From our Vice President of Coffee and Colombia Buyer Geoff Watts:
Nariño, Nariño! The mere sound of the name raises expectations. This little state is located as far south in Colombia as you can get, just north of border with Ecuador. And it as has a reputation for exceptional quality that has endured for decades.
Nariño is known for producing some of the most mouthwateringly sweet and juicy coffees in the country. Yet for the last few decades, individual producers there have struggled to get recognition for their coffees. More importantly, they have not been reliably rewarded for the quality they produce.
The civil conflicts in the area and its remoteness have further combined to discourage investment and slow the pace of progress relative to some of the other highland growing regions in Colombia. In the last ten years, departments like Huila and Cauca have had relatively good success in connecting growers with premiums for quality. By comparison, Nariño has remained largely untapped: as recently as 2012, fewer than 4% of growers in the region had access to markets that pay quality premiums, and over 98% of the coffees produced were bulked and sold as homogenized lots into the mass market for marginal premiums.
The CRS Borderlands project aimed to change that by fomenting a culture shift around coffee production that helped growers reorient toward extreme quality as a means of advancing their incomes. One of the shining stars of the project is Arcafé, a vibrant association of coffee farmers from a small town called Linares historically known more for its sugar cane and coca leaf than its coffee.
For the last five years they’ve been training, working both as individuals and as a group, to push their coffees to their highest potential by micro-managing cultivation and processing details. Getting coffee to realize its potential and sizzle in the cup is a craft that requires both patience and persistence, and is incredibly hard even for farmers with deep pockets and easy access to resources. It is an order of magnitude more challenging for farmers working from a base of relatively few resources, and the degree of difficulty is compounded for groups. In addition to figuring out how to optimize their coffees individually, they must also learn to work as a team because their coffees are mixed and sold together.
For several years now they’ve had some outstanding individual successes, and Intelligentsia regulars may recognize the names of some of these farmers—people like Corona Zambrano and Fidencio Chamorro—who have produced gems in recent years that we’ve sold in our stores to much fanfare. This season they took a major step forward as a group, and this new harvest release from Arcafé is the fruit of their incredible labor: the exciting result of many years of effort and collaboration. It is a delicious example of what is possible when people combine their energies for a common good, and proof positive that Nariño deserves its reputation for uncommonly good quality.
Posted in Direct Trade, In Season, Sourcing