A worker harvests coffee near the town of Santuario, Risaralda department, Colombia in May. RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
In Costa Rica, where we have been paying attention to the plight of coffee farmers in the last year, there are numerous scientific and sectoral organizations dedicated to assisting with the impact of climate change. Richard Schiffman, who last appeared in our pages nearly a year ago, has this about Colombia’s approach:
Hundreds of Colombia’s small coffee growers have stopped cultivating the bean in the face of low prices and reduced harvests linked to a shifting climate. As farmers struggle, the nation’s scientists are seeking to develop new varieties that will flourish in a changing environment.
Women sort coffee beans at the 44-acre Finca El Ocaso farm, near Salento, Colombia. COURTESY OF FINCA EL OCASO
At first glance, Finca El Ocaso, located in the hills outside Salento, Colombia, could be mistaken for a natural forest: rows of squat Arabica coffee trees are interspersed with plantain, banana, and lime and shaded by towering nogal cafatero trees, whose high canopy hosts flocks of chattering parrots and other birds. The 44-acre coffee plantation has been certified by international organizations for being sustainable, climate-friendly, and fair to its workers.
But Finca El Ocaso is struggling under the weight of intensifying economic pressures.
A coffee weighing station at Finca El Ocaso. Coffee prices have dropped so low that the family-run farm has started hosting tourists to make extra money. COURTESY OF FINCA EL OCASO
“Lots of smaller farms near us have gone out of business,” said farmer Gustavo Patiño. “It is no longer sustainable to have a medium-size farm that pays high taxes and expensive production costs, when in the end they may get paid less for their coffee than their expenses.”
Several years ago, in an effort to keep the plantation afloat, Patiño’s eldest daughter, Carolina, opened the farm to foreign and Colombian tourists. The plantation now attracts more than 1,000 visitors a year. “Our farm can only survive because we offer tours and sell our coffee to the tourists,” Patiño said.
In the last 18 months, Colombia has lost nearly 100,000 acres of coffee plantations, more than 4 percent of the land under coffee cultivation, according to a statement issued last week by Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers (Fedecafé). Continue reading
A farmer with coffee cherries from his latest crop, the seeds of which are roasted, ground and brewed to make coffee. Photograph: YT Haryono/Reuters
We work in several countries where coffee production is important to the national economy. We serve coffee in every property we have ever managed. Many of us working in La Paz Group are coffee junkies.
But more than that, as I have mentioned at least once in these pages, we care extra deeply about the future of coffee because on one of the properties we manage, some excellent arabica estate coffee is growing in the shade of a rainforest canopy. I owe you more on that topic. For now, what has my attention is ensuring the long run sustainability of this organic coffee production.
So you can be sure of where some of our team members will be next Tuesday. Join us if you can:
Selecting beans for export in India.PHOTO: Sebastiao Salgado
Coffee fields in Brazil during flowering season. PHOTO: Sebastiao Salgado
A coffee picker in Tanzania’s Rift Valley. PHOTO: Sebastiao Salgado
For those who believe life begins after coffee, the story of its origin will definitely sound familiar. Coffee grown worldwide can trace its heritage to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau, where legend says the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans. It is said that Kaldi discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night. Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and slowly knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread.
Now photographer Sebastiao Salgado takes readers deep into that grind with his latest collection, The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee that looks at the landscapes and labors behind the $100-billion-a-year business in ten countries around the globe.
Tarde de Café con Doka Estate (An Afternoon of Coffee with Doka)
As mentioned in a recent post, Xandari was joined last week by one of Doka Estate’s coffee experts, Natalia Vargas, who gave a presentation on the estate’s process of growing, harvesting, and preparing coffee. The presentation also involved a coffee-tasting session so that we could see… er… taste the fruits of Doka’s hard work. This latter part of the presentation is what I’ll be mostly focusing on in this post. I don’t want to give too much away, in case I spoil the fun of visiting the Doka Estate for yourself when you’re next staying at Xandari, but seeing as it was a very informative and enjoyable a presentation (at least for a coffee lover), and that Xandari should soon be in a position to capitalize on the knowledge in its own coffee endeavors (most recent post here), I thought I’d spill just a few of the beans here, no pun intended.
Coffee table set-up
Natalia first walked us through the actual growing, selection, and harvesting process. All the beans at Doka originate from plants alread Continue reading
Mostly standard coffee beans (some Peaberry beans may have snuck in!)
A friend from the Doka Estate (on Doka see our most recent post on coffee) visited Xandari yesterday to tell us more about the process of growing and preparing coffee from seedling to cup. We’ll go into what we learned in more detail in another post, but for now I wanted to share something interesting I learned about different types of coffee–specifically about the type of coffee called “Peaberry” (or caracoli). Continue reading
Before my recent experience with growing coffee, the last time I had been exposed to the agricultural side of the brew had been almost exactly two years ago, on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador. The plants that I had a hand in starting up there should be reaching the beginning of their prime production this year.
The scale of the farm at Santa Cruz was much greater than that at Xandari so far, and hopefully Roberto and Reyna will get a bumper crop this year and we’ll be hearing about it!
