On my third trip to Bolivia, things did not start out as planned. A missed connection in Dallas meant I would miss my overnight flight to La Paz, Bolivia from Miami — and lead to an entire lost day on the ground sourcing, not good when you only have 5 days total source coffee. After a night in Miami and some great Haitian food and rum at Tap Tap in South Beach, I boarded the next flight to Bolivia the following night.
As with our first two trips to Bolivia, I would meet up with Carmelo Yurja, and Rene Viadez. This year, though, we are partnering with Agricafe, a quality-focused exporter with an excellent mill Caranavai. Agricafe will be exporting our Direct Trade coffee from Bolivia. Since Agricafe has been doing a great job with lot selection, their quality control at their mill in Caranavai is top-notch and they are paying the farmers very well from uniform, perfectly ripe cherries, we were looking forward to buying coffee from them as well, and then expanding our network of farming partners.
I arrived in Bolivia at five in the morning and after a few hours to re-group at the hotel, Pedro from Agricafe, picked me up and we began the long drive into the Caranavai region. It is always thrilling driving in Bolivia, but as night fell, the cliff-side dirt road got even more exciting. At one point, I was pretty sure I was going to die and put my odds at 50/50, but we made it safe and sound.
Unfortunately, since I lost a day in Miami I would not have time to visit with a couple new farmers that Pedro wanted to introduce me to; but early the next morning, Carmelo and Rene picked me up at the Agricafe mill and we went to their farm to check out the current crop and to cup early lots of their coffee, as well as coffee from neighboring farms.
Weather this season has adversely affected the harvest. Overall, the Bolivian crop is down 70% and some farmers that we used in the past have no coffee to sell this year. Due to unseasonably cold weather during the harvest, the cherries are ripening much slower than normal so what should have been a visit during the peak of harvest, ended up being too early. Rene thinks their crop will be down as well but due to great farming techniques, they hope to only be down 25% — a lot but not devastating. At the same time, Rene and Carmelo were happy to show us two new plots on their property that they had just planted, adding almost 30-40% more coffee shrubs that should bear fruit in a couple of years.
This year we are doing something special. With our friends at PTs coffee, we asked Rene and Carmelo to prepare a special experimental lot for us and they agreed. Instead of the normal washed process they have been doing for years, Rene and Carmelo will set aside about five bags and will follow the Kenyan method of double soaking the beans. Hopefully this will add to the intensity of the coffee. If successful, we will have some very unique Bolivian coffee for you this season but we won’t know if it worked until we get the approval samples that should arrive the week of October 15th.
While at their farm, we cupped several coffees. Even though the coffee was not properly rested and the coffee was from the season’s first harvest, we are excited that the quality we have come to expect from their farm should continue this season.
After a great BBQ with Pedro and his mom — and a sampling of Bolivian beer and wine — the day was done. Up early the next morning, Pedro had prepared 30 lots for us to cup ranging in size and processing methods. All of the coffee was solid, but the ultimate goal was to find a handful of very special lots we could bring back to Bird Rock to augment our Bolivian selection. We found a few lovely coffees including a one-bag, naturally processed, lot that is impossibly sweet and dense. We also agreed to pay a very high price to have one of their farming partners prepare a special exclusive lot for us. Again, we should be getting the samples very soon.
Even though the crop situation in Bolivia is severe, we are excited about the coffees we are bringing in again this year. As with a solid Direct Trade endeavor, our project in Bolivia continues to evolve and we look forward to expanding things further next season.
We are hoping the coffee ships in late October, which should mean we will get it by mid-November along with a few other South American coffees we are excited about.
Stay tuned for more updates!