Achieving a high-quality regional blend in Colombia, the world’s most spectacularly complex and diverse coffee country, is a very complicated endeavor. There are a seemingly endless number of microclimates, all chiseled out by the mountain range of the Andes mountains, which take up almost a third of Colombia's territory. Across these variously gifted regions are more than half a million small family estates averaging less than two hectares each, whose steep and volcanic terrain has resisted mechanization for generations. A single coffee blend from Colombia, therefore, may contain any number of microclimates, cultivars, and family histories.
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. Río Negro is one such community, located high in the foothills of the Nevado de Huila volcano on Huila’s western border. Coffee farms here average between three and seven hectares in size, much larger than Colombia’s national average, and of the area’s 5,000 inhabitants, nearly everyone works in agriculture, if not coffee specifically.
Rainfall in Río Negro is abundant and the elevation and nearby forests keep the climate cool and damp. As a result, processing is elongated. Cherry is often left to macerate for 12 hours prior to pulping, and fermentation typically takes another 36 hours to complete. After fermentation, the parchment is washed clean and dried on raised screens for 18-20 days.
This blend of family farms comes courtesy of Azahar Coffee Company. Azahar is a unique operation who got their start as a café and roaster in Bogotá, buying the country’s top quality microlots and promoting them locally to Colombia’s consumers. 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 is 25-50% above Colombia’s federal price. This particular lot was purchased at a farm gate price of COP 1,400,000 per carga (125kg of parchment coffee), or $1.65/lb for milled green coffee.