This morning we travelled to Puerto Alegre, the home of the famous La Esperanza, about an hour from our resort. The farm is in an area of incredible natural beauty: tall, peaked mountains, a cool river flowing through the valley and lush plantations of coffee, banana and citrus.
We started off our farm visit with a tour of the African drying beds, each containing microlots of the farm’s coffee separated into different beds according to varietal and processing method. It is early in the season and these were small lots of about 10kg each. The beds were housed in a climate-controlled barn ensuring optimum temperature, humidity and airflow.
Then we were driven up the mountain (and it was a big one) to the top of the farm for a slow 2km descent through the farm’s plantations.
The farm implements several measures that decrease their use of inputs, increase environmental sustainability and builds the health of the land and the quality of their crops. I say crops, as the farm plants the coffee among several companion species including bananas, citrus, many locally popular tropical fruit trees as well nitrogen fixing Leucaena trees and nitrogen fixing ground covers.
The companion planting gives the farmers extra crops for sale while benefiting the coffee by offering important shade and building soil fertility. They mulch extensively with the fallen and pruned organic matter which feeds the soil, increases its water holding capacity and decreases evaporation. These practices are core elements of another passion of mine, Permaculture.
I met a young man on the farm called Sebastian, and mentioned how impressed I was with the way they look after their land. He turned out to be the farmer’s son and has studied permaculture design. When he is not helping on the farm he lives in the northeast of Brazil running a rural development permaculture project.
Many of the above environmental practices are down to Sebastian.
After winding our way down the mountain back to the farm we were given a demonstration of one of Santuario’s signature methods, natural anaerobic maceration.
This was followed by the sorting shed where several workers were busily sorting the ripe cherries from the underripe and overripe. After another trip through some more drying beds, we cupped 10 lots of coffee processed on the farm in the farm’s lab. A mixture of varietals and processes.
The lots were greatly varied, some good, some not so good, two of them amazing and one possibly the best cup I’ve had. The cups I loved were both natural anaerobic geishas.
We were then treated to an enormous lunch of Bandejo paisa, three types of meat, rice, beans, avocado and a fried egg arranged to resemble the Colombian flag.
After lunch we boarded the bus and headed back to Mocawa resort.
In the afternoon we heard a presentation from Bram de Hoog, green coffee buyer of Central American coffees, based in Costa Rica but originally from the Netherlands. Bram shared with us an overview of his employer, Ally Coffee.
After a short break Erwin Noreña gave us one of the most interesting lectures I’ve ever heard, on the methodology of producing specialty coffee. Erwin’s lecture was incredibly in-depth and included all the science and geeky details of how they do things and how each step, beginning several months before harvest right up to packing, impacts the cup quality and chemistry of the beans.
Most fascinating of all was how much their approach overlaps with winemaking. Erwin shared all the measurements they track, temperatures, moisture levels, timings, pH values, water activity. It was all there. He talked us through some of their more esoteric and newly developed methods: Natural Mossto Process, red honey, yellow honey, black honey, honey roll process, barrel aromatic modulation.
Eventually we staggered out after almost two hours. I felt like I was high with all the amazing information they had pumped into us. I needed to sit down and have a beer. It was quite an incredible day.