The Andes of northern Nariño create a rugged and broad landscape for coffee with high altitudes and steep slopes. The department’s coffee producers are overwhelmingly small and remote, which until the past decade kept them largely undiscovered in Colombia’s microlot market. The municipalities of Buesaco and La Unión, not far from Chachagüí, were some of the first municipalities to gain international attention with competition-winning coffees, bringing buyers with strong beliefs in the potential of Nariño’s high altitudes, volcanic soil composition (the department has 6 of Colombia’s 16 volcanoes), and willing producers.
Finca La Joya is a 3-hectare farm belonging to Yermy Neyl Pedraza Arias and his family. Prior to setting the cherry to dry, Yermy utilizes a curing step that until recently was almost unheard of, but is becoming more common among quality-minded producers. This involves packing fresh cherry just after picking into tanks and allowing the whole fruit to cure in a low-light, low-oxygen environment for multiple days. At La Joya cherry is allowed to “macerate” this way for 4 days before being dried in a combination of shaded raised beds and mechanical drying drums. The effect of the curing stage, when done well, often creates a concentrated tartness in the final cup reminiscent of pickled plum or cherry syrup. In an otherwise high-elevation, complex coffee such as this one, the note adds a certain kick to the rest of the coffee’s balance, which arrived tasting like dessert wine, dried cherry, and chocolate.
Azahar Coffee, the sourcing company and exporter of Juan’s coffee, originally began as a specialty roaster and coffee boutique in Bogotá serving Colombia’s top quality microlots to a developing local consumer base. In time, Azahar began making international connections to their farmer contacts and exporting green coffee, with top traceability and ambitious price transparency, to select buyers in a few northern markets.
The business has evolved to what is now a very sophisticated exporting model. Azahar partners with local grower organizations to identify coffees and producers of the highest potential, pull these aside from the usual export stream, and market them directly to buyers internationally on a quality-based pricing scale. The net effect of the intervention is often significantly more money than a farm could receive without the added exposure and marketing. Through Azahar, countless farms and communities are being uncovered and sold globally with traceability not experienced before. And prices follow: the average farm gate price farmers receive from Azahar sales is 25-50% above Colombia’s federal price. This particular lot was purchased at a farm gate price of COP 1,750,000 per carga (125kg of parchment coffee), or $2.20 per pound for milled green coffee.