Before visiting La Fragua Estate, producer of our Media Luna lot and Penrose v6, I had just spent eight days traveling with a group of guys, all of whom had much more experience with green coffee sourcing. I was invited to Colombia for this trip in the summer of 2011 by Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Company, my employer at the time. Atlas Coffee, a green coffee importer based in Seattle, organized this trip which included a few other roasting companies and a coffee farmer.
Being my first origin experience, the first eight days of the trip blew my mind. I saw a swath of the industry that only existed in my imagination. It was like seeing a famous sculpture in person for the first time. We visited export facilities, large farms, small farms, airports, roadside restaurants, and hotels. I was a sponge – absorbing the culture just as much as learning about the coffee it produces. Much of this was learned while standing on the back of a crowded mid-century Jeep as it climbed luscious, green mountains.
Bogota was kind of our home base for our travels around Colombia. As the trip was winding down, we took one last retreat into the Cundinamarca Department, which includes the capital of Bogata. What I knew of this part of the country was the density. Bogata is home to nearly seven million people, which is a stark contrast to the country-side. Driving in this environment was for the professionals, as the experience from the backseat would suggest the streets were lawless. I was surprised a bit as our usual shuttle bus was replaced this morning by a pair of Land Cruisers, one of which was bulletproof. I did not get the bulletproof one.
It took us a couple hours to drive out of the city. When we did, it didn’t feel quite like what I had experienced in other parts of Colombia. It wasn’t like suburbs or anything – more like the vacation dwellings found Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. or Destin, Fl. There were tennis courts, golf courses, and community developments. It was easy to see that a lot of the construction was a newer, and the traffic would suggest the funding came from the city. It wasn’t too long before we turned off the main highway and found ourselves back on a one-car-wide road. When we reached La Fragua, located below the Media Luna mountain ridge, we were given a tour. We were surrounded by antiquity. There was such a legacy in this place. Iron and steel equipment, built in England and delivered in the 1890’s, makes up La Fragua’s processing equipment. I can’t put in to words how fascinated I am by that fact. The beauty of the landscape came from its expressive personality. Almost immediately I wanted to take a seat and rest in the sun.
Right on queue, lunch was served. We sat on the back patio and ate Tipica, a common chicken soup with the fixings on the side. The table was covered with corn, avocado, chicken, rice, and greens. I got the impression that the wonderful young woman serving us knew who planted the seeds for my lunch. I could have drifted asleep after the meal in one of the hammocks that lined the hill below the patio, but someone said something about a horseback ride.
While the farm hands readied the the 12 or so horses for us novices, we took a walk. We looked at the new drying beds, and the ancient washing and drying set up. The thing that grabbed me most on the walk was in a little clearing not far from the home. Hundreds of seedlings were arranged by varietal. By this point on the trip I had seen young and old plants, but I hadn’t yet seen coffee as organized or as young as these seedlings. The organization was impressive. I could see the future plan in this nursery, and I was starting to really understand the life cycle of a coffee farm.
Soon after mounting my mare, we were under the cover of thick vegetation. Coffee in this area is shade grown, as the canopy was necessary to trap moisture and keep temperatures lower in the afternoon to increase production. The landscape wasn’t as manicured as the farms I had visited to this point, but the natural sustainability was graceful and effortless. We rode higher, toward the half-moon ridge called Media Luna. Along our entire ride, my mare and I were accompanied by her young foal.
We then spent the next hour riding in a big loop around the property. It was clear that the young life and energy I caught a glimpse of down by the house was finding it’s breath in the hills. We came across a part of La Fragua where old coffee plants were being cleared in order for new seedlings and varieties to be planed. This held some significance for me, as it was refreshing to see a farm rooted tradition trying new things. I was under the impression that regulation in Colombia restricted the diversity of coffees grown, but my experience at La Fragua showed the opposite. Finally learning lessons and understanding more completely the notion of seed to cup stirred more questions and fortified my enthusiasm to ask them.
I have to say thank you to Tyler Zimmer of Kaldi’s Coffee and Craig Holt of Atlas for taking me on my first coffee adventure. This August, I will return to Colombia and La Fragua with Atlas.