To learn about the first coffee in our latest Short Stories series, you have to travel to the headquarters of the Villa Esperanza co-operative in the beautiful town of Guadalupe. Here you’ll find coffee producer Rodrigo Figueroa, who is both a member of the co-op, and in charge of its deliveries and logistics.
A producer with a farm a bit larger than the Colombian average, Rodrigo runs his business with an eye for both efficiency and quality, merging innovations in technology and techniques with hands on experience and knowledge passed down through generations.
When I visited Rodrigo at the co-operative they were in full swing; receiving parchment from their members, weighing the bags, sampling each one with a sharp, long trier, logging and recording all details in order to trace lots and distribute payments according to amount and quality.
The pace of the team unloading trucks was impressive, especially on a hot afternoon when they were faced with what seemed an endless stream of cars and even buses pulling up full of coffee sacks. In spite of the busy stream of people, he welcomes me with a big smile and a firm, enthusiastic handshake, and takes the time to show me around the place.
He talks fast and laughs a lot, with a cheeky glimmer in his eye while always keeping watch over his crew. He has the confidence of someone with a lifetime in the industry combined with the excitement of someone who still has lots he wants to accomplish and achieve before he can slow down and eventually retire.
Walking around the facility I was able to see the patios that they use to finish drying some of the lots and the sorters they use to grade the coffee by size. Having access to all this equipment means Rodrigo can do a lot of experiments with his coffee, and while his farm is both the largest and lowest of the farms in our short stories this time, he can customise the processing and sorting of his lots to really highlight and elevate the quality of his very best beans.
His farm El Recuerdo – ‘The Memory’ – is a short drive outside of town with good road access and easy terrain within the farm, handy when you’re moving a lot of volume and rely on your staff members to manage your operation for you.
The farm itself has a long history and both Rodrigo and his brother have been involved in the running of it since they were young men. Over time Rodrigo wanted to focus more on the running of the co-operative and the dry mill, basing himself in town and hiring managers to look after the daily administration of his farm.
Recently, he promoted long time employee Doñ Jesus to be the farm manager, so it was he who showed me around and walked the farm with me. Doñ Jesus goes to the farm two to three days a week, and coordinates the purchasing of materials, fertilisers and other supplies needed, overseeing the harvest and year round management plan.
He has a right hand man in Doñ Miller, who serves as the ‘mayordomo’ of the farm, looking after the workforce and making sure daily, weekly and monthly tasks happen on target, to the standards required, and that daily routines are kept up.
The sense of teamwork in a small tightly knit group is strong, even Miller’s wife works as the onsite cook, keeping the staff fuelled with rich, delicious meals every day. They intercrop the coffee with various food plants such as maize and bananas, so a lot of the meals are cooked with ingredients they produce themselves.
Walking the farm I was impressed by the healthy looking trees, the generous amount of shade trees planted and how well organised the planting and tree management seemed to be. With some nine hectares of 24,000 caturras and 12,000 Colombia F6 coffee trees it’s a big task to schedule all the jobs that need to happen throughout the year. During the busy harvest period the logistics of getting coffee picked at the best time, processed correctly and moved through the various tanks and patios in a timely manner is both an art and science.
To better cope with the amounts of coffee the farm produces, and also to raise quality, Rodrigo is building a new wet mill onsite. An impressive looking structure about halfway to completion, the mill will allow him to improve processing so that he can continue to up the quality of his harvests. In combination with the planned regeneration of some of the plots, replacing older trees with younger, more vigorous plants, the future for Rodrigo and his farm is looking bright indeed.
I’m excited to start this series of Short Stories with the El Recuerdo from Doñ Rodrigo, a great example of a delicious coffee from a larger than average Colombian farm, an experienced producer with a strong focus on quality as well as technology, and a taste profile combining the softness and sweetness of a coffee grown at 1,600m with the clarity and clean cup of skilful processing.
For more information on Rodrigo Figueroa’s coffee, including tasting notes and a brew guide, you can visit our Short Stories website.
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