Colombian Coffee

Colombian coffee thanks to Juan Valdez is known as “The Richest Coffee in the World”.  How did Colombia become one of the world’s largest producers of coffee?  What makes Amrita Certified Pure Colombian Santander Mesa de Los Santos so special?  In this blog we will explore the history of Colombian coffee and Mesa de Los Santos.

No one knows for sure how coffee arrived in Colombia.  Many believe Jesuit Priests introduced coffee to Colombia in the mid 16th century.  It wasn’t until 1808 when the first commercial production of coffee began.  In 1835 was the first time coffee was exported to the US.  By 1860 coffee was the dominant crop in Colombia.

Coffee production in Colombia did not come by easily.  Even though Colombia with its three Andes Caldileras (mountain ranges) provide ideal growing conditions for growing coffee, farmers had to be encouraged to plant coffee trees.  With a five year lapse between planting and first harvest farmers quickly gave up on the notion of becoming a coffee farm.  It wasn’t until a priest Francisco Romero during confessions started offering penance by requiring the sinner to plant 3 coffee trees.    These plantings helped propelled Colombia to the second largest producer of coffee in the world up until the late 1990’s.  Today Colombia is the world’s third largest producer of coffee and the largest producer of quality Arabica coffee.

Farmer and FNC Field Technician

One of many weather stations build by the FNC to aid farmers

Colombian has a strong coffee infrastructure that was created by coffee growers in 1927.  The growers created the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC), National Coffee Federation of Colombia.  The purpose was to represent the growers both nationally and internationally, defend grower’s rights and seek ways to improve their quality of life.  Today the FNC guarantees growers a fair and transparent price for their coffee, technical field assistance, carry out programs that positively impact coffee farms, communities and the environment, and an international marketing program to promote Colombian Coffee.  The FNC projects in Colombia’s rural areas improve community and domestic infrastructure as well as offering credit access and social programs, healthcare, education, food aid programs, and transportation.  FNC is the sponsor of the Cup of Excellence program which recognizes outstanding coffees where the winning farmers are awarded high auction prices for their coffee.   With over 540,000 member growers the FNC is one of the world’s most successful NGO not for profit organizations.

Judging coffee at Cup of Excellence Colombia 2007

Juan Valdez Cafe in Bogota

Juan Valdez was created to promote Colombian coffee in 1959.  Today the majority of international coffee consumers associate Juan Valdez and his donkey Conchita with “The World’s Richest Coffee”.  The messaging of quality coffee in from Colombia was enhanced in 1995 with the labeling of specialty Coffees of Colombian and recognition of the unique flavor profiles from different regions in Colombia.

It was in 1995 that Anne Valdez, President of Amrita Certified Pure was first introduced to Colombian Mesa de los Santos Coffee.  Anne had the honor of tasting the coffee with Oswaldo Acevedo the owner of Colombia Mesa de Los Santos farm.  Today the aromatic, chocolaty coffee with an apple acidity is still and perfectly balance coffees is one of Anne’s favorite coffees.

 

Crimson-backed Tanager found at the Mesa de los Santos Estate

This stunning estate is home to migratory birds and a sanctuary for wildlife.  Over 145 different bird species have been identified on the estate by the Smithsonian Migratory Institutes. The coffee is grown under a canopy of native shade trees.  Portions of the estate are undeveloped and left in as a natural tropical forest.   Coffee is grown in harmony and sustainably with nature

The quality of the coffee continues to be worthy of the “Table of the Saints” over 175 years after it’s founding.  The  coffee  was first tasted by Amrita Certified Pure®’s president Anne Valdez in 1995 is still just as good and memorable today has it was in 1995.

The 800 acre estate founded in 1840 was named La Mesa de Los Santos by the founder Telmo J. Dias after priests tasted the coffee and declared it to be so good that the coffee was worthy of being served at the “Table of the Saints”.  Telmo managed the estate with generosity, integrity and the search for perfection.

La Mesa de Los Santos

Fields at Mesa de los Santos

Today Telmo’s principles are carried out by his grandson Oswaldo Acevedo.  Oswaldo is a proponent of human welfare.  He pays his worker’s wages well above minimum wage, offers them free health care, education assistance for workers children, housing assistance, insurance for temporarily or permanent work disability and retirement pensions.  The farms organic practices protect the health of the workers and environment.

Visit to Selva Negra

It was October 2008 when I first visited the Selva Negra Farm in Nicaragua.  The anticipation for the visit was immense.  This was my first trip to Nicaragua.  I was there for the Let’s Talk Coffee Nicaragua.  During the conference David Griswold introduced me to Mausi Kühl and her son in law Stephen Franklin. Mausi spoke from her heart and soul about the farm.  Champion Barista’s from all over the world had just spent a week on the farm.  The Barista’s stories about the farm were told throughout the conference.  Everyone was amazed with the stories and eager to visit the farm.

