Colombia is divided by three main cordilleras of the Andes, and home to myriad microclimates, each with their own unique conditions for growing coffee. This diversity provides some of the clearest examples of the influence of terroir on the coffee producing process. The Tolima department lies in the center of the Andean portion of Colombia, spanning the valley of the Rio Magdalena, including slopes of the eastern and central cordilleras of the Andes.
Within Tolima, the ASOPEP (Association of Ecological Producers of Planadas) cooperative represents 160 coffee producing families in the municipalities of Planadas and Ataco. They grow coffee along the eastern slopes of the central cordillera in the southern portion of the department. Until recently this region of Colombia has been relatively underdeveloped due to the presence of the FARC, the Marxist guerilla movement that has been in conflict with the Colombian government since 1964. Over the last decade the conflict has largely deescalated leading to increased trade with the rest of the country.
Members of ASOPEP are committed to the production of high quality, ecologically sound, and socially responsible coffees. These producers grow their coffee organically, forgoing the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. The farms average only 2.5 hectares (6 acres) in size and these farmers rely on the production of coffee for their primary source of income. Joining together in a cooperative allows them to pool their resources providing access to improved agricultural techniques and social support for their members.
These farms grow a mixture of different varieties of the Arabica coffee plant. Caturra makes up roughly 50% percent of the crop, the Colombia cultivar 25%, Castillo 20%, and Typica 5%. Caturra and Typica are more traditional varietals for Colombia and are prized for their cup quality. Colombia and Castillo are types that were created by the FNC (Colombian National Coffee Federation) to be higher yielding and more resistant to diseases like Roya that can devastate a coffee farm.
Coffee production in ASOPEP and in Colombia in general is relatively unique in that most small farms also have a wet mill for processing their coffee cherries on site. In this co-op members mill their harvest on small depulpers before fermenting the mucilage covered seeds for between 16 and 18 hours. This breaks down this pectin rich layer of the fruit allowing for the mucilage to be washed off before drying. This fermentation is done without any additional water, with the coffee in large piles, reducing the mill’s water consumption. From there the majority of the members of the co-op sun dry their coffee on either raised beds or patios, while a minority choose to dry their coffee mechanically
All along the way our export partners Granja La Esperanza provides ASOPEP with quality control and technical assistance. Granja La Esperanza owns and operates several farms of their own but they also work with other producer groups in Colombia to help improve their crop and export their coffee. It was through Granja La Esperanza that we were able to bring this coffee to our menu, with transportation, logistics, and finance arranged by Sustainable Harvest of Portland.
The end result of this multi-continent supply chain is a wonderful cup of coffee that is both rich and complex. It has a deep brown sugar sweetness that pairs its bright orange acidity alongside subtle and pleasing herbal notes. It is pleasant and enjoyable with flavors both comforting for drinking all day and exciting to keep a discerning palate engaged. Look for it in our café, our online store, and in select Portland area grocery stores.