Royal Coffee - “Roasters fall into two categories when it comes to Boliva's coffee: those that know, and those that don't know. For those who know, Agricafe is one of the most sought-after producer groups not just in Bolivia, but in all of South America, and buyers line up every year for their one-of-a-kind microlots. For those who don't know, it is often the cup qualities—diverse, fascinating, unexpectedly delicious—that grab their attention for life.
This year in addition to our regular direct trade imports we have curated a group of microlots from Agricafe's close-knit farm network for our own inventory. This lot, a natural process caturra from smallholder farmers working with Agricafe throughout the Caranavi highlands, is super sweet with peach candy, orange cake, and mango juice.
Caranavi and its Coffee
Bolivia is South America's only landlocked coffee producing country and is the smallest exporter of coffee on the continent. The quality of that coffee, however, is hardly lacking in diversity or beauty. Bolivia’s terrain and geography is gifted for arabica production, particularly throughout the Yungas region (Yungas is Aymara for "warm lands"), whose mountain ranges connect the low and humid Amazonian basin to the dry Andean altiplano above. The most productive municipality in the Yungas is by far Caranavi, which still produces an estimated 85-90% of Bolivia's specialty coffee.
Caranavi's landscape is steep, humid, rugged, and remote, with natural forest making up more than 90% of the territory. Historically coffee in this area was challenged by a devastating combination of isolation and national disinvestment. These days, after decades of struggle, coffee farms in Caranavi's high and tropical climate tend to be well-managed and diversified, but small. Coffee growers here still often don’t have processing equipment or transportation of their own, a massive hurdle in such territory, making Agricafe’s investments over the past 10 years an enormous benefit to many.
Agricafe and the Rodriguez Family
Specialty groups like Agricafe deserve a lot of credit for their dedication to Bolivia's coffee potential, despite the odds. Agricafe was established in 1986 as a passion project by Pedro Rodriguez, who at that time was a banker whose love for coffee led him to start a small commercial grade exporting business. In 2012, 26 years later, Rodriguez acquired land of his own in Caranavi. This part of Bolivia had for decades been populated with indigenous smallholder coffee farmers, but after suffering multiple waves of disinvestment by the government the population was shrinking, and coffee in particular was close to extinction. Rodriguez’s original farm, “La Linda”, was meant to take advantage of affordable land in the area and to demonstrate to local smallholders how productivity could be increased for their benefit. Now, 10 years after La Linda was built, the family business includes 12 family farms between Caranavi and Samaipata, to the south, and a group of 100 smallholders who together comprise Agricafe’s “Sol de la Mañana” program. Pedro’s daughter Daniela and son Pedro Pablo are also part of the business, managing commercial operations and farmer training.
Sol de la Mañana
Agricafe's smallholder farmer program, “Sol de la Mañana”, began in 2013 with only 10 small producers in Colonia Bolinda, a farming community just up the mountain from Caranavi town and the same neighborhood where La Linda was established. Sol de la Mañana functions like a school, using a 10-year curriculum focused on best practices for nursery and farm management, plant nutrition, renovation, specialty harvesting, and biodiversity. This granular attention to detail forced willing smallholders to take charge of their productivity and quality, and to think long-term. When the first commercial harvest was sold in 2017, the success of the program attracted more producers. It currently has 100 contributing farms and production for most has increased from a per-hectare average of 2-4 bags to over 20.
Central Processing at Agricafe
All coffee from Sol de Mañana producers is processed centrally at Agricafe’s wet mill in Caranavi town. Processing here has come to reflect the innovation and attention to detail that the Rodriguez family seems to exude against all odds for such a remote location. Cherry from Sol de la Mañana producers is collected each day at the farms and delivered to the wet mill in the evenings. Cherry is carefully sorted on arrival, and then, since every cherry delivery is treated as a unique microlot, it’s processed according to what Agricafe’s quality managers decide is the best pairing for a particular farm, cultivar, time of year, and in many cases buyer specification. Natural process coffees, like this caturra lot, are washed and transferred immediately to a combination of covered raised beds and various types of mechanical dryers (Agricafe has a veritable collection of mechanical drying formats).
Due to the area’s constant humidity and blazing hot days, drying is almost entirely mechanical, which, like their enclosed fermentations for washed coffees, is done for the sake of control and protection of the coffee’s delicate qualities. Agricafe produces washed, natural, honey, anaerobic natural, and experimental fermentations using coffee fermentation must, all in a very compact production space. A full harvest at Agricafe’s wet mill generates about 3,000 unique lots of coffee, which are then recombined by their cuppers or buyers to create larger lots, or in many cases marketed separately as microlots."