It’s June, and we are at the dry mill of Banexport in Pitalito, Colombia, in the Huila Department. This was our first cupping of microlots from small-farm producers in the Huila region. All in all, our group would cup approximately 32 different producers' lots that morning. In attendance were a couple of producers whose lots were on the cupping table.
This lot, THIS lot. This would be Case Study’s coffee - it tasted like cherry pie and chocolate, and I was determined to represent it. Low and behold, this particular lot came from one of the producers present at the cupping - Marisol Bolanos of Finca El Oso (the Bear). As the group of roasters present weighed in as to which farms we would be visiting based on the results of our cupping, many wanted to visit this farm. Bonus that they said horses would be involved!
Turns out horses are absolutely instrumental to the processing of this farm’s crop, as in the coffee doesn’t leave the mountain except by horseback. We were welcome to hike to the farm (not recommended, but some roasters chose to do just that), but horses were the main method for getting to and from Marisol’s coffee trees, a few miles and a couple thousand feet above the house. And Marisol and her husband were willing to saddle up their entire fleet of horses to accommodate us roasters in seeing their production. I, personally, was thrilled at the prospect of riding, being a rider since I was young. Trail riding through the mountains of Colombia - yes please!
The next day we were at the Bolanos’ house getting ready for the ride to the top of the mountain, where their coffee trees reside. The family and their two horse-hands did their best to pair the steeds with our group of gringos. After ironing out some personality conflicts between equine and human pairings, we were on our way up the mountain, across creeks, over boulders, adjacent cliff-sides, and through jungle. This trail was rough going - and I'm a somewhat experienced rider.
At the midpoint between the house and the coffee farm our group stopped at a shelter the Bolanos’ built as a resting point. There we waited for the hikers to catch up and were offered some amazing citrus the family gathered from their nearby trees (see photo gallery below).
Once we arrived at the very steep 2.5 hectare farm at the very top of the mountain (1700 masl), the view of the valley below was astounding, and we were able to see just how far we had come, and how far the coffee had to travel to the drying patio everyday after harvest. Imagine starting out on horseback every other day in the early morning, riding to the top of the mountain, picking all day on the steep mountainsides, spending the night in the make-shift shelter, milling the coffee by bike (pictured), packing it all up, and hauling it down off the mountain the next day. Only to start the process again the next day. For the 3-month growing season. Twice a year.
What a humbling, personal experience. And how inspiring that Marisol was in charge of this amazing operation. Considering the circumstances of the farm’s location and logistics, I was that much more impressed with the quality of coffee she is able to produce with such care and attention to detail in growing, harvesting, and processing of her healthy, vibrant coffee farm.