Peru to Bolivia to Colombia

Collaboration can lead to great things. In this case, we worked with Portola and Klatch to plan a three-country South American sourcing trip, with each of us using our connections and leads in the countries. We started off in Peru, a country that is struggling mightily with the Roya epidemic. In central Peru, almost 60% of this year’s harvest has been lost.

Jeff at Portola organized this part of this trip. We were using this trip as a starting point for the future as we did not meet producers here but met with exporters and mill operators to get a better feel for what is happening in Peru. HVC was a big mill located outside of Lima. We cupped several nice coffees here so we will hopefully have some nice lots in the Fall.
That evening, we met up with our friend Graciano again from HiU to cup the first results from his new projects in Peru. As with any first year coffee project, the results were mixed. Certainly, we tasted some excellent lot and we are looking forward to what he will come up with in the seasons to come. On to the airport!

We took the last night, short flight to La Paz and arrived at the hotel at around 2am. Since, we had been working in Bolivia for about four years now, we planned this section of the trip. Unfortunately, it got off to a rough start as we had a miscommunication with one of the farming groups we have worked with in the past. We were hoping to cup with this group in La Paz, but apparently they were expecting us at a location about four hours away so things did not work out. However, as planned, Daniela from Agricafe picked us up at the hotel that afternoon and we headed off to Caranavai.

Agricafe has outstanding quality control and very good relations with the farms they work with. But, problems remain. Even though Roya has not had an impact on coffee in Bolivia, Coca production has. Farmers in large numbers are now giving up on coffee and turning to coca production so this year’s total coffee exports is at a historical low. Prices for Bolivian coffee, then, has remained high because without getting a high price for their coffee, farmers are simply moving to a more profitable crop.

We cupped some terrific lots at Agricafe and together, our three companies are buying about 140 bags. Our long-time farmer Carmelo and Rene, from Finca Senda Salvaje, were also able to come by the mill their samples from their farms. Once again, we look forward to bringing Carmelo’s coffee back to Bird Rock in addition to some special coffees from new farmers.

This may be the only coffee sourcing trip on record that was impacted by snow.

En route back to La Paz, we ran into a snowstorm crossing through the Andes at about 15000 feet. The road closed and we had to turn back and look for a hotel. We would miss our flights to Colombia that night. The next day, we returned to the pass and waiting for a few hours as they were letting 10 cars through at a time.

The auction itself was a little more subdued than I was expecting, but still interesting. Lot numbers would appear on the big scoreboard at the front of the room and buyers would bid on lots by pushing a button on their table until bidding for that lot ended and the lot officially sold. Coffee of ALL grades sold during the day, sub-commodity grade on up to premium specialty lots.

Later that day we headed to the Nairobi Animal Orphanage. The orphanage housed abandon or injured animals rescued from the reserve, which started literally across the street from the orphanage. We had some time between coffee cuppings, so TM took us through the orphanage, and we got up close to some of the wildlife Kenya is known for.

That night, Bolivian street food and beer!

Bolivian street food and beer
Bolivian street food and beer
Bolivian street food and beer

On to Colombia – Mike’s portion of the journey. This part of the trip took us to Medellin, what is now a very cosmopolitan city that, years ago, was the epicenter of the Escobar drug business. One of the hippest South American towns I had been to, cool restaurants, shops, a lot of fitness activity…. Here we met Leonardo and Lux who just started a company that will be working with small farming groups in several excellent growing regions. We were very early in the season so the cupping session had many “young” coffees but coffees that had potential given proper rest. While we did not buy any Colombian coffees at this time, Mike came up with an idea for us to sponsor a competition with the farmers Leonardo and Lux are working with. The producers enthusiastically accepted the idea.
Briefly, Leonardo will pre-select coffees with a minimum score of 85. Jeff, Mike, and I will then cup these coffees and select the very best 10 lots to use as micro-lots, of which 1st 2nd, and 3rd place winners will receive a cash prize. We are agreeing to buy all the coffee that makes the cut, Farm Gate to the producers to maximize their profits, with hefty premiums paid to producers producing micro-lot quality. We are working out the final details now but it looks like we will return to Colombia in November for the final winner’s cupping round and a celebration with the producers.

So, should all go well in the next few weeks, it looks like our South American selection will be terrific this year. Colombian coffee shipping out in December.

Now, we can start to focus on Africa…

by Chuck Patton
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters