Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range is a circular formation at the very top of the country, just inland from the Caribbean coastline. Because the greater cordilleras of Colombia’s Andes cannot be reached without dropping almost to sea level in between, Sierra Nevada is considered a standalone range; and because of its surrounding lowlands, the central summit of Cristóbal Colón, at almost 19,000 feet, is considered the world’s 5th most prominent peak. This dramatically steep rise from the warm and humid coast means tropical flora often blend with snow-capped mountains in the same view. The unique climates of the lower slopes, with warm breezes, large elevation and temperature ranges, strong biodiversity, and history of land stewardship by the farmers in this area, make for a completely unique coffee terroir.
This coffee is a January 2021 harvest blend of 31 contributing farmer members of Red de Productores Ecológicos de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, or Red Ecolsierra for short. The grower association has over 350 members, most of whom are in the Sierra Nevada foothills outside the region’s main coastal hubs of Santa Marta and Ciénaga. Despite the modest altitudes compared to elsewhere in Colombia, this area is producing some outstanding coffees. Fermentation times are typically 30-40 hours for Red Ecolsierra members, and all contributing farmers dried their coffee on raised beds in the sun (other members opt to dry mechanically). Red Ecolsierra is a prominently eco-conscious producer group representing hundreds of small, organic farms in the lower Sierra Nevada mountains.
Azahar Coffee, the sourcing company and exporter of this particular blend, 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 like Red Ecolsierra 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 farmgate price of COP 1,400,000 per carga (125kg of parchment coffee), or $2.07 per pound for milled green coffee.