Colombia; Travel on hold, but buying is not

Our trips to visit farms and select new-crop coffees has been curtailed. Most recently our plans to visit Colombia were cancelled with the pandemic.  But that doesn’t keep us from pursuing great coffees. We haven’t been traveling but in the short term it actually doesn’t change much for us…

The middle and main harvests are underway in several Colombian growing regions and we’re about to start making selections for a late Summer container next week. Sadly, we had to cancel a trip planned for later in the month, one we were particularly looking forward to as it would have been our first visit with the new farmer groups in Tolima. But while origin travel may be on hold, buying is not and we’re shifting the cupping workload from coffee labs in Colombia to our own labs in Oakland and Seattle.

Last week we spoke with Pedro Eschavarra of Pergamino, the intermediary who we work with based in Medellín. He provided us with a quick update on how harvest is coming along in the 4 areas where buying is focused right now (Nariño, Inzá, Urrao/Caicedo and Tolima) as well as how coffee is moving within in the country given the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m including a brief summary of that call below and how it relates to what to expect from us in the coming months. We’re a little more than 1/2 way through our April Colombian arrivals, so the timing on this next box should save us from running dry over the Summer months.

Antioquia, Urrao, Colombian coffee, parchment coffee, post harvest production
Fray Moreno turns coffee drying in parchment in his parabolic drying room, Urrao
  • Local prices across the country have started to soften but are still much higher than usual, leading many farmers to sell all of their coffee for the minimum price regardless of any promise of a quality premium down the road – even wet, un-dried coffee!
  • This mostly means increased competition for the lower tier of the Specialty market (84/85 points) and less of an impact on the higher-tier coffees we buy (86+ points).
  • Strong connections in Inzá, Urrao and Tolima in particular are helping to alleviate the strains of this frenzy. We are still able to pay well above the market rate for 86+ point coffees despite the high prices. Thankfully, the core producer groups we buy from are willing to wait for approvals from this project in order to capture value-added premiums instead of settling for a one-time cash payment offered at the local buying warehouses.
  • Nariño is the area where we’re seeing the most competition, and while still early, our supply is looking to be a bit strained. Nevertheless, we expect to piece together some lots from Aponte and around Buesaco, potentially La Unión as well.
  • Travel restrictions vary from town to town, but mandatory quarantine periods for travelers continues to hinder in-country trips for Colombians and international visitors alike, putting all farm visits on hold indefinitely.
  • The movement of coffee, however, is still allowed. Pergamino have their own workers managing the buying projects at each location, assessing coffee deliveries, sending samples to their central lab in Medellín and arranging truckloads of coffee to be delivered to the dry mill.
  • Samples are still shipping like normal out of the country too. The package that arrived today was picked up in Medellín 3 days ago!

As I mentioned in the intro, the first of several boxes of samples were just delivered to our Oakland warehouse and we expect to work through them early next week. The range of samples in this initial box is encouraging, heavily weighted in coffees from Inzá, Caicedo and Urrao, with a sprinkling of Tolima as well. We’ll keep you posted as we make more progress on filling out the container.

Shop our current Colombia offers on Sweet Marias and Coffee Shrub

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