In 2006 a coffee importer invited Mary and I to go to Colombia with a handful other coffee roasters. We were immersed in the coffee culture for 5 days visiting fincas (farms) of varying size. This is where we met Silvia and Jorge Saldariga on their tiny farm, El Crucerito.
Fast forward to the spring of 2015. While attending a worldwide coffee convention in Seattle, Mary and I ran into that same importer, Felipe Sardi. With some partners, he had started a world class coffee farm, from scratch, a couple of years before. This was not your average finca.
El Palma y El Tucan (the palm and the tucan) is situated at roughly 5000 feet in West Central Colombia. They started their own nursery of high end varietal Arabica coffee trees. Once mature enough, the young trees were planted and babied to maturity (4-5 years) in perfect growing conditions. This is where most coffee farmers stop. Not here.
Let’s back up for a minute. This team set up an entire processing facility in the middle of nowhere. They had to put in their own roads, water, sewer and a power plant. A main building was put up to house a kitchen and a dining area for workers and guests. Tiny eco-cabins were perched on the hillside for visitors such. We each had our own.
The result after starting from scratch 5 years ago is possibly the most advanced coffee operation on the planet. No hyperbole, no kidding.
Four of us were invited to stay on the farm in November of 2016. We were treated like honored guests which meant we donned rain ponchos and picked coffee cherries. Each of us had a trainer. The trainers were all women (higher standards, of course) and none spoke English. None of us knew more than 4 words of Spanish. We made it work. Olga had to gently slap my hand and say, “Malo!” about a hundred times as I reached for less than perfect coffee cherries. Malo means “bad”. We laughed a lot.
Next, we took our small harvest to the sorting room where we separated the A’s from the B’s. Keep in mind, the B’s were still some of the finest beans you would find anywhere in the world. After that, the beans underwent a “brixing” through a spectrometer to determine the sugar levels. This would determine how long the coffee cherries would stay in fermentation tanks. What an education.
Our beans were not ready for processing. Processing is where the beans are separated from the fruit. The bean is actually the seed of a coffee cherry. Most cherries have two seeds/beans. The processing line further separates the beans based on density and quality. We hope to post a video of this on our website.
I used the term “world-class” at the beginning of this. What does that mean? These beans sell for up to $100 a pound and are sent around the world to just a handful of businesses. We brought some back and shared them with others on the O’Henry’s team. Pretty special.
We are indebted to Felipe and his partners on the farm. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Mary and Randy Adamy
OHenry's Coffee Roasting Co.