Santa Maria, Huila – A successful story of partnership


Santa Maria is our group lot from North Huila, Colombia. Here, we have been building a successful partnership between The Coffee Quest Colombia and the local community for 5 years. The area around Santa Maria continues to be affected by internal armed conflicts (guerillas), making it hard to produce and deliver quality coffee. However, thanks to our local presence, we’ve been able to build personal contact with local farmers and support them in achieving improvement and finding opportunities to prosper. 

The Team in Santa Maria (Camila, Daniela, Nicolás) is led by Alberto Vaquiro, our Quality coordinator of all access points in South Colombia. They carefully check, select and combine various lots from local farmers around Santa Maria (the Huila main harvest) into this group lot. Keep reading below to know how Alberto managed to win farmers’ trust.

Alberto was born in Garzón in the South of Huila and comes from a coffee traditional family, where his dad and grandparents are coffee farmers. The disappointment with the little money they received from their hard work on the farm, led him to research more options on how he can help his family. It was not until joining The Coffee Quest Colombia, he realised cupping was what interested him the most.

“I started as a warehouse assistant, but one day I saw what the cuppers were doing and I was curious too. Every time I was alone in the lab, I was trying to replicate what they were doing. Day by day, I learned how to recognize different flavours in a cup” – Alberto Vaquiro, TCQ lead cupper in South Colombia

Alberto (22 years old) is now among the best-known local cuppers in South Colombia and he’s fully dedicated to finding and cupping the best coffees in Huila, Cauca, and Tolima. He is also in charge of finding new exotic coffees and leading projects on anaerobic fermentations with “Productores del futuro”, our new project we recently introduced. 

“As I am very young, to gain trust, I always identify myself as a coffee producer and tell farmers my father’s experiences and use them to give advice on how to improve their farming practices to obtain great coffee quality” – Alberto Vaquiro, TCQ lead cupper in South Colombia

Traditional farmers sometimes are shocked to see someone so young showing them how to improve their methods of fermentation. Some of them are reluctant to change and implement “advanced techniques”. However, thanks to many visible improvements in their production and cupping scores of their coffee after his advice, Alberto earned their respect.


Santa Maria is our group lot which reaches a consistent 84 point-quality. The profile of the Santa Maria lot showcases a balanced cup with soft plum and sweet citrus fruit notes. The potential of this flavour profile makes this a multi-purpose lot ideal for espresso or filter.

Santa Maria – Type 2 (84 score): This quality is the most commonly accepted in our regional station in Santa Maria. The lot provides a less complex (if compared to our 84+ lots), but beautiful clean cup. This profile is found across Huila, but the station is able to provide additional value in consistency. Each individual lot that ends up in the group lot “Santa Maria” has been cupped several times and added based on the determined cup profile. 

In addition to cup quality, each coffee must meet strict physical requirements, including our moisture content and water activity guidelines. The first time a lot is cupped is when the producer brings a sample to our buying station. Upon 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. Upon final approval, the parchment coffee is packed in grain-pro and remains untouched until the entire lot is milled. 

“I dream of having my own coffee exporting company, where I hope to hire only coffee producers and their families and show the world Huila’s best coffees” – Alberto Vaquiro, TCQ lead cupper in South Colombia


In our access point in Santa Maria, The Coffee Quest Colombia cup all the available samples handed in by the local community of farmers. A lot of work! But it allows us to pay the farmer relative to the actual quality of their coffee. For our 82 & 83 scoring lots we pay a premium on top of the local C-market related price. All 84+ coffees have fixed prices with a premium of 20-80% higher.


Around Santa Maria, there is continuous activity on all fronts, giving workshops, training, personal farm visits, financial aid to provide eco-washers (to reduce water for washing), and educational programs addressed to farmers’ children to raise awareness about social and environmental topics. 

Additionally, The Coffee Quest is implementing a program that complements the efforts of the National Park Nevado del Huila to create a buffer area and protect endangered species, by supporting and training coffee farmers to transition into organic farming. This program will reduce the impact that traditional coffee production has on the environment by reducing chemical use and creating awareness of nature conservation. 

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