Somewhere between the modern world and the old world lies a country doing traditional things in a new time. In the Colombian farmland, they don’t label things “grass-fed” or “farm to table” because that is just how it is. The food is grown locally, with traditional practices. There’s no such thing as advanced technology on growing things faster or making them bigger or genetically modifying. It’s simple; you grow it with the tools that nature and the land provide. Coffee is one of the largest exports of this land and it’s been growing there for decades.
Cali, Colombia. September 2015.
My trip to the Villa Myriam farm, started when I landed in Cali, Colombia. Cali is one of 3 main cities in Colombia. This list also includes Bogotá and Medellin. Located in Cali is one of the major export ports, for South America. It feeds most of the western hemisphere with fruit, flowers, sugar cane, chia seeds and of course, coffee.
About an hour outside of Cali and into the southern part of the Andes Mountain Range, lies sprawling farmland that stretches up major hills, off the side of cliffs and down into the rainforest, river beds. In this, lies the farm where we source all our Colombian coffee beans.
Villa Myriam is named after one of the daughters, of the man who founded the farm. Here I took a majestic trip back in time. With the original farm houses still in use and the original plots of plants still growing. You can feel the history. The soil is rich and full of nutrients. It’s red and black and is vibrant against the green of the vegetation and rainforest. Some areas are dry, showing the effects of the extreme drought that is happening across South America, due to El Nino. However, it is still wet enough that there is no irrigation. The plants are growing off rainwater.
You can’t visit this region without the awareness of the not so distant reality that swept this land. Gorilla terrorism and cartel issues are still recent memories and current concerns for the people. Small towns with missing buildings from bombings and bullet holes in the brick walls are a reminder of how real this issues was and the concern that is still resting in the back of the locals minds.
A strong military presence brings a feeling of security. When you drive past a guard on the road, you give them a thumbs up. They give you one back. It’s like saying thank you and a communication that we are in this together.
My heart hurts for what these people went through but the resilience of their spirit is palpable. Despite a total shut down of normal life, and in some cases a mass exodus, progress is happening here and people are had at work.
The missing building, was a family home that was blown up by because the family refused to pay the tax that the guerrilla group forced upon the people of the area. The bombing was over 15 years ago but the missing structure is a reminder of the not so distant past.
When we arrived at the farm, there was a regional water shut down. This is an effort to conserve water and the government basically turns off the water to millions of people for a 12-hour time slot. Remarkably, no one is grumpy about this and everyone just smiles and says “No hay agua”. We picked up a few bottles of water for drinking and we used nature’s facilities aka the back garden to relieve ourselves.
Our first hike was at dusk and seeing the farm at sunset was so magical. The old/original wet mill for taking the fruit off the beans and drying them was just around back and while it’s still the same process used today in most specialty coffee farms the new one is a much larger version. On our walk, we looked at different plants and tasted what seemed like a million coffee cherries to see who could find the best one. I was initially surprised that there was no irrigation set up. The plants are growing off rain water alone. This is a lot different than my grandfathers avocado farm in SOCAL that used to require tons of watering.
At night we built a bonfire and cooked steak and salmon on the open flames, using only a wet cheesecloth and sea salt. It was unbelievably tender and delicious. Check my Instagram for a pic and an easy recipe - @lmackey31. In the morning we picked fruit for breakfast and paid a visit to the dry mill.
Specialty coffee from all the farms in the Cauca Valle, Colombia. These beans represent the 30% of the beans that come into the dry mill, that get the stamp of approval, to be specialty grade coffee. If they make it into a bag, then they pass the cut! They will next be exported to sociality roasters, all over the world.
Each bean goes through a crazy process that only allows the best, most perfect beans to be considered specialty grade.
Lacie and "The Colombian's" Dave and Juan at the regional dry mill for specialty coffee.
The regional Dry Mill is where all the specialty coffee farms bring their beans after the wet mill process is complete. Here each bean gets further processed and scrutinized until only the perfect beans are selected as specialty grade. Less than 30% of the beans that enter this dry mill make it past the strict testing process to be approved as a specialty coffee.
What happens to the other 70%?! Well there are other companies that buy up these rejected beans that may be too light, spoiled or actually a rock. We won’t name names here but you know who you are.
Cauca, Colombia, specialty coffee ready to ship all over the world.
From here the beans that pass the test are bagged and exported all over the world to specialty roasters. Our beans ship from Cali to Albuquerque NM, where we roast them to perfection, in small batches, just for you. The roasts that contain these beans are the White Gold, Blacklisted and the Onnit Amber Roast. All our Cold Brew products are also made with these beans. They are also roasted by a Master Roaster (David) who is part of the family that started and runs the farm. It’s kind of amazing how unique that makes these products.
One afternoon, we walked the coffee fields and took a look at the cherries that will be harvested soon and roasting in the new year. I realized that I am really grateful and proud to be a part of something so real, so organic and so old world. From the farm to your cup, every bit of the product is specialty. The process and care that each bean takes to create, is remarkable. It blows my mind that this is possible and it get's me fired up to do more.
Some Coffee Facts, from the farm:
Each plant takes 4 years to mature enough to produce cherries.
Most coffee plants will produce cherries for 20 years.
Each coffee cherry will mature at a different time than the ones next to it on a branch.
Each cherry must be hand selected by a trained eye.
The cherry must only be picked when it is ripe or it will not have enough nutrients or flavors to produce a good taste when roasted.
The cherry must be picked before it starts to get hard and go bad. There is a point when it is past ripe.
Only 30% of beans sent to the dry mill will pass inspection and meet the standards of a specialty coffee bean.
From picking to roasting a bean journey is about 4 months.
Banana and plantain trees are planted along with the coffee to create shade.
You can taste the flavor profiles of the vegetation around the coffee plants. Flowers and citrus trees are all over Villa Myriam and you can taste it in our roasts, especially the White Gold and Onnit ® Amber Roast.
Part of maintaining our Rainforest Alliance Certification is using nature to maintain the land. All the extra fruit is composted and given back to the earth.
No chemicals are ever use
Issues can be a rusting of the plant, drought and bugs.
The farmers track everything from daily sunlight and could coverage to daily rain levels.
These plants will be the crop in 2020. The future is already in motion.
Hours of direct sunlight are measured on this device.
Flowers and other vegetation grown on between the coffee trees, can be tasted in our roasts.
Each branch will have a variety of coffee cherries at various levels of ripeness. It is very important that they are hand picked, only when ripe. The taste and nutrient quality will show this.
A tranquil river runs through the farm.
This is the worlds tallest grass and it's everywhere in this part of the world. Careful if you touch it because it's sharp!
More of the beautiful flowers and vegetation that you can see on the farm.