The Andes of northern Nariño create a rugged and dense 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 San Pablo, were some of the first areas 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. Now more than ever access to individual farmers in Nariño is being facilitated by a mix of different coffee sector supporters, including cooperatives, millers, and exporters. Even Colombia’s own Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (FNC) is making large investments in microlot coffee, and was ultimately responsible for discovering this gorgeous microlot from Sra. Ordoñez. 2020 was the 5th annual “Colombia, Land of Diversity” competition, in which the FNC accepts submissions from any farm in the entire country who harvested coffee between May and August—1,610 in total. FNC cuppers culled the submissions to just the top 32, and with Royal as a U.S. partner, distributed samples to roasters interested in acting as final-round quality judges. The 32 finalist coffees were auctioned internationally at the end of October 2020. Sra. Ordoñez’s coffee won 15th place. That’s 15th out of 1,610 coffees! “Eliodoro” is the name of Sra. Ordoñez’s farm, which is slightly smaller than a single hectare in size. Eliodoro is located in the small community of Los Llanos, just west of the city of San Pablo, only a few kilometers from the Cauca border. The farm is entirely planted in Castillo and Colombia varieties, averaging 5 years in age. The family, including Sra. Ordoñez’s husband and three children, lives in the neighboring community of La Nueva Florida and commutes to the farm to work, as is common in the remote areas of Nariño. Sra. Ordoñez has been a coffee farmer for 20 years, but it was only 4 years ago that she and her husband received an assessment from the FNC’s regional extension workers who recommended they follow specialty practices in farming and processing. Since then, the family has received excellent feedback on their progress and have become proud of their standing as a high-quality farm in their community—something they see as sending a strong message of encouragement to other small growers with the potential to improve. Picking at Eliodoro is entirely manual and is shared between family members and nearby friends, who together rotate through one another’s farms during harvest as a kind of collective labor force. Picking is slow and steady and typically takes the full workday, so depulping occurs the following day. Fermentation is done without water and in an open tank, and takes about 28 hours and is verified using the “Fermaestro”, a simple volumetric tool distributed by the FNC to help processors of all sizes track the progress of mucilage breakdown. After fermentation is complete, the coffee is washed in fresh water and moved to dry on a plastic-covered patio, where the coffee dries in full sun for 5-6 days.
Sra. Ordoñez shared with us that last spring she suffered a brain aneurysm, a very frightening event that has required a long recuperation period. Of this time, Sra. Ordoñez says, “I’m in a process of recovery in which my husband and children are beyond important. We’re thankful the process is ending well, and we are equally thankful to Royal Coffee for the opportunity [to sell the family coffee as a microlot]”.