A two-hour drive outside of la Plata and a short hike down a steep hill, you find the La Falda farm and it’s owner Miguel Angel Luna, producer of the second coffee in our Short Stories series. Miguel bought the farm almost seven years ago and he runs it with the support of his brother Hector, wife Diana, mum Maria and dad Segundo. Starting by planting small lots, they expanded gradually over the years and now have about four hectares planted with coffee. Together they manage the pruning, weeding and fertilising, and they hire in three or four helpers during harvest time to get everything done in a timely manner.
On the way down to the farm, I pass a few cows and a horse that belong to the family, all of them stare curiously at the newcomer but shy away if I try to get too close. Once at the house, however, I’m immediately jumped on by the family dog, who seems as thrilled to get cuddles as the cows were unimpressed by the sight of me. Doña Maria hands me a large glass of refreshing guava juice, freshly prepared from fruits grown on the farm.
In fact, all around the house are various forms of fruit trees and vegetable patches, and you really get a feel for how fertile the soil is and how well suited the aspect of the farm is for coffee growing. Other than the food crops for their own use, they are 100% coffee producers, focusing on improving quality and adding value by lot separation and better cherry selections.
Miguel is the youngest of the producers in this series of Short Stories, and seems a bit reserved when you first meet him. But he has an inquisitive spark in his eyes and a cheeky smile, and as he talks about his farm and his ideas his passion and drive is written all over his face. He has a great energy about him that makes you as excited about his experiments as he is, and it’s really fun to see someone be so focused and ambitious in their work.
Most coffee producers in Colombia will dry some or all of their coffee in something referred to as parabolic dryers – patios on the flat roofs of their houses that are covered in ventilated plastic tunnels. While we climb up into the driers built on top of and next to their house, I notice a slight crunch underfoot and see that instead of a concrete floor, Miguel has a layer of rice husks with netting on top. He explains that this is to keep the temperature cool in the tunnel, while aiding the absorption of moisture. This is a bit unusual and I immediately wonder if there is not an increased risk of mould or defects associated with this but Miguel has installed enough ventilation to keeps the rice husk dry and the coffee from picking up any taints.
While Miguel’s father chops up some sugarcane to feed to the horse, we decide to walk over to the mill, another 15-minute hike traversing the steep, rocky mountainside. The name La Falda translates as The Skirt, and I understand the name of the farm and need for a horse now; moving loads of heavy coffee around this steeply sloping farm with machinery is out of the question. Improving the roads and paths within the farm are on the list of things to do for next year, and as we walk along the narrow trails I can’t but help to notice that there are still a lot of cherry on the trees.
Miguel explains that they’d normally be done harvesting now, but because of the drought, the normal harvest schedule has gone out of the window. Instead of the clear separation between their main and mid-crop, this year they are oddly merged, creating changes to both the picking, processing and the typical farm maintenance calendar.
It’s been a very good year and they have had almost too much coffee to cope with, but they have made it work. He admits the quality of some pickings have suffered a bit due to the workload and a lack of skilled workers, but as they have moved into a more systemised approach to lot separations, they have been able to maximise the potential of the best lots. Discussing ways he can ensure and improve quality while managing challenges, Miguel explains that he has just bought a floatation tank where he can more efficiently separate cherry and parchment by density.
He has a small pulper and two bathtub sized fermentation tanks, one that is full of parchment that represent 1 day of pickings. Miguel dry ferments his coffee, stirring it three times per day until it’s ready to be washed and dried. He is also investing in a new, larger capacity pulper, and informs me that they will be separating coffee by variety from next season.
For that, he will also need to build more and bigger fermentation tanks. He points to a map on his wall and tells me that the coffee I’ve bought for Short Stories was from Plot 1, the highest plot on the farm. At 1,700m the whole of the farm is at a great altitude, but he agrees with me that the best cup results are from the higher lots.
Back at the house and over a delicious lunch of sancocho, a traditional Colombian chicken soup, Miguel smiles and tells me about his trip to the UK a couple of years ago. While he really enjoyed the visit, seeing new cities and little things like being on a train for the first time, he didn’t like the food and really missed being able to have his sancocho. He also found the language barrier hard but was inspired by the technology available and the British approach to organisation and punctuality. Those are elements that will help him in implementing all the experiments and new techniques he wants to add to his farm.
I’m excited to continue this series of Short Stories with the La Falda from Doñ Miguel, a coffee that shows the clean, crisp acidity of its altitude but has the balance and sweetness that comes from rich soils and great sun exposure, skilfully managed by a young, enthusiastic producer with a passion for driving forwards his quality through experiments and new technology.
For more information on Miguel Luna’s coffee, including tasting notes and a brew guide, you can visit our Short Stories website.
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ALMOND / STONE FRUIT / WINTER SPICE
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