Entrance to Selva Negra

Entrance to Selva Negra

The entrance to the farm was impressive.  We were greeted by an army tank left over from the revolution.  We choose to get off the bus and walk our way to the restaurant.  Once in the farm the road was lined with coffee plants and shade trees.  All was neat and organized.  Trash cans made of recycled bags were available for the workers to collect trash.  The walk was peaceful and beautiful.

Pathway to Restaurant

Pathway to Restaurant

In Latin American countries trash is an eyesore.  The population needs to be educated on the benefits of proper trash disposal and care for the environment.  One of the principals of the Rainforest Alliance is proper recycling and disposal of trash.  Over the years of visiting farms I can immediately tell if a farm has the Rainforest Alliance Certification by the way trash is handled and the lack of litter on the farm.  Mausi goes way beyond the Rainforest Alliance trash requirements with her motto of “waste not”.  With over 300 people living on the farm, the farm produces only one 55 gallon barrel of trash per week.  The entire farm produces less CO2 than the than the average American household.

Our first stop on the farm was the farm’s restaurant.  Not only is this a coffee farm, but it is also a hotel,

With Mausi at Restaurant

With Mausi at Restaurant

restaurant, ecological sanctuary, cheese farm, sausage factory, cattle vegetable and flower farm.  All of the farm’s diversity works in harmony with the environment.  Lunch was fabulous.  We ate farm grown vegetables, cheeses and sausages on tables decorated with farm flowers overlooking a beautiful lake.

After lunch, it was time for the anticipated farm tour.  Heidi, Mausi’s daughter guided us through the coffee portion of the farm.  Our first stop was to the first water cleaning tank for which Selva Negra won the Specialty Coffee Association Sustainability Award.  The farm has developed a system to purify the water used in processing the coffee.  The first tank captures the methane gas.  The gas is used to provide fuel for cooking stoves for the hotel, restaurant and workers homes.  The water continues its purification through various ponds.  Algae

Algae Ponds

Algae Ponds

that is grows in one of the ponds is collected and used as mulch for the young coffee plants.  One of the ponds is a fish farm with workers being allowed to catch fish.  Finally the purified water is used as irrigation at the flower nurseries.  In my early years of visiting farms I was appalled at the water used in coffee processing being dumped back into the rivers.  Today Selva Negra has taught hundreds of farmers how to treat the water without harming the environment.

Broca Trap

Broca Trap

We made our way through the fields of coffee where we saw healthy coffee plants loaded with cherries.  The cherries were just beginning to ripen.  In about a month the farm would be in full harvest season.  We saw broca (coffee borer) traps made out of empty soda bottles and filled with local sugar cane alcohol to kill the broca.  This is just another example of recycling on the farm. Being an organic farm all forms of pesticides and fertilizers are 100% natural with many components coming from farm waste.  The restaurant serves eggs from the farm hens.  The shells from the used eggs are ground up to make a calcium fertilizer for healthy coffee root systems.    This is another example of Mausi’s “Waste Not” philosophy.

Every coffee farm produces wood from pruning the coffee plants and shade trees.  In most cases the wood is used to provide fuel for stoves.  Burning wood produces particulate air pollution.  This is not the case at Selva Negra as they produce their own methane gas for the stoves.  The wood is still used at the farm in a non-polluting manor.  The farm has a carpentry shop.  The shop makes furniture for the restaurant and hotel and many other wood needs.

Vegetable Nursery

Vegetable Nursery

We visited the vegetable and flower green houses.  All of the vegetables grown at the farm are served at the restaurant.  The flowers are picked and used to decorate the tables at the restaurant.

Our next stop was the wet mill and the drying patio.  Even though the water is filtered and recycled the water process is designed to conserve water.  The wet mill has been in operation since 1890.  The farm is also known as Hacienda Harmonia.  The name comes from the city of Hamburg, Germany the home town of the founding farmers.  Next to the drying patio is the family home.  The home along with the hotel cabins are all built with

Drying Patios

Drying Patios

German architectural elements again paying homage to the founders of the farm.

Our last stop was at the workers village.  Once a year the farm hosts a fair for the workers.  The purpose of the fair is to share with the employees all of the jobs and extracurricular activities of the farm.  There were booths for coffee, cheese, flowers, vegetables, sausages, biogas model, Rainforest Alliance, health care, sports teams, school, construction, plant nursery, farm awards, certifications and the farm model.  Children were dressed in their Sunday best.  As an incentive for taking care of their homes there is a completion for the best decorated house.  Many of the workers

Workers Children in their Sunday Best

Workers Children in their Sunday Best

grew up on the farm, were educated during their primary years at the farm, given scholarships for upper and college education and then returned to the farm to work and raise their families.  Jobs aside from farm field work include nurses, teachers, biologists, carpenters, and managers and many other jobs.

This farm is truly amazing.  Our Blue Heron Espresso Nicaragua Selva Negra is our most versatile coffee.  The coffee is sweet and citric as an espresso, smooth and creamy as a cappuccino and is bright and fruity with chocolate notes as a pour over or drip coffee.  This is one of my favorite coffees for not only the incredible taste but for all the sustainable aspects of the farm.

Anne with the Coffee Cherries.

Anne with the Coffee Cherries.