This lot was grown and processed by 8 independent farmers who own small farms located around the town of Aponte, in
north-western Nariño, Colombia. The town is incredibly remote and hard to reach, as it is found deep inside Juanambú Canyon and surrounded by steep, rugged mountains. The town experiences a cool climate and high winds year-round, and sits on very fertile soil, thanks to the nutrient-rich ash constantly shed by nearby Galeras Volcano. The farms in the region are tiny – averaging just 1
hectare – and are some of the highest situated coffee farms in Colombia, with most sitting above 2000 meters above sea level. The producers who grow coffee around Aponte are pioneers in developing farming and processing techniques to successfully produce coffee in such unique conditions.
The town is home to the indigenous Inga people and was once the northernmost point of the Incan empire. Visiting Aponte is a unique experience; the town operates as an indigenous reserve, independent from the Colombian government. On the streets, people continue to wear traditional garments and to speak to each other in the local Inga language, a dialect derived from Quechua
(the pre-colonial language of people from the Amazons and the Andean Mountains). In Aponte’s society, there is no such thing as private property and farms are owned by the community at large. Town leaders, or ‘Taitas’, have the final say on how each parcel of land is cultivated. Coffee has gained approval from Aponte’s Taitas due to two major factors: it is a relatively profitable and stable crop, and it prevents bigger parcels of land from being used for coca cultivation.
Nariño is located in southwest Colombia, bordering Ecuador. Coffee in Nariño is grown at elevations that reach 2,200 metres above sea level, making it some of highest grown coffee in the world. It is typically very difficult to produce coffee at such high elevations, however Nariño’s proximity to the equatorial line, coupled with its steep hills and valleys surrounding active volcanoes, provide a great angle for sun exposure and create an ideal micro-climate for coffee plants to thrive. The high elevation of cultivation combined with warm tropical days and cools nights allows for slow maturation and development of the coffee cherry, giving time for concentrated sugars to develop in the fruit and resulting in a very unique, sweet, and complex cup profile.
Until recently, much of Nariño’s potential remained largely untapped. This is in part because most of the forty thousand coffee producers in Nariño are incredibly small (averaging less than 2 hectares of land each) and often, like these small producers in Aponte, located extremely remotely. These factors, combined with ongoing armed conflict in the region, has discouraged investment in coffee development and made it difficult for coffee buyers to access these exceptional coffees.
Unfortunately, coffee isn’t the only plant that thrives in this region. Poppies (used to make opioids) do too — making the region a major target of drug related violence in the 1990´s and early 2000´s.
In the early 2010’s, this started to change, thanks in large part to the Colombian Cup of Excellence, which shone the light on two exceptional lots from the Buesaco municipality in Northern Nariño. This important achievement made it clear to many growers from the region that their coffee had the potential to be sold as true specialty grade and that they had the opportunity to seek greater premiums than they were receiving through other certification schemes.
Today coffee plays a big role in helping the community as they turn the page on the region’s violent past and build a more sustainable development. Many of those that left the region during the worst part of the conflict in the 90’s have since returned to continue their coffee tradition and rebuild their lives here.
Our export partners for this coffee, Pergamino, have worked hard commercialise specialty-grade coffee throughout Nariño, and have uncovered some stunning coffees and very dedicated producers in the process. They work closely with the producers to give them feedback on their coffees (provided by Pergamino’s expert team of cuppers) and provide top up payments when the coffee is sold at a higher premium.
HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED
Producers in Aponte have become experts at ‘honey’ processing. For this lot, coffee cherries were carefully hand-picked, with several passes needed to ensure only the ripest ones were chosen. These were then pulped at each farm’s wet mill, or ‘micro-beneficio.’ After pulping, coffee was placed on drying beds without being washed, leaving coffee with a layer of mucilage that resembles a glazing of sticky honey (hence the name ‘honey’ processing). This step ensured fermentation occurred as the coffee dried.
The coffee is carefully dried on a raised bed with plastic over the top which acts to protect the coffee from the rain and prevent condensation dripping back onto the drying beans.
Thanks to Aponte’s cool, windy climate and high altitudes, coffee generally dries more quickly and evenly than in lower parts of Colombia. This leads to more consistency in the coffees produced, and encourages the development of cleaner, more complex flavours in the cup. To ensure the drying stage occured uniformly, coffee for this lot was regularly turned by hand until it reached ideal moisture content.
Once dry, the coffee was delivered to Pergamino’s warehouse, where it was cupped and graded, and then rested in parchment until ready for export.