Position Future Shipment
Smallholder farms from Colonia Copacabana organized around Agricafe
1450 – 1650 masl
Colonia Copacabana, Caranavi province, La Paz department, Bolivia
Full natural and dried on raised beds
June - November
Specialty groups like Agricafe deserve a lot of credit for their dedication to Bolivia's coffee potential, despite the odds. Agricafe was established in 1986 as a passion project by Pedro Rodriguez, who at that time was a banker whose love for coffee led him to start a small commercial grade exporting business. In 2012, 26 years later, Rodriguez acquired land of his own in Caranavi, a town in Bolivia’s warm and tropical eastern Andean foothills, part of a unique transitional climate region known as “Los Yungas”. This part of Bolivia had for decades been populated with indigenous smallholder coffee farmers, but after suffering multiple waves of disinvestment by the government the population was shrinking, and coffee in particular was close to extinction. Rodriguez’s original farm, La Linda, was meant to take advantage of affordable land in the area and to demonstrate to local smallholders specifically how productivity could be increased for their benefit. Now, 10 years after La Linda was built, the family business includes 12 family farms between Caranavi and Samaipata, to the south, and a group of 100 smallholders who together comprise Agricafe’s “Sol de la Mañana” program. Pedro’s daughter Daniela and son Pedro Pablo are also part of the business, managing commercial operations and farmer training.
Their smallholder program, “Sol de la Mañana”, began in 2013 with only 10 small producers in Colonia Bolinda, a farming community just up the mountain from Caranavi town and the same neighborhood where La Linda was established. Sol de la Mañana functions like a school, using a 10-year curriculum focused on best practices for nursery and farm management, plant nutrition, renovation, specialty harvesting, and biodiversity. This granular attention to detail forced willing smallholders to take charge of their productivity and quality, and to think long-term. When the first commercial harvest was sold in 2017, the success of the program attracted more producers. It currently has 100 contributing farms and production for most has increased from a per-hectare average of 2-4 bags to over 20. This lot of coffee is a combination of day lots produced by Sol de la Mañana farmers in Copacabana, another mountain community outside of Caranavi town. It was built as a custom blend by Royal after tasting a number of inventory samples at Agricafe this past summer.
All coffee from Sol de Mañana producers is processed centrally at Agricafe’s wet mill in Caranavi town. Processing here has come to reflect the innovation and attention to detail that the Rodriguez family seems to exude against all odds for such a remote location. Cherry from Sol de la Mañana producers is collected each day at the farms and delivered to the wet mill in the evenings. Cherry is carefully sorted on arrival, and then, since every cherry delivery is treated as a unique microlot, it’s processed according to what Agricafe’s quality managers decide is the best pairing for a particular farm, cultivar, time of year, and in many cases buyer specification. Natural process coffees are washed and transferred immediately to a combination of covered raised beds and various types of mechanical dryers (Agricafe has a veritable collection of mechanical drying formats). Due to the area’s constant humidity and blazing hot days, drying is almost entirely mechanical, which, like their enclosed fermentations for washed coffees, is done for the sake of control and protection of the coffee’s delicate qualities. Agricafe produces washed, natural, honey, anaerobic natural, and experimental fermentations using coffee fermentation must, all in a very compact production space. A full harvest at Agricafe’s wet mill generates about 3,000 unique lots of coffee, which are then recombined by their cuppers or buyers to create larger lots, or in many cases marketed separately as microlots.
Bolivia is South America's only landlocked coffee producing country and is the smallest exporter of coffee on the continent. The quality of that coffee, however, is hardly lacking in diversity or beauty. Bolivia’s terrain and geography is gifted for arabica production, particularly throughout the Yungas region (Yungas is Aymara for "warm lands"), whose mountain ranges connect the low and humid Amazonian basin to the dry Andean altiplano above. The most productive municipality in the Yungas is by far Caranavi, which still produces an estimated 85-90% of Bolivia's specialty coffee. Caranavi's landscape is steep, cloudy, rugged, and remote, with natural forest making up more than 90% of the territory. Coffee farms in this high and tropical climate tend to be well-managed but small, challenged by isolation and lacking in long-term industry support. Bolivian growers still often don’t have processing equipment or transportation of their own, a massive hurdle in such territory, making Agricafe’s investments an enormous benefit to many.
Biodiversity, soil health, elevation, and progressive leadership in Agricafe all work undeniably in coffee’s favor. Yet, facing each and every Bolivian coffee, especially the best ones, is one of the most strenuous overland transits in the coffee world, passing elevations of 4000 meters over the top of the Andes and west to the port of Arica on Chile’s coast. The country’s low production, select few producer groups in the specialty game, and formidable logistical challenges, means each and every arrival is something to be cherished.