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.
Campo Alegre, the farm of Mildred Niebles Jimenéz, is located in the community of Centrál Córdoba, outside of the city of Santa Marta. Despite the modest altitude Campo Alegre is producing some outstanding coffees--the fruits of Mildred’s lifelong education in coffee. Mildred belongs to Red Ecolsierra, a local cooperative originally formed in 1997 by 22 local growers lacking representation for their coffee. Red Ecolsierra formalized in 2001 and today, 20 years later, the cooperative represents 340 organic farming families across the Sierra Nevada region. As the head of the cooperative’s Head of Quality Control, Mildred has not only amassed significant cupping experience, but she is also at the center of conversations around post-harvest technique and coffee quality, which she applies to the management of her own farm.
Over the past few years Mildred has immersed herself in processing experiments, teaching herself honey processing and extended fermentations. This microlot is a result of that work: fresh picked cherry was allowed to dry-cure overnight to allow sugars to concentrate and mucilage to soften, then depulped the following morning and fermented for 90 hours. After fermentation completed, the coffee was washed with fresh water and dried on raised beds for 20 days. Mildred takes great care to recycle her processing water in order to minimize impact to her local watershed, which includes 7 natural springs and multiple tributaries to the Toribio River.
Azahar Coffee, the sourcing company and exporter of Mildred’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 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 1,900,000 per carga (125kg of parchment coffee), or $2.66 per pound for milled green coffee.