Huila is arguably Colombia’s best-known department for bright and aromatic coffees, light on the palate and articulate in flavor. Huila is a long and narrow valley that follows a winding gap between two large cords of the Andes. Uphill from the valley’s lush and picturesque lower slopes (Colombia’s 950-mile long Magdalena River has its source in southern Huila and has shaped the agriculture here for centuries) are a diverse array of coffee producing communities, often dramatically steep, and each with their own unique climate and history. Algeciras is one such community, located near the middle of the department and tucked away in its Eastern foothills near the border of Caquetá.
The 5 hectare farm of La Floresta, belonging to 73 year-old Nohora Sepulveda de Zambrano, is a 45-minute drive from the municipality of Algeciras. Doña Nohora runs the farm with a small team, consisting of Alexander, her longtime farm manager, her two sons Edwin and Rafael, and an annual team of 25 local pickers to execute each of the farm’s two harvests (Huila, like some other departments in Colombia’s coffee belt, has both an early summer main crop and what’s known as a mitaca, or fly crop, that occurs in the fall). Doña Nohora’s farm is part of a larger family parcel that includes adjacent land formerly owned by her late husband, now managed by Edwin and his wife, Nancy Maria. The extended family grows plantains and yucca alongside their coffee, which includes Castillo, Caturra, and Colombia cultivars.
Natural processing at La Floresta is a multi-week endeavor, due to the specific profile preferences of the family, as well as the local climate. Coffee cherry is carefully hand-picked in the field and then floated to remove under-ripes, dirt and debris. The sorted cherry is then allowed to ferment as whole fruit for 3-4 days in small open containers, allowing sugars to peak inside the cherry. After this step the cherry is washed, inspected again for imperfections, and then transferred to the family’s parabolic dryers, where it dries completely as a full natural, a step that typically takes 45 days to complete. It is a complex process but one that Doña Nohora and her family prefer for their coffee. The family also produces fully washed coffees, but as space allows are slowly converting more and more of their washed crop to this natural process.
Azahar Coffee, the sourcing company and exporter of Doña Nohora’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 1,200,000 per carga (125kg of parchment coffee), or $1.44 per pound for milled green coffee.