Mayra Orellana-Powell is at origin in Honduras, and speaks regularly with the producers of the coffees we offer. Being in this unique position, she came up with the idea of interviewing producers about their life and experience of the coffee industry. Our first interview is with the manager of Panama’s Finca Lerida, Sonia Amuruso. Keep tuned to our blog to hear more from origin!
Please introduce yourself and provide a brief description of your work at Finca Lerida.
My name is Sonia Amuruso. In short, I am the face of Finca Lerida. I deal with all the events and shows locally and internationally and I take care of all our buyers and their purchases. I also assist in the planning process for when clients come to our plantation to experience firsthand the quality and care that goes in to all our coffee.
How did you start working in coffee?
That is a bit of a story but I kind of fell into it by accident and have been loving it ever since.
Seven years ago, my sister Maria and her husband purchased Lerida Farm from the Chollins family. Maria focused her attention on the tourism business and the developing of the hotel located at the farm and I started to help her with the coffee farm. I am a lawyer and one of the few women in specialty coffee in Panama. In the last six years, I have learned a lot about agriculture and specialty coffee since I started to manage Lerida farm.
What is your favorite part about harvesting coffee?
Honestly the whole process still amazes me, but I believe it to be when the coffee is ready to be roasted and cupped. Being a big coffee drinker, I usually can’t wait to try the new lots and taste the magic from those beans!
How has business changed over the years?
There always has been coffee. Even gourmet coffee. But I think now the very top shelf specialty coffee is what a lot of people are wanting nowadays. With media today, you can find out with a click of a button about different types of coffee, where it is grown, processing – anything you want to know. Plus, with wonderful coffee shops and cafes all around the globe, you can find whatever you are looking for. The coffee business has gone the way of art and wine.
Please describe a typical day at the farm.
No day is typical here. One morning I may be cupping with clients and the other running over orders or flying off to a coffee show in Korea. I don’t have a set routine or workday. I try to manage what comes at me gracefully no matter what needs to be done at any moment.
A typical day for me depends on the time of the year. I am between 3-4 days at the farm and during my visits I am either scheduling meetings with employees at the field, cupping coffees, or hosting coffee professionals visiting our farm.
Does your farm offer lodging facilities for employees?
We provide very nice places for our workers and their families to live in addition we have a school. One hundred or so years ago the first owner put aside a spot of land for a school for the children of the workers. That has always been maintained as an integral part of Finca Lerida.
How many employees do you have?
We have 30 full time employees. During the heavy time of the year, we add an additional 60 employees.
Do you have any information you would like to share with buyers about Lerida’s impact in the community where the farm is located?
We have always tried to work with the community to keep strong relations with people from the area. We have special events for Christmas and Easter for children. Something that is also important is that we try to demonstrate how a modern farm can keep its roots of the past and coincide with the nature around it to keep the balance and not consume every inch of land.
The land and rivers stay as they were before any of this existed here. We provide a decent amount of work for local people and give a nice added site for ecotourism in our region.
Describe the successes and challenges you have experienced from working in the specialty coffee market?
I have to say this about the success: we have won many prestigious awards over the years and are able to supply people with a quality product. It is an incredible feeling day after day. The challenges I see in the different markets, dealing with a global economy as we are; it is at times a little nerve racking. We deal with different people and different cultures from all over the world. Different cultures mean different customs and unique tastes. You should manage this, understand who you are working with to give the best service to all your clients, wherever they are from.
What are your long-term goals as a coffee producer for Finca Lerida?
The long-term goal is to keep growing the best coffee for the clients.
Of course, growing as a company is always a goal. Adding another farm to Finca Lerida is always something we look forward to doing. Although the main focus is being consistent with our quality and our service to each and every customer.
What is the most expensive part of coffee production?
Producing specialty coffee in Panama is expensive. The most expensive part for us is maintaining our workforce. A new law just passed and we are required to increase the benefits we pay for our employees. Social security in Panama is one of the biggest cost for coffee producers. It is the whole process that is the expense because you cannot have one part without the other.
What would you like roasters and consumers to know about your coffee?
That they can count on us as conscious and responsible growers to keep our quality consistent so our reputation in the coffee community never wanes.
What is your opinion about the prices of coffee in the international market?
Right now, I believe them to be at the right place. I don’t think any specialty brands are unreasonably priced. I am quite sure most people don’t know the labor intensity and time that goes into to growing and the production of coffee. Every part of the process is by hand, there are no modern machines handling any of this work.
Being in the business for a time you see trends. Buy with specialty coffee and growing micro lots you don’t worry about everybody else. You know what your product is and the value of it and price it accordingly. Your coffee’s reputation will dictate the value.
How do international market prices impact your ability to produce coffee?
The international market prices have no major effect on our production. We are producing a very special type of coffee on Finca Lerida and of course the people who consume our coffee are special too. Our coffee is priced per our production costs, not based on what the market may be dictating.
What is the most helpful information about the international coffee market?
Information about what the people are drinking, the type of coffee and the processes that are preferred is information that guides us in our production.
How often do you meet green coffee buyers?
I meet with green coffee buyers all the time, either here at Finca Lerida or at the various coffee shows I attend throughout the year. Here on the plantation we have a beautiful estate for buyers and tourists to stay. People get to relax and experience one on one how coffee is produced from start to finish.
What is the most important part for you about interacting with green coffee buyers?
That they are satisfied with our coffee and service from start to finish. Mostly they ask about how we process the coffee, and we want to satisfy them. I always like to know what they are seeing as trends in the market to get ideas as to what the consumer wants.
How is climate change influencing the coffee production at Finca Lerida?
It hasn’t influenced it at all. We have a unique region for growing coffee. An area with special micro climates that tend to isolate the region and keep things very consistent. There are no pest infestations or molds that attack our crops as other regions have experienced over the years.
Honestly, we haven’t seen any signs now. Finca Lerida is at a very high altitude and has very special micro climates and is situated in the forest. Things have not been effected here.
Anything else you would like to share?
To all the wonderful coffee drinkers out there who appreciate and love the specialty coffee from Finca Lerida, we thank you for you support and want to keep bringing the best coffee for you to enjoy year after year.