By: Myrna Rombado, Green Coffee Buyer, Community Coffee Company
Imagine traveling around Colombia for nine days on the hunt for the best coffee beans in the region that can live up to the high quality standards necessary to become part of Community® coffees. This is exactly what the Community Coffee team did in October 2019. Nine days, 7 planes, 3 cities, 3 towns, and 12 farms later- our team’s heads are still buzzing from the coffee sweetened with panela and handmade arepas, and our hearts are full from our interactions with the hardest-working coffee farmers and their sweet families who opened their homes to us.
Our team included Community Coffee’s green coffee buyers, Mark Howell, and myself, Myrna Rombado. We were also accompanied by videographers John Jackson and Robin Vucinovich to help document the trip and the different stages of coffee production from picking, de-pulping, fermentation, drying and more.
It was in the department of Norte de Santander where our journey began. Our goal was to check in with the communities of Toledo & Labateca, two humble towns situated on opposing faces of a mountain separated by a valley. It is in these often-overlooked communities where Community Coffee discovered the great potential of their chocolatey, full-bodied and winey coffees dating back to the early 2000s.
Once we arrived to Toledo, we were greeted by all of the students currently enrolled in the school bearing the name of Community Coffee Company’s 3rd generation owner, Henry Norman Saurage III, Hogar Juvenil Campesino Toledito. This school is a safe haven and opportunity at a better life for children of impoverished coffee farmers to receive access to education, nourishment, and community support that they otherwise would not have.
The success stories of these students is inspiring- with the current director a former graduate of the school herself. She was able to attend university and came back to run the school that had given her and her family members an opportunity at education years ago. Over the next few days, we would continue to hear stories of appreciation, whether it was for the new computer monitors in the technology classroom, or raised solar drying beds for their coffee farms, or our coffee purchases that support their families. We had more than a business partnership- we were family now, for over 15 years and counting. Hearing first-hand the appreciation that these local farmers had for Community Coffee greatly inspired me and made me feel so proud to be part of an organization that gives back and makes such a tangible impact on real coffee-producing families.
The amount of care and attention to detail required to produce the highest quality coffees in Colombia was incredible to see in person. In the department of Huila, one of the best performing areas in terms of high quality and specialty coffees, we saw farmers utilizing innovative equipment such as brix meters, which measure the concentration of sugars in the coffee cherries to ensure they are harvested at the peak of ripeness. We also saw them experimenting with different colored mesh covers on their drying beds to see which ones provide the optimal amount of solar heat for even drying. The innovation and variety of techniques were evident throughout the fermentation, washing and drying processes. I will never forget one farmer’s set-up to save him an arduous walk through the steeply inclined hills of his coffee farm. Instead of hauling extremely heavy bags of coffee from his farm to his home, he designed a delivery system powered by a motorcycle, a wooden pallet, and cable-system whereby bags of coffee are zip lined through the farm and into the farmer’s backyard.
We left Colombia with our bags a little lighter (we had to spoil our farmers with some Community® coffee gear!) and our belts a little tighter, but our hearts full and our spirits inspired and in awe by the hard work and dedication these communities put into producing the finest coffees for our customers to enjoy. We cannot wait to go back and see what new developments are on the horizon for Colombian coffee.