Whilst Huila is naturally blessed with optimal coffee growing geography, the key to great quality coffees from this region are the growers themselves. Coffee farming within the region is overwhelmingly small-scale. Indeed, approximately 80% of producers from the region farm coffee on less than 3 hectares of land. These small farms are tended by individual families with labour only very rarely being contracted out, which leads to more thorough and intensive management practices and great pride in the final product – which is, itself, an extension of the family.
Towns in this region have stunning views across the valley to the hill slopes across. Mercanta has worked within the Huila region for nearly 25 years, working to pioneer the commercialization of specialty coffee throughout the region, resulting in some stunning coffees from this area of optimal natural conditions for coffee farming. This has included the establishment of the ‘Club San Agustin’, which identifies the 50 top quality producers via an annual cupping competition. This competition, over the years, has resulted in strong direct relationships and sourcing from individual farmers, including the provision of technical services for improved agricultural practices with a strong focus on cup quality. In support of their efforts, ‘Club Agustin’ producers receive year round technical assistance, including soil analysis, and receive help in processing recommendations, including guidance in drying processes and wet mill maintenance.
These producers are a carefully-selected group of small producers who understand strict quality standards and are fully committed to producing and delivering their best coffees. Among these producers, we can find several participants in and some winners of COE competitions. A most recent example of one is a long-term ‘Club’ participant, Alirio Aguilera who’s Finca San Isidro won 1st place in 2013’s Cup of Excellence competition.
Colombia is the third largest coffee-producing country in the world, and thanks to its vast array of unique microclimate, are able to have harvests throughout the year.
Commercial coffee cultivation began in the mid-1830s and spread so rapidly that throughout the twentieth century coffee already became the country’s leading export. A mountainous topography and many tropical micro-climates contribute greatly to Colombia’s reputation for ideal growing conditions, which – in turn – have helped Colombia establish itself as a recognisable origin around the world.
The diversity of coffee and profiles found across Colombia is enormous and coffee is harvested practically year-round depending on the region. The main harvest takes place from October to February with November and December being the peak months. There is also a second fly (or ‘mitaca’) crop several months later, again varying by region and microclimate.