. The hours spent in the tanks and on the drying tables will most likely be longer than commercial coffee, but will differ per farmer as cultural practices and logistical issues play a role. On average, fermentation in tanks goes around 24-48h (sometimes up to 72h) and drying time around 7-14 days.
Micro lot: To select the best Micro lots we focus on 86+ lots that have a special characteristic in the cup profile. The Pitalito area offers a good range of fruity lots due to the longer fermentation times. 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.
Laboyano – Type 1 (85 score): “Laboyano” is how you would call a local from Pitaltio. This name reflects the typical hard working farmers that are part of this communal lot. The coffee is fully traceable and comprised primarily of lots from producers in and around the South of Huila, including Pitalito, Saladoblanco, Palestina, Acevedo and La Argentina. The producers who contributed to this lot grow Caturra, Colombia, Castillo, Tabi and Pink Bourbon, with farms sitting at a range of elevations between 1,600 and 2,000 meters. This coffee was constructed in partnership with our friends The Bean Project, whom we expect to do exciting things with in the future!
Pitalito – Type 2 (84 score): This lot is the little sister from Laboyano, and provides similar fruity notes, but with less complexity. The touch of dried fruits and vibrant milk chocolate are quite pleasant. Each individual lot that ends up in the group lot Type Pitalito has been cup and added to the lot based on the determined cup profile. Multifunctional use for both blends and single-origin coffees,
Huila Profile – Type 3 (83 score): The cup profile is similar to a good Huila Excelso EP, however, similar to Type 2 the quality can be offered with great consistency. Each producer will have the chance to sell this coffee to competing buying stations, but will receive a small bonus on top of the market price at The Coffee Quest’s Santa Maria station. The bonus represents our combined efforts in maintaining full traceability and quality control.
All lots represent the hard work of dedicated producers whom received not only receive the highest prices in town on 85+ coffees, but fixed prices throughout the entire harvest. By offering fixed prices, on top of our feedback provided on each sample cupped, we can confidently ask producers to make adjustments in their processing, while reducing their concern over price volatility.
“Many coffee growers are attracted by our prices, some are friends who have been working with us for a long time and others are farmers we meet from time to time.” – explained Cristian Camilo Carvajal. “Many times they are shy, but as the days go by, they relate to each other and become one big coffee family. I would like to see everyone become coffee experts in the future.” – he continued explaining the atmosphere in Pitalito Buying Station.
Listen to the Radio Commercial made to promote our activities and share prices in the town of Pitalito!
Pitalito is right in the busy coffee heart of Southern Huila. The buying station provides a central point for a large network of smallholder farmers to get feedback on their coffee and practices. This will happen in person during visits at the station, but also during workshops and off-season farm visits by The Coffee Quest cupper. They will provide tailored advice on quality improvements, but also include the necessary knowledge to process coffee while taking the environment into account. Topics such as; turning coffee pulp into compost, disposing the acidic waste waters, but also advice on farm inputs.
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The Coffee Quest is present with both feet inside the community of Santa Maria in Huila. Developing lasting relationship and projects to protect the Huila Volcano and its National Park.