You can read a little about their coffee farm and some of the work I did there Continue reading
Coffee ready to be planted, next to its hole
On Monday, we began planting coffee and made great headway on getting the shrubs in the ground. Fortunately, José Luis, Xandari’s head gardener, and his team (or should we say “coffee crew” in this case?) had already done significant work in preparing the soil to receive the plants. Continue reading
Here at Xandari (Alajuela, Costa Rica) everything is ready for coffee’s big return. The resort’s land was once dedicated to growing and harvesting the finest estate coffee this country offers (you can visit the Doka Estate, to which Xandari’s land once belonged, in one of our guests’ favorite day tours), but for the last 18 years more attention was given to the organic vegetables, orchards and gardens that now dot the verdant grounds. Plans are in motion, however, to bring the crop back to this area long celebrated for the quality of its coffee.
The ground is tilled:
Seth in the soon-to-be coffee field.
Coffee plantation – Spring Valley, Kerala
Evan’s research on agroforestry in Ecuador inspired me to learn more about coffee in India. No coffee seed sprouted outside Africa or Arabia before the 17th century. Legend has it this all changed when a pilgrim named Baba Budan smuggled fertile coffee beans out of Mecca strapped to his stomach. Returning to his native India, he successfully cultivated the beans near Mysore.Commercial cultivation began in 1840 when the British rule established Arabica coffee plantations throughout the mountains of Southern India. Till today much of the production comes from the Western Ghats. Initially Arabica was widespread, but Continue reading
I’ve grown addicted to my colleague Anitha’s cold coffee since I got here (sorry guys but hers is just perfection). Ice cold, 70% arabica/30% robusta, locally grown coffee. India may not be known for its coffee, but in the Western Ghats of Southern India, you’ll find coffee plantations on hills and misty mountains between 800m and 1500m above sea level. One of the challenges here has been to integrate biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods for farmers. Continue reading
Early this morning Pierre and I set out from Morgan’s Rock towards Granada, which is maybe two and a half hours away. Before reaching the city, we turned onto a road that led to Mombacho Volcano, an inactive peak with several extinct (and some fully collapsed) craters. The volcano is protected by the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve, created in 1996 by the several local fincas on the volcano’s foothills that comprise the NGO Cocibolca Foundation. Our time at Mombacho, described in the rest of this post, is part of the exploratory trip that Pierre and I are taking over the next three days, assessing the possibility of connecting Morgan’s Rock’s tour offerings with other operators in the area.
The day’s activities started at the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve (MVNR), where we met our guide Jennifer. We decided to take the longest trek, called the Puma Trail, so named because there are some big rocks and even caves that pumas are said to live in, although none have been sighted in a decade. Prior to starting this four-hour hike we stopped by an area called Los Fumalores where Jennifer had fun by daring us to put our hands in a small hole next to the trail, reassuring us that no snakes would be inside. As we placed our hands near the opening in the ground, we could immediately feel a stunning temperature difference. The place is called Los Fumaroles because sulfuric gases rise from volcanic holes and crevasses in hot gushes, heating the surrounding stone to a surprising degree. This area also provides a nice view of Las Isletas, which are known as children of Mombacho because they are islands initially created from a volcanic eruption. I mentioned Las Isletas very briefly here.
The Puma Trail’s path is very well maintained, Continue reading
Part of the La Cumplida farm diversification involves growing crops apart from coffee. I’ve already mentioned the tree cultivation and bananas, and here I can go into more detail about the wood production and other harvests.
Ferns cover many of the hills in the upper ranges of the finca. Sheltered under black netting to block out the sun, these billions of fronds are handpicked and bundled in different sizes. The vast majority is sent to Netherlands, but other European countries and the United States receive the ornamental plants as well. Why is Netherlands the main customer? Because the country holds the largest flower market in the world at Aalsmeer, has long been the production hub for the European flower industry, and is a major international floral supplier. Many bouquets contain not only blossoms but ornamental leaves as well, and these ferns work well in many arrangements.
Wilfredo led us through the fern fields and told us a bit about its cultivation. One of the problems they have while growing the ferns is fungal disease, which turns them yellow and brown as they die; fungicide and physical culling are necessary to control the spread. About every two months they have new fully matured fronds that can be harvested, bundled up, washed, and bundled again under bags. Then they are boxed and sent under refrigeration to their destination (if I remember correctly, at 7 degrees Celsius). Below is a short and simple video that includes some of this explanation and process.
Pierre and I went on a tour around La Cumplida’s coffee plantation with Wilfredo. La Cumplida is a huge finca of over 1,600 hectares (this includes 700 ha. for coffee and 600 ha. for protected reserve) situated in the region of Matagalpa, which is very well known for its coffee production. First we went to the processing plant, which is under repair because some of the machines were being too rough on the coffee beans. Despite the fact that none of the machines were currently working, he walked us through the bean process: loading, skinning, washing, and reloading the beans. The drying and roasting takes place at another location. If we had been here any time from October through February, the machines would have been whirring and red beans would come by the truckload to be processed, since over 2000 coffee pickers would be hard at work in the hills, collecting beans.
Below is a video of some of the coffee work we watched. Wilfredo’s explanation of the deshijo is translated in brief three paragraphs